We are all familiar with the old saying, “you are what you eat,” but the choice of what food is best to feed your dog can be an overwhelming decision. The market is flooded with so many choices, from inexpensive grocery store brands, to expensive premium brands, grain free, boutique raw diets, prescription diets, and even home cooked meals. I will try to simplify each choice and unravel the mystery of what to feed your pet.
One very important thing to keep in mind, is that the dog food industry has minimal regulation. This means that many major corporations involve themselves in the very lucrative business of making dog food. The best way to assure that your pet is eating a high quality food, is to look for the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement on the bag. This means that the manufacturer submitted samples of their food to be analyzed at the AAFCO lab. Only high quality properly balanced diets are given an AAFCO certification.
Over the past several years, grain-free canine diets have been a major marketing campaign for dog food manufacturers. Consumers are led to believe that grains are harmful to dogs. The truth is, that unless your dog has an allergy to grain (which is uncommon), grains are not generally problematic. Beginning in 2014, the FDA began receiving reports of grain free diets causing health issues in dogs. UC Davis conducted a study, and in July of 2018, the FDA issued a warning that grain free diets have been linked to cardiomyopathy in dogs. This is a serious cardiac condition that can even be fatal.
Boutique raw diets are another new choice to the market. Though advertisers point out that in the wild dogs eat raw meat, there are some health concerns that consumers do not always think about. Raw meat contains bacteria (which is normally killed in the cooking process), so eating raw meat can lead to gastrointestinal infections. I commonly see intermittent diarrhea and vomiting in dogs fed a raw diet. Furthermore, the American Veterinary Medical Association advises that pets fed raw diets can be carriers of salmonella. This means your pet will not show symptoms of the illness; however, they can spread the illness to other family members. Additionally, unless the commercially prepared raw diet carries the AAFCO label, it may not be nutritionally balanced.
Some pet owners choose to prepare raw diets at home. If you choose to do so, remove all bones. Bones are not advisable, as they are a choking hazard and can cause intestinal blockages. Due to the risks to humans and dogs, I do not recommend raw diets.
Prescription diets are prescribed by your veterinarian to better assist in management of a pet’s medical condition. Conditions that may need prescription food are weight loss, diabetes, kidney disease, urinary issues, gastrointestinal issues, or allergies. These specially blended foods can be very helpful in managing your pet’s chronic disease.
In recent times, dogs have become beloved family members. For this reason, many pet owners choose to prepare home cooked meals. For nutritional purposes, it is best to mix plain boiled or baked meats and fresh vegetables (such as green beans and carrots) with an AAFCO approved dog food. This lets loving parents prepare a home cooked meal, while the “fur baby” gets all the vitamins and minerals he or she needs. If you wish to solely serve a home cooked diet, it is challenging to assure proper nutritional content. For this reason, it is very important to work closely with your veterinarian before doing so.
No matter what diet you choose for your dog, be sure to watch their figure! Most dogs in America are overweight. Your dog should have a visible waistline, and ribs should be slightly visible. Just like in humans, it is a good idea to count calories. Commercial dog foods have calorie counts listed on the label. A good daily calorie guideline is 350 CAL or less, for a 20 lbs. dog. 650 CAL or less, for a 40 lb. dog. 900 CAL, or less per day for a 60 lb. dog. 1,200 CAL or less for an 80 lb. dog. This daily calorie guideline can be a useful tool for you to assure your pet isn’t overeating. One misconception is to follow the chart on the dog food bag. It is best to double check the bag recommendation against the calorie recommendations above, as most dog food companies over portion on their food serving guide, this helps to sell more dog food. If a reduction in calories causes your pet to seem hungry or if your pet is a snacker, raw green beans and carrots can be great low-calorie treats!
Pet nutrition is the most common question I get in my practice. I hope this information is useful as you make dietary decisions for your dog. Proper nutrition is important for your fur baby to live a long and healthy life… just food for thought, on the subject of dog nutrition.
Dr. Kaitlen Lawton-Betchel grew up in Lemoore. An alumni of West Hills College and Fresno Pacific University, she graduated from Midwestern University in Arizona with her doctorate of veterinary medicine and her business certificate. Dr. Kait currently practices out of Karing for Kreatures Veterinary Hospital, also known as K+K.
The hospital is located at 377 Hill St., Lemoore. To make an appointment, call 559-997-1121.
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