UNDERSTANDING DOG FOOD

UNDERSTANDING DOG FOOD!

What’s for tea?

DRY, WET, RAW, HOME COOKED…WHAT’S BEST FOR YOUR DOG?

There isn’t an easy answer to this question! Just as people can be happy and healthy on a variety of diets, so can dogs. And a food that suits one dog down to the ground could cause skin or digestive upsets in another. Our Vet Vicky visited Crufts last month and was bewildered by the huge number of dog foods out there, all claiming to be the very best thing for your dog to eat! So where to start?

Complete vs Complemetary

A complete food contains all the nutrients a dog requires to support daily life when fed as directed.

A complementary food needs other things added to balance the diet; meat and mixer diets, many raw foods, and treats fall into this category.

There are guidelines for nutrient levels in complete pets food, but in the UK only PFMA members formally promise to meet these levels. Small food producers balance their diets using computer programmes, larger food companies may do laboratory testing, or feeding trials.

Raw, home cooked, dry, wet, home-made, commercial….?

Buying a pre-prepared diet made by a PFMA member is the only guarantee of a nutritionally balanced diet. There are PFMA members who supply raw and lightly cooked diets as well as baked dry foods, extruded kibbles, and canned wet foods. 

Although many people feel that natural raw meat diets are the healthiest for dogs, there is sadly little well researched evidence for this. There is evidence that processing can alter the digestibility of some ingredients, and that cooking or processing may make foods more likely to cause digestive or skin problems in some pets (and make others safer to eat!). There is also little evidence that dry or canned diets are particularly bad for dogs. And with a large choice of gently cooked, high meat products on the market it is possible to feed a great (or really bad!) diet from any category!

Home-cooked and raw diets have been analysed and found to be deficient in key nutrients, so take advice on what foods to include, and whether supplements are recommended for your dog.

Raw fed pets have also been found to shed more bacteria (including e.coli, salmonella, and campylobacter) in their faeces. All dogs can pick up these bacteria from the environment (and eating nasty things on walks) so although we would not recommend raw feeding where there are ‘high risk’ people (babies, the elderly, or otherwise immunocompromised) good hygiene should be practised however your dog is fed.

Other things to consider when choosing a diet include cost (but work out the price per day as an expensive bag of food might go further) and convenience. Dry diets are easy to store, but can get infested with house dust mites or go stale if you buy bags your dog can’t eat in a reasonable time. Wet diets are more expensive and go off if your dog doesn’t eat them up quickly, but are often more appetising than dry diets. Pre-prepared raw diets remove some of the concerns over unbalanced diets and should carry a lower risk of bacterial contamination than home made raw diets, but are expensive to feed larger dogs. raw feeding can be very economical, and certainly suits many owners, but requires freezer space for ingredients, ideally a separate preparation area, takes time to do properly, and needs thorough research to ensure your dog gets a balanced diet.

Finally, food is not just fuel. Your dog should enjoy eating his food! Raw bones certainly fulfil a dog’s need to chew, but if you aren’t comfortable feeding raw bones (which can break teeth and cause digestive distress in some dogs) consider stuffing rubber toys with wet food, or using dry foods with snuffle mats or puzzle toys.

THE ‘DRY MATTER’ THING

If you really want to compare different pet foods you need to understand ‘dry matter’.

If a tin of dog food says it contains 5% fat and a dry food label says the food contains 15% fat, which has more fat?

If the wet food contains 80% moisture, the dry matter fat content is 25%

If the dry food contains 10% moisture the dry matter fat content is 17%….so the wet food is much higher in fat!

THE STUFF ON THE LABELS

Pet food labels have to list the percentages of protein, crude fibre, fat, and ash. They also have to list the ingredients, but these can be somewhat vague!

It is often stated that foods which list the ingredients individually are higher quality, and that the food is good if meat is the top ingredient. But again, things might not be so simple! Terms like ‘meat and animal derivatives’ can look off putting, but all dog food in the UK is made from animals suitable for human consumption. Dog food just uses the parts we don’t like to eat! A premium food might list ‘beef’ rather than ‘meat and animal derivatives’, but both could include beef tongue, heart, lung, and tripe. Although ingredients are listed by weight if beef is the top ingredient don’t assume the diet is mostly beef; if the next three ingredients are rice, oats, carrots these could add up to more than the beef. To confuse matters further some products use dehydrated meat, which weighs less but obviously makes up a larger proportion of the finished product than fresh meat would gram for gram.

Protein

Adult dogs need 20-40% dry matter protein. Protein can come from both animal and vegetable sources, but animal sources are easier for dogs to digest and provide essential amino acids (EAAs) which high vegetable protein diets may lack. Lack of EAAs can lead to poor behaviour, poor coat, or even to heart problems.

Fat

Adult dogs need 10-65% dry matter fat. Very high fat diets are required by dogs doing extended hard exercise such as sled dogs, and may cause digestive upsets or even pancreatitis in normally active dogs. There are essential fatty acids which must be taken in from the diet, and many foods have added omega 3 fatty acids which can have anti-inflammatory properties.

Carbohydrates

Adult dogs don’t need to eat carbohydrates as they are able to make glucose from fat and protein. However, carbohydrates are digestible by dogs and offer a cheaper source of calories than animal protein and fat. Even some dogs on raw diets benefit from some carbohydrates in the diet to maintain weight or improve behaviour. Our Vet Vicky is Veterinary Adviser for Breakthrough, which uses carbohydrates to raise serotonin levels and improve behaviour.

Fibre

Fibre is not just a ‘filler’ as some websites suggest. Soluble and insoluble fibres help with a feeling of fullness (important for dogs on a restricted diet to prevent weight gain), control gut transit time, and can act as pre-biotics improving the gut microbiome.

Ash

“They put ash in pet food!”. No, ‘they’ don’t! ‘Ash’ is just a legal term for the residue left after a pet food is incinerated as reflects the mineral content. The correct balance of calcium and phosphorus, as well as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and trace minerals including copper are important for health.

Vitamins

Added vitamins will be declared on the pet food label, but vitamins will come from food ingredients too. It is important not to over supplement with vitamins or minerals, especially fat soluble ones, as excess can cause illnesses. Unbalanced home prepared diets can also cause vitamin and mineral excesses or deficiencies, as can giving more than 10% of a dog’s daily food ration in treats, or cutting food back below the lowest guidelines to try and get a dog to lose weight.

DO I NEED TO CHANGE MY DOG’S DIET?

If your dog is fit and well, with good teeth, a shiny coat, and a good quality stool….probably not!

If your dog has skin, behaviour, or digestive problems then a change of diet could help improve things, but always take the advice of a vet or nutritionist rather than chopping and changing foods.

At Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care we take feeding and nutrition very seriously and think that a healthy gut is the foundation of a healthy dog. But we don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ policy and will help owners choose the vest diet for their pet and lifestyle from raw, wet, or dry diets.

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