Is Change Good?
Your dog does not need to eat the same food throughout his life to be healthy. In fact, switching to a different pet food can often prove to be beneficial.
There are a number of reasons why you might consider changing your dog’s diet. His nutritional needs evolve as he ages, so a senior dog whose metabolism is slowing requires a different mix of nutrients than an active puppy. If your pet develops a medical condition such as diabetes, kidney disease, or food sensitivities, your healthcare professional may recommend a different diet.
You might be considering healthier alternatives such as wet or homemade food. Or you may simply decide to switch dog food brands. Whatever the reason, you will want to feed your dog the best diet you can manage and afford to ensure he lives a healthy and happy life.
Aim for a Balanced Diet
When it comes to nutrition, dogs are a lot like people. Their health depends on balanced nutrition, including the right mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. And they are omnivores, which means they thrive on a diet of meats, vegetables, and grains.
You will find a wide variety of dog food choices available today and there are a number of things to consider – including your pet’s overall health, stage of life, target weight and activity level. Before making any dietary decisions or changes, it is always wise to discuss the options with your dog’s healthcare professional.
If you decide to purchase commercially prepared dog food, the first thing you are likely to do is look at the label for a list of ingredients. However, unlike when you are buying food for yourself or your family, you may quickly realize that interpreting the nutrition label is no easy task.
The good news is, generally speaking, commercially prepared foods contain the appropriate nutrients your dog needs. The package should say the food meets at least the minimum requirements for a healthy diet set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) for your dog’s life stage.
What exactly is your pet’s stage of life? How many calories should she be consuming to maintain a healthy weight? Are there enough supplements to treat her specific health concerns? Dog food labels or the manufacturer’s customer service department may offer some guidance, but your veterinarian will know best how to tailor a diet to your pet’s specific needs.
Look for the highest quality dog food you can afford, which contains the most amounts of healthy, digestible food products and the least amount of meat by-products and artificial flavors and preservatives. A word of caution: While terms like “premium” and “natural” may make you feel better about the food you are buying, they are not clearly defined or regulated. Do your research and keep in mind that the food may not be better for your dog just because it costs more.
Home Cooked Meals
One healthy alternative to feeding your pet commercial food is to cook it yourself. The best way to cook homemade meals is to follow recipes from a dog nutritionist.
When cooking, be sure to eliminate any foods that may be toxic to your dog. Make sure all animal products are cooked well in order to eliminate bacteria that might make your dog sick. Also be careful not to substitute ingredients that may alter the nutrients your dog is receiving. Some homemade meals may require supplementation, so check with your veterinarian to make sure the meals meet your dog’s nutritional requirements.
If you decide to start cooking homemade meals for your dog, ease him into it. Mix 75 percent of his old food with 25 percent of the home cooked meals for 2 to 3 days, then shift the percentage to 50/50 for 2 to 3 days and 25/75 for the same number of days. After 10 days or so he will be eating 100 percent homemade meals.
Be aware of your dog’s bowel movements to make sure he doesn’t develop diarrhea, and also watch for any vomiting. If either of these occurs, consult with your vet.
Many canine owners are choosing a raw food diet for their pets. This diet can include a number of different meats as well as a mixture of raw foods such as eggs, vegetables, yogurt, and cereals.
There are a number of reported benefits of a raw food diet, including improved digestion, reduced allergy symptoms, and better weight management. However, bacterial contamination is a critical concern and food-borne disease is a risk for dogs as well as their human caretakers.
In a two-year study conducted between October 2010 and July 2012, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) screened over 1,000 samples of pet food for bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. (The illnesses are called “food-borne” because the bacteria are carried in or on contaminated food.) The study showed that, compared to other types of pet food tested, raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.
There is realistic concern that humans can contract these same illnesses, so take extra caution when handling and preparing raw pet food to minimize the risk of transmission.