Dog food nutrition is one of the most important aspects of pet care. Just like humans, dogs need a proper, varied, and well-balanced diet in order to stay happy and healthy.
Luckily, there are numerous commercially manufactured dry, frozen and canned dog foods that are designed to meet the exact nutritional requirements of just about any household dog. At the same time, many dog owners are quite confused when it comes to selecting the most appropriate diet for their beloved four-legged friend.
In the following lines, we are looking into the 5 most common mistakes in dog food nutrition and recommend several easy tips that will help you establish a healthy and tasty food routine for your pet.
1. Feeding Your Dog With Human Foods
One of the most common mistakes dog owners make is feeding their pets with human food products. Some dog owners do this only occasionally – they would “reward” their four-legged friend with something tasty during a training session for instance. Other dog owners give human food to their pets on a regular basis. Although we believe human foods should be good enough for dogs as they are good enough for people, feeding pets with such products can lead to serious health issues.
Moreover, a number of products that we consider tasty usually contain excessive amounts of salt, sugar, fat, spices, artificial sweeteners, and colorants – ingredients that are absolutely forbidden for animals.
So, should you feed your dog with table scraps? Yes and no. Feeding your pet with table leftovers only may lead to a very unbalanced diet and health problems. Additionally, as mentioned above, our diet typically contains a lot of products that can be very harmful and even lethal for animals.
On the other hand, you can safely give your dog some healthy leftovers – just keep in mind these two very important rules: do this only occasionally and never give your dog anything directly from the table while you are eating.
To learn what other foods from your table you can feed your dog, check out this great article on feeding human food to dogs.
2. Food Intake Inadequate to Physical Activity
Correct dog food nutrition schedule should reflect your pet’s age, general health, special health conditions (if any), and most importantly — physical activity levels. Unfortunately, many dog owners feed their dogs the same type and amount of food without taking into consideration any changes in the physical activity of their dog.
The most important rule of healthy dog nutrition is that the amount of food should always reflect the amount of exercise a dog is having – less exercise means less food, more exercise means more food as well as including special foods in the diet if necessary.
The easiest way to find out if your dog receives enough food is to pay attention to the way he or she eats – your dog should move away from the bowl in a calm and relaxed manner once he or she has finished eating. If you notice that your pet is licking and/or “chasing” the empty food bowl, you should provide them with extra food as this is a sign your dog is still hungry.
3. Wrong or Inconsistent Food Intake Regime
Just like human babies, toddlers, and little children, dogs should be fed according to a strict feeding schedule – no excuses, no exceptions. Some general guidelines that dog owners should consider are:
- Pups should be fed several times a day: from birth to two months of age – five-six times, from two to four months of age – four times, from four to seven months – three to four times. To get better handling on how often you should feed your puppy, take a look at how to create a puppy feeding schedule.
- Adult dogs should be fed two times per day – once in the morning and once in the evening.
- Old dogs should be fed two to three times a day; usually special foods are required.
- Pets should be provided with 15-20 minutes for eating. Their food bowl should be taken away after that time regardless of whether it is empty or not.
- Your dog should have access to fresh water all the time, especially if you feed them with dry food.
- Sometimes dogs refuse to eat at all during the whole day — there is no reason to worry, if your dog is healthy and doesn’t show any signs or symptoms of being sick.
4. Giving Your Dog Dangerous Foods
Very often household dogs receive a number of foods, that we – humans, consider to be extremely tasty.
However, these are often exactly the foods a dog should never eat. These are some of the foods that must be avoided:
- Sweets of any kind (cookies, cakes, sugar cubes and so on) are harmful for your dog’s liver. Additionally, sweet foods cause a variety of eye problems in dogs.
- Any foods that contain excessive amounts of salt are dangerous to dogs the same way they are dangerous to humans. Dogs are very sensitive to large amounts of salt and may suffer from sodium poisoning which manifests with vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, elevated body temperature, seizures, and may even be fatal for your dog.
- Spicy and/or chilly foods can harm your dog’s digestive system as well as ruin their sense of smell (quite a problem for any dog but disastrous for working and hunting dogs).
- Raw meat, fish and eggs should be avoided as they may contain different harmful bacteria and viruses — Salmonela and E. Coli in eggs, Pestis canum in pork and mutton, different parasites in salmon, trout, shad, or sturgeon. Regular consumption of raw eggs affects the absorption of vitamin B which can lead to vitamin B deficiency and its related symptoms. Raw port and mutton can cause liver and stomach problems in dogs.
- Onions and garlic can be extremely dangerous for dogs – regular consumption affects the number of red blood cells which in turn can cause That can happen with any kind of onion or garlic products, even powders.
- Milk and milk products are safe for young dogs only – up to four or five months of age. Milk can cause upset stomach and diarrhea in adult dogs and often is a cause of allergy.
- Alcohol, tea and caffeine foods and drinks are absolutely forbidden for dogs. Foods or drinks containing alcohol, tea or coffee have the same effect on your dog’s health as on you, only much stronger. Even a small amount of coffee can cause serious health complications such as heart palpitations, muscle tremors and hemorrhage; even the smallest amount of alcohol can cause difficulty breathing, coma and can even be lethal for your dog.
5. Sudden Changes in Diet
Sudden changes in pets’ diet may cause serious health issues, especially in young and old dogs, or animals suffering from chronic conditions. Any change in your dog’s diet must be done gradually, in the course of 7 to 10 days.
The best way to do that is to start mixing the new food type with the old while gradually increasing the amount of the new brand. This slow transition will prevent digestive problems as it provides your dog’s digestive system with enough time to adapt to the new food.
It is clear that gradual diet change is simply impossible in certain occasions. Here is what you can do, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to change your pet’s diet quickly:
- Try to find dog food formula that is very similar to the food you would like to replace. The best way to do that is to look for food that has the same proportions of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and fibers. For example, if your dog was enjoying chicken and vegetable formula before, look for the same or very similar combination.
- Introduce your dog to the new food faster. If you don’t have a week to slowly introduce the new food to your dog, speed up the process by offering your pet a very small amount of the new food. After your dog eats the new type of food, look if he or she will show any symptoms of digestive discomfort. If everything is fine, offer your dog another small portion of the new food several hours later. Gradually, increase the food amounts and decrease meal frequency until you get to the normal feeding schedule of your pet.
- Consider special easily digestible dog foods. Sometimes it may be impossible to find new dog food formula that is similar to the food you have been feeding your pet so far. What can you do in such cases? Get special food formulated to be easily digestible and feed your dog with it until you find the right food.
- Probiotic supplements can help your dog’s digestive system adapt to the new food formula. Such supplements can also alleviate mild symptoms of discomfort such as upset stomach or diarrhea.
Changing the diet of dogs with special health needs or dogs that are very sensitive must be done with extra care.
It is recommended to consult a professional before making any adjustments to the nutrition plan of your dog.
Tips for Healthy and Balanced Dog Food Nutrition
Having explained the most common diet and nutrition mistakes dog owners make, it is time to briefly go over several basic guidelines that will help you provide your little fiend with a well-balanced and healthy diet.
1. Provide your pet with well-balanced and varied diet
Imagine if you have to each lamb and rice three times a day, very day, for the rest of your life. Besides being terribly boring, such a diet can lead to certain deficiencies and health problems.
Now, think about your pet – isn’t it exactly what you are doing by feeding him or her with that same food for the last several years? A well-balanced and most importantly varied diet is equally essential for dog’s health as it is for human health. If you want to provide your pet with nutritious, healthy and tasty meals, make changes in their diet regularly.
2. Stick to dog-friendly foods
Even if you feed your dog with commercially prepared dry, canned or frozen foods, you may be tempted to reward them with a tasty bite from the table. That’s why it is important to know which foods are safe and healthy for your dog. Clearly, that’s a must in case you are cooking for your dog. Lean meat (chicken, turkey, lamb, etc.) is very suitable for dogs — it should be steamed or boiled, not seasoned with salt and any other spices, boneless and fat free.
Fresh fruits (apple, orange, banana, watermelon) and vegetables (carrot, cucumber, zucchini, and sweet pepper) are also recommended for a balanced diet. Of course, you should avoid those fruits and vegetables that are known to be harmful for dogs (grapes, avocados, onions, garlic, etc). Wheat and rice grains as well as potatoes are rich in nutrients, just remember that they must be boiled. In addition, dogs can safely eat
3. Be careful with additional supplements
Most commercially manufactured dog foods contain all necessary vitamins, minerals and other supplements your pet needs. Additional supplementation is not recommended, if your dog’s diet consists of readily available dry, frozen or canned dog foods, unless specifically prescribed by a vet.
On the other hand, if your dog’s diet consists mainly of home-prepared meals, you may need to consider extra vitamin and/or mineral supplements. However, it is a must to consult a vet first as not every vitamin formula is suitable for every dog. Last but not least, never give your dog human vitamins or any other nutritional supplements.
4. Opt for raw food diets only if you can afford a safe option
A popular dog food nutrition concept is feeding pets raw foods as much as possible. The basic idea behind such a diet is that raw or minimally processed foods contain maximum nutrients and are greatly beneficial for dogs’ health. However, it is known that certain raw foods can be dangerous for dogs’ health – raw eggs, meat, and fish may contain viruses, bacteria, or parasites, raw fruits and vegetables may be difficult to digest and cause stomach problems, and so on.
Going for tested and established raw dog food nutrition plans may be a safe option and is highly recommended to every dog owner eager to mimic nutrition in wild canine animals. Such diets are generally known as BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) and include different types of carefully balanced combinations of raw meat, fruits, and vegetables. If you’d like to learn more, check out our great article on recipes for raw dog food.
Dog food nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated. Plan your dog’s meals according to age, health, and activity level, and always look for new, varied, and safe food combinations.
In case you feel uncertain what the best nutrition plan is for your little friend, or in case your dog has special dietary needs, consult a professional or your vet.