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Understanding Your Dog's Nutritional Needs

voyce2.jpgBy: Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna

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If you find nutrition confusing, you are certainly not alone.  As a society, we have more food choices than ever before, yet we are in an obesity epidemic and fewer people raise or cook their own food.  These statements are true not only for human food, but also canine food. 

As a species, domesticated dogs’ diets have changed dramatically over the last millennia, as their jobs have changed.  In the past, dogs may have hunted or scavenged food as a solitary dog or part of a feral pack.  Working dogs may have been fed scraps while herding with ranchers.  In other countries, these lifestyles are still very common.  In the United States, however, these lifestyles are increasingly uncommon.  As more people have moved into cities and into desk jobs, many dogs have moved into the home for companionship.  With this move into the home comes a new set of nutritional needs.

Dogs who live primarily in the home, and who do not get much activity, need protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats -- the same as a working dog.  The differences in needs are in the calorie counts and the volume of food.  Just as with humans, the calories your dog burn need to be balanced against her consumption of calories.  A more active and athletic dog may need 1 ½ to three times as many calories as an inactive dog.  Your veterinarian can help you calculate how many calories your dog needs to eat daily.

As for food choices, a number of options are available.  Commercial dog food is somewhat ubiquitous as they are sold in all kinds of stores.  With dogs -- as with humans -- the quality of the diet is vital.  What we put into our dogs’ bodies is reflected in their energy, coat, and overall health.  If you choose to feed a commercial diet, speak with your veterinarian.  Your veterinarian may have had a lot of success with a particular diet and recommend a brand or formula for specific benefits. Veterinarians may prefer dry kibble for its effect on teeth, or like canned food for its added moisture. When food is processed into a kibble, it becomes more calorie-dense and dehydrated.  This process makes it easier to store and transport food, but it also means your dog needs a smaller volume of food in general.

As an alternative, many people enjoy the process of cooking for their dogs.  In these cases, pet parents can work with their veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to develop a well-rounded diet for their pet.  Sometimes home cooking is for convenience, and sometimes for ease or cost-effectiveness.  Sometimes it is a form of bonding and displaying affection for your pup. Make sure you prepare and store the food safely, to minimize the risk for bacterial contamination.

Bacterial contamination risk may be highest with raw, partial raw, or BARF (Bones and Raw Food) diets.  These diets are often controversial, due to the risk for intestinal blockage, infection, or tooth breakage.  Some pet parents and veterinarians love these diets, while others believe they may be very harmful.  Work with your veterinarian to evaluate what is best for you and your dog.  In any case, providing adequate nutrition is of prime importance to the overall health and well being of your furry friend.

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