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Feeding your dog

In the early days of domestication, the ancestors of our pet dogs may have been offered leftovers from human meals,which they would have supplemented through a combination of hunting, scavenging and foraging. In this way, they would have achieved a balanced diet. In today's society this option is no longer available to pet dogs, instead they rely on their owners to provide them with a tasty and nutritionally complete diet. A suitable diet is fundamental to a dog's health and well-being, and as mealtimes are also a pleasurable experience, this helps to reinforce the special human - companion animal bond.

A balanced diet
Home - prepared pet foods
Commercially - prepared pet foods
Bones and milk
How much food to feed?
Growing dogs
Adult dogs
Working dogs
Older dogs
Breeding bitches

A balanced diet

Just like their owners, dogs need a balanced diet which contains just the right amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate, thirteen different vitamins and twenty different minerals to ensure that they stay in peak condition. These nutrients must be present, not only in the correct amounts, but also in the correct proportion to each other to provide a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.

A diet of muscle meat alone is not suitable for any dog. The ancestors of our pet dogs would have consumed the whole body of their prey, and not just the muscle, including the bones, internal organs, intestinal contents, skin and hair. These would have provided the essential nutrients which would be missing from a purely muscle meat diet.

Home-prepared pet foods

Home prepared pet foods require a thorough understanding of the specific nutritional needs of an animal, of the nutritive value of different foodstuffs and of dietary interactions, and methods of preparation and storage which may affect the availability of individual nutrients. It would not be possilble to feed your dog a consistent and adequate diet without considerable time, effort, and expertise.

Some owners like to prepare at least some of their dog's meals. If so, only a few different foods should be introduced gradually at any time, to allow the dog's digestive system to adapt to the new food. Meat, eggs, cheese and bread are some of the foods which are commonly fed to dogs. If these foods were to form the major part of the diet, then careful supplementation with vitamins and minerals would almost certainly be required.

To continue, some people add their own ingredients to supplement dog foods. You can add cold pressed oils, vitamins..... dairy products, vegetables, fruits, tuna/mackerel, cooked meats chicken or beef, raw beef cubes. You might want to try using Pectin to cut the copper content in dog foods, zinc supplement, and/or apples. You also can use a product called Prozyme, which provides the essential enzymes that cooked foods do not have. In addition, you can make a puppy soup (chicken with oatmeal) as a supplement to dried dog food/kibble in the morning and cottage cheese/yogurt on top in the evening.

Below are additional things to be aware of in dog foods and "Food" for thought:

  • Food Additives used to preserve dog foods, such as Ethoxquin, BHA, BHT can be carcinogenic (cancer causing) ingredients.  Some manufacturers use vitamin C and/or E for dog foods that need preservatives.  A few use

  • chelated minerals.
  • No by-products; chicken feather meal, bird beaks, ground up bones, intestines... or "fillers" added to dog food.
  • Look for cold pressed oils if you plan to add additional oils to dog food; Flaxseed, Canola.
  • Many of the premium quality dog foods are very high in nutritional value and as a rule you can feed your dog less per measured amount of food.  Premium foods are up to 96% digestable by dogs as opposed to grocery store brands which

  • are about 60%-75% digestable (due to by-products, fillers). Also, many breeds of dogs are starting to have a problem maintaining the standards set, because dogs are growing bigger... due to better nutritional foods.
  • When changing over from one brand of food to another brand of food it should be done gradually. The intestinal bacteria that govern absorption need time to make the adjustment to a new food.  Abrupt changes in your dog's diet can cause

  • indigestion (upset stomach or diarrhea).  The change over can take anywhere from 4-10 days and up to 6 weeks.
    Also, it is a good idea during this transition from old to new dog food to give the dog some acidophilus tablets (capsules, opened up and into the food) to help with digestion.
  • AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) is an association and not a governmental agency, which means they are 'self-regulated."  A very high percentage of members are from major animal feed/pet food companies.  They vote on nutrient requirements for dogs, pet food labeling... and can easily "steer" decisions in their company's business interests.
  • Feeding dried kibble dog food will reduce the problem of tardar build up on a canine's teeth and less dental bills later on.  However, it is a good idea to give your dog some canned or other types of food from time-to-time. In fact,  human

  • grade food (& without fatty scraps) is the best food of all provided your dog gets a balanced diet.
  • Some people feel that spending money on expensive dog foods is unnecessary and a waste of money. Others feel that you can spend extra money now for a good quality dog food or spend money later on vet bills.
Personally, the more I have read the more I am leaning toward using food that I, myself cook and eat.... and not any commercial or quality brand dog foods.

Commercially - prepared pet foods

In the United States, the Pet Food Industry is virtually "self-regulated" and with no government regulations. The hidden ingredients in commercial pet foods may be unfit for human or animal consumption. The labeling on packages may be misleading... Some meats used in dog foods come from dead and sometimes diseased domestic animals which is then heat treated ("4-D" process). Many of the commercial brand type of dog foods use these kinds of meat. Also, some dog food ingredients have chemicals and/or deadly environmental toxins as well.

Prepared pet foods are either complete or complementary. A complete diet provides a balanced diet when fed alone whereas a complementary diet is designed to be fed in combination with an additional, specified, food source, such as canned meat and biscuit mixer. The label on the product will state whether the food is complete or complementary.

Prepared pet foods are usually presented in three main forms - dry, wet and semi-moist. Dry foods have had most of the moisture removed, and are convenient and economical to use. They may be fed dry or gravy, or water can be added before feeding. Wet foods, such as canned diets, have the moisture content of the ingredients retained. These products tend to be the most palatable to dogs. Semi-moist foods have a moisture content which is somewhere between the two.

Whatever diet you choose for your dog, make sure that he has plenty of water available at all times. Keep an eye on the amount he drinks. A dog that is persistently thirsty may be unwell and need prompt veterinary attention. Give him his own clean bowls for food and water - wash them after use, and separately from the family's crockery. Never put down one of your own plates for your dog to feed from.

Some dogs have a genetic predisposition for developing food alergies. Symptoms of food allergies vary widely, however, common symptoms include weight loss, diarrhea, hair loss, skin lesions, dull coat, and chronic ear infections. Because these symptoms can be caused by a multitude of disorders, it is important for a veterinarian to rule out other causes first. When food allergies do occur, they commonly do so when the dog reaches about 2 years of age. For years, veterinarians have used lamb-based dog foods for treatment of dogs who have developed hypersensitivity to common dog food because lamb-based diets were uncommon and thus the dog less likely sensitized to the diet. Nowadays, however, lamb-based commercial diets are widely fed to puppies and young dogs making this alternative diet ineffective if the dog, as an adult, should develop a food allergy. For this reason, it is recommended that lamb-based diets be avoided until a dog is over 2 years of age.

Choosing the correct food for a particular dog involves considering several important factors.

  • Evaluate your dog's weight, body condition, life stage, and overall health.
  • Choose the foods that come closest to AAFCO recommendations.
  • The pet food label contains the truth about a particular food. Everything else is there only for marketing purposes.
  • Use dry matter numbers to evaluate and compare foods.
  • Avoid supplementation. All commercial dog foods have more than enough protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Too many minerals can lead to severe skeletal problems in growing dogs.
  • Know the energy density and caloric distribution of a food. Both factors determine the amount of food and nutrients that your dog consumes.
  • The source of ingredients (animal or vegetable) does not matter, except in the case of food allergies.
  • There are no legal and scientific definitions for the terms "premium," "super premium," "quality," or "natural."
  • According to the AAFCO statement, a food must be "complete and balanced" for "a particular life stage."
  • Feeding your dog a good food incorrectly can lead to significant problems. For example, overfeeding puppies can lead to serious skeletal problems. For example, an overweight, spayed female dog should not be given a food that is labeled for use in dogs of all ages.

  • Feeding high fat, high protein foods can easily lead to dog obesity.

Bones and milk

Bones are a useful source of calcium for a dog, but if he is fed a balanced diet he will be getting enough calcium already.  However, dogs do enjoy the occasional bone - they are tasty, exercise the jaws, help keep the teeth clean, and will keep him occupied for hours. Remember to only give a puppy large marrow bones which will not splinter and cause serious internal injury. Never give a dog chicken, rabbit, a chop or fish bones to eat. Although it is advisable to boil bones for five or ten minutes, prolonged cooking makes them brittle and therefore unsuitable. Never give your dog the lamb bone from the Sunday roast. Even better than bones, would be a specially designed chew formulated to keep gums and teeth healthy.

Although milk is a useful source of nutrients for young dogs, it is not an essential part of a puppy's diet once he has been weaned. Many puppies and dogs cannot efficiently digest the sugar, or lactose, which is present in milk and this can cause digestive upsets. If you are not sure whether your puppy can tolerate milk, dilute it half and half with water before you offer it to him for the first time.


Prior to weaning, puppies obtain most of their nutritional needs from their mother's milk. By the time a puppy is ready to move to his new home, he will be fully weaned on to solid foods. He is then entirely dependent on his new owner, to provide a fully balanced diet that will meet all of his nutritional requirements.

A nutritionally balanced diet is crucial for the healthy growth and development of a puppy in order to prepare him for an active, long, and healthy life. Puppies thrive on the same basic nutrients as adult dogs, but owing to their rapid growth rate, these nutrients are needed in proportionately larger quantities. Like human babies, puppies have small stomachs, so they need to be fed little and often.

All puppies grow very rapidly in the early stages of their develoment and, in general, most breeds reach about half their adult weight by four or five months of age. However, there is a wide variation in adult body weight between different different breeds, and dogs mature at different rates, such that the large breeds take longer to mature than the small breeds - small and toy breeds may reach their adult weight at six to nine months of age, whereas larger breeds will still be growing at this age. A Newfoundland or Great Dane puppy, for example may not reach his adult size until he is 18 months old.

Puppies of the large and giant breeds, in particular, which are most affected by the feeding regimen - as they are growing rapidly, these puppies are prone to disturbances in their skeletal development. It is unwise to overfeed such dogs at this stage in an attempt to obtain the maximum possible rate of growth.

A puppy needs between two and four times as much energy as an adult of the same size - growing is an energetic business! They must have more protein than adults - this must contain all the right buiding blocks of the protein (amino acids) for growth, and they need just the right amount of minerals for healthy bones and teeth. Puppies therefore have to eat large amounts of food in relation to their body weight, but their stomachs have only a small capacity. To compensate for this, a puppy needs to be fed several small meals a day. It also helps if his diet is designed to meet a number of useful criteria: the food should be concentrated to ensure an adequate intake of nutrients before his stomach is full;

the food should be easily digested to maximise its nutritive value;

the diet must be balanced to provide the right amount of nutrients to meet the puppy's particular needs; and

it should also be tasty so that he will eat it.

Devising an acceptable nutritionally balanced diet for growth is thus a very complex exercise. Fortunately, feeding your puppy need not be as complicated as it sounds. Diets which are specially formulated for growth take all the guess work out of rearing a healthy puppy and provide a balanced and concentrated diet which he will enjoy and thrive on. For a normal, healthy puppy there is no need to use any supplements, whatever the breed - indeed, this could be harmful. If you do decide to use a supplement you should consult your veterinarian to see whether it is not damaging to your puppy.

When you collect your puppy discuss the feeding with the breeder and ask for a written diet sheet. This should give details of the types of food, quantities, and times of feeding to which your puppy is already accustomed. Don't be in too much of a hurry to alter your puppy's diet as changing homes is a stressful time for him and continuity of feeding is important. When your puppy arrives in his new home he may show signs of stomach upsets and diarrhoea because of leaving his mother and entering a strange new environment. If he does have diarrhoea and this persists for more than 24 hours or becomes more severe, consult your veterinarian. Also, if you want to change his diet, wait until your puupy has settled in, then gradually change it over a period of three to four days.

The feeding regimen for your puppy will depend greatly on his age, breed and individual characteristics, but until they are about four months old, all puppies will need four meals per day. Feeding can then be reduced to three times a day until six months of age, when your puppy can be offered his daily food allowance in two separate meals. Toy breeds mature more quickly than the larger breeds, and they may be introduced to an adult diet from eight months of age - large breeds are still growing rapidly at this age and will need to be fed a puppy diet for longer.

Remember that since all puppies are individuals, some may need more and some less than the indicated amounts. Your puppy's condition is the best indicator of whether you are feeding the correct amount. By recording his weight regularly you will be able to check that he is growing at a healthy rate appropriate to his breed. You can then make adjustments to avoid him becoming under - or overweight.

Generally, a puppy should be allowed 10 to 15 minutes to eat at each meal time. After then discard any uneaten food.

Make sure that your puppy has his own feeding and water bowls and that they are kept clean and separate from the family's dishes. Fresh water should always be available. If you notice that your puppy is excessively thirsty all the time you should consult your veterinarian as it may be an indication that your puppy is unwell.

How much food to feed?

In our own litters, puppies are usually eating between 1/2 to 1 cup of food at each feeding (4 times/day) between 8 and 16 weeks of age. Between 16 weeks and 6 months, they are up to between 1 to 1-1/2 cups at each feeding (3 times/day). At 6 months and through adulthood, they are fed 2 cups at each feeding (2 times/day). This tentative feeding schedule we provide as a guideline to my new puppy owners with the understanding that it is to serve only as a starting point and should be adjusted based on metabolism, activity and requirements of the individual dog. When judging amount of food to feed, it is important to evaluate the results by appearance of the dog. Though puppies should be kept on the lean side during 4-8 months of age while they are going through the rapid growth phase, they should not appear emaciated. One should be able to feel the rib cage and the back bone, but not see them. Looking down on the dog, there should be a slight indentation between the end of the rib cage and the hip bones.

Growing dogs

While your puppy is maturing, you should continue to feed him a growth formulation as the major part of his diet. He needs this concentrated nutrition to complete his development and consolidate the growth of firm muscles, strong bones and healthy body tissue. As he nears the size and weight of an adult dog, you can gradually introduce him to adult foods. He should be used to an adult food by the time he is fully grown - which may be any time from six months to two years of age, depending on his breed. The changeover should be done gradually - preferably over a week.

Most dog owners are rightly concerned that they are providing an adequate diet for their pet. Puppy owners, in particular, are aware of the heavy nutritional demands of the puppy as it grows and may be tempted to feed as much as he will eat. However, many dogs, especially Labrador Retrievers, tend to overeat and this could have damaging consequences for your puppy. In order to avoid these, it is generally recommended that food intake is moderately controlled in growing dogs.

In the small - and medium - sized breeds, overfeeding of the growing dog is likely to cause obesity. The extra food received is converted into fat and stored in the body. While a dog is still young and growing, his body will produce extra fat cells to store the excess fat and, once formed, these cells stay with him for life. This may make him prone to obesity as an adult.

In the large and giant breeds, overfeeding of rapidly growing puppies can cause a number of skeletal deformities.

It is therefore important to monitor your growing dog's weight and his general condition to be sure that you are feeding the correct amount. If he has more than a moderate covering of fat over his ribs he may be getting too fat. Ask your veterinarian for advice if you are unsure about your growing dog's condition.

Adult dogs

Like other animals, dogs eat to satisfy their requirement for energy. A diet which contains the right amount of energy for an individual animal must, therefore, provide all the other essential nutrients in the correct amount and balance. Although carbohydrate and fat are the most common and useful sources of energy, dogs can also obtain energy from protein. Indeed, carbohydrate is a useable, but not essential, part of the dog's diet.

A balance of energy is important to maintain a dog in good health at all stages of his life. Too little can result in loss of weight, lethargy and poor condition, too much will lead to obesity and all its complications - such as growth deformities in the puppies of the large and giant breeds.

The energy requirement of your dog will depend on how active he is, for example if he is working, kept either indoors or outside, and if he is ill, elderly or still growing. Pregnant and lactating bitches also have a greater energy requirement. If your dog is less active as he gets older, you may need reduce his food ration a little so that he doesn't become fat.

When you use a prepared pet food, the label on the packaging will provide a guideline as to how much to feed your dog. Bear in mind that these recommendations are a guideline only and you must make adjustments according to your dog's needs. If he is very active, he may need more than the recommended amount, but if he is quite sedentary then he will probably need less. Don't forget to allow for any other food he is receiving - the calories in biscuits, treats and other titbits soon add up!

The easiest way to keep an eye on your dog's feeding habits and general health is to use the evidence of your hand and eyes. If the dog appears alert and bright-eyed and is neither thin nor overweight, then he is probably in good health and benefiting from a properly balanced diet.

However, if your dog seems to be getting fat, you may well be overfeeding him. In this instance, try to establish a balance by cutting down the total amount of food or by reducing the amount of biscuits if you are feeding him a meat and biscuit ration.

Most adult dogs of nine months and older can be given their daily food allowance in one meal, although this can be divided into two or more meals if it is more convenient for you or suits your dog better. Remember that small dogs have small stomachs and may prefer to be fed twice a day.

Similarly, growing and working dogs, bitches that are pregnant or lactating, and dogs that are sick or convalescing will usually need more than one meal a day. Use your judgement to ensure that your dog is taking the right amount of food at the right times.

Working dogs

Working dogs, such as sheep dogs, police dogs and gun dogs, can have much higher energy needs than adult dogs of the same breed who are being fed for maintenance. All working dogs have increased energy needs which are influenced by several factors such as environmental the temperature, the age of the dog, the thickness of his coat and amount of work he does.

Typically, a true working dog will require two to four times the adult maintenance ration, which is usually fed as one third in the morning and the remaining two thirds on completion of the working day. You can offer your dog the extra energy in his diet by increasing the amount of mixer you feed him - this is more economical than increasing the meat content of his meal.

Older dogs

As your dog gets older he will gradually become less active and since he is using up less energy, you will need to keep an eye on his weight and, if necessary, to cut down his food ration to keep him at his optimum weight. This is especially important in the elderly dog since a fat body will put more strain on the heart and lungs and also on the muscles and joints. Obese dogs may have a shorter life expectancy. If your dog becomes clinically obese, your veterinarian may place him on a special low calorie diet.

In some dogs, the digestive system becomes less efficient with age. These dogs may be unable to use all the nutrients in their food and they may have difficulty in maintaining their body weight. In these cases, small but frequent meals may be more suitable. An ideal diet would be concentrated, tasty, and easily digested.

Some medical conditions which may benefit from changes in the diet, for example the level of phosphorus and protein in kidney disease and the level of salt in congestive heart failure. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on a suitable diet for your dog.

Water should always be available for your dog - you should keep an eye on the quantity he drinks and seek medical attention if this increases suddenly as this could signify the onset of a medical condition, such as kidney disease or diabetes.

Some old dogs may be a little arthritic in the neck and will have difficulty in bending down to eat. If this is the case, the food bowl should be raised off the floor at a comfortable height or placed on a step.

Breeding bitches

Most of the weight gain in pregnant bitches occurs in the last four weeks of pregnancy coinciding with the growth of the puppies. Overfeeding early in pregnancy can lead to unwanted fat and may cause problems at whelping. As a general rule, the amount of food offered to a pregnant bitch should be increased by between 10 and 15% per week from the fifth week onwards. At whelping she should be eating about 50% more than at the time of mating.
For our own girls, on the average, we will increase by 1 to 2 cups per day between the 5th and 9th week of the pregnancy (that's a total of 5 to 6 cups per day since my adults get a total of 4 cups per day for a normal feeding). By the last two weeks of the pregnancy, our bitches are usually eating about 8 times per day (about 3/4 of a cup at a time). No vitamin supplementation or calcium supplementation during pregnancy is required. Alternatively, some breeders will feed puppy-food (which is higher in vitamins, protein, and calories) to the dam during the pregnancy. In this way, the food content need not be increased.

As the pregnant uterus occupies a lot of space in the abdomen, a bitch's stomach is unable to expand as much as normal. Therefore, it is best to feed several small meals a day and to use a more concentrated and palatable food, so that she is able to consume enough to meet her demands.

While nursing her puppies, her demand for nutrients and energy will increase dramatically. During this time, she will need to eat up to three or four times her normal maintenance ration. This is to ensure that she can produce enough milk for the puppies and maintain her own body condition. At peak lactation (usually about 3 to 4 weeks), she will be giving between 4 to 7% of her body weight per day to her puppies in the form of milk.

Again, it is necessary to feed her several meals - probably three or four a day - of a concentrated, highy palatable diet, with perhaps a night feed as well. Feed her as much as she needs - she is unlikely to overeat. Make sure, also, that she has an unlimited supply of fresh water during this critical period.


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