Dogs need a balanced diet in order to maintain their health and fight off diseases. The right amounts of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates are essential for good health.
Your dog’s nutritional needs can usually be attained through food and supplement choices. But it is not providing the proper balance of nutrients. And there is no single regulatory body that ensures adequate or thorough labeling of pet food and supplements
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies. Although AAFCO has no regulatory authority, it does provide a forum for achieving three main goals:
- Ensuring consumer protection
- Safeguarding the health of animals and humans
- Providing a level playing field of orderly commerce for the animal feed industry
Within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is responsible for the regulation of animal drugs, medicated feeds, food additives and feed ingredients, including pet foods. There is no requirement that pet foods have pre-market approval by the FDA. But FDA regulations do require that pet foods, like human foods, are safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances and be truthfully labeled.
Your best option is always to check with your healthcare professional to determine a complete and balanced diet that will meet your pet’s needs.
Meeting Nutritional Needs
Dog food diets are confusing and controversial. How much and how often should your dog eat? Should you feed raw? Should you give them table food and home cooked meals? Should you buy commercially prepared foods or feed them a combination?
Your dog’s dietary requirements depend on her life stage as well as her size, overall health, gender and activity level. Small dogs with relatively low levels of activity require 200-400 calories, while dogs up to 100 pounds may need 1,500 to 2,000 calories. Adult dogs should be fed twice a day while puppies should be fed more often.
Commercially prepared dog food is produced by some of the largest companies in the world, including:
- Heinz (Kibbles n Bits, Gravy Train, Natures Recipe)
- Proctor & Gamble (Iams, Eukanuba)
- Nestle (Purina, Alpo, Mighty Dog)
- Colgate Palmolive (Hills Science)
Ingredients vary depending on the manufacturer, but they should meet the standards set by the AAFCO which stipulate that the food provide complete and balanced nutrition.
That said, many dog food labels are confusing. They include terms such as “natural”, “95%”, and “fortified”. There are also rules such as the “dinner” product, the flavor rule, the “with” rule. These rules allow foods to be designated and labeled if they meet certain percentages of the specific product or flavor, excluding water for processing. One helpful hint is to look for the words “complete and balanced” on the label.
The concern with some commercially prepared products comes from the fact that much of the nutritional value is lost during the preparation, such as cooking, heating, dehydrating, and canning. In order for certain pet foods to contain the proper nutritional value, they are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Raw foods are the most controversial. The potential benefits include higher energy levels, healthier skin and teeth, and shinier coats. In addition, these foods are not zapped of their nutrients as with many cooked and processed foods. There are some commercially frozen raw food diets that contain blends of vitamins, vegetables and grains.
However, many vets, dog owners, and the FDA are concerned about the risk factors with raw foods. These include the bacterial threat to both humans and dogs that comes with the exposure to raw meat, and the potential for an unbalanced diet. There is also no scientific support behind the benefits of a raw food diet.
There is much discussion about whether your dog should eat what you eat – table food. In general, the concern about table food is that your dog may not be getting a well rounded, nutritionally balanced diet. There can also be a tendency to over feed your dog or combine foods which may be dangerous for your dog to eat.
What we do know is that your dog will be getting a diet that has been regulated for human consumption. Keep in mind that the following foods are not safe for dogs to eat: chocolate, garlic, raisins, grapes, onions, xylitol, macadamia nuts, alcohol, avocados and caffeinated drinks such as coffee and soda.
As a general rule, if you are feeding your dog table food there should be some vitamin and mineral supplementation.
Remember: It is always best to check with your vet before changing your pet’s diet or supplementing it with vitamins and minerals.