dog food

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.

Brain Food

bones

CHANGE THE DIET, CHANGE THE BEHAVIOUR?

If you spend any time on the internet, reading dog magazines, or in pet shops, you will be aware of the huge range of foods out there promising your dog a longer, happier life. But could a change of diet really help change your dog’s behaviour?

CAN DIET FIX BEHAVIOUR PROBLEMS?

Some behaviour problems may actually be related to a dog’s diet. Take the case of a collie who was attacking his owners when they tried to sit on the sofa. Initially it was thought that the dog was guarding the sofa, but when the behaviourist visited in the daytime there was no attack… careful questioning revealed that his behaviour was more related to the time of day, than the sofa. His owners were very active people and only tried to sit on the sofa in the evening. They were only feeding their dog in the mornings and then he was having long, exciting walks. By the evening the collie was tired and had low blood sugar which made him extremely grumpy. He would curl up to sleep on the sofa and when woken by his owners he was so confused he would snap at them. This dog didn’t need retraining….just food at tea time as well as at breakfast!

Another case involved a rescue springer spaniel who suffered badly with shadow chasing which meant he could only be exercised at certain times of day. Being a springer this meant he had lots of pent up energy and could be destructive in the house. To help, a trainer recommended a very low protein diet…which made the poor dog worse. Reducing the protein in his diet meant that he wasn’t getting the raw materials to make the brain chemicals that make dogs (and people!) happy. Against his owners expectation switching him onto a diet of raw meat, vegetables, and bones didn’t send him crazy, it improved his behaviour a lot. And chewing on large, meaty bones not only provided essential amino acids, it gave him a very satisfying activity to do when it was too sunny to take him out for walks.

One of the advantages of a behaviour consultation with our holistic vet is that she will consider your dog’s diet, health, and exercise when assessing problem behaviours. Key areas she will consider are the quality and quantity or protein, and how often the dogs is fed. Not all protein sources are the same; muscle meat is important in a dog’s diet to supply essential amino acids. These can’t be manufactured in the body and are vital building blocks for proteins, hormones, and messenger chemicals in the body and brain. Some diets seem to have sufficient protein, but it comes from vegetable sources, or from feet and feathers which don’t have the right levels of essential amino acids. Some dogs cope well when fed once a day, but the very active dog, young dogs, and toy breeds can suffer from low blood sugar on once a day feeding. Low blood sugar can cause confusion, grumpiness, and in severe cases collapse or fits.

A DIET TO RAISE SEROTONIN

For some dogs low serotonin is the cause of their problem behaviours, or makes it difficult for them to learn new behaviours. Serotonin levels in the brain can be raised through the use of drugs usually used for depression in people. Unfortunately these drugs can have side effects and getting the right drug for the dog (or human!) can be a case of trial and error. In many dogs, switching from a diet with low protein quantity or quality (like the springer we discussed above) to a diet with higher muscle meat levels, or a raw meat based diet can lead to improved behaviour. In others behaviour does not improve enough. Various supplements are sold containing tryptophan, the essential amino acid which is needed to produce serotonin. These have a limited effect on brain serotonin levels however, as tryptophan is often broken down before enough of it can enter the brain as it competes with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier.

The good news is that our clever colleagues have designed a diet that allows plenty of tryptophan to enter the brain, which in turn means higher serotonin levels, and a happier dog!

We have been recommending this serotonin raising diet to our clients for several years and we have used it with owners who are raw feeding, as well as those who prefer prepared wet or dry foods, Sadly the DIY version we recommend has proved difficult for some owners as it involves feeding four times a day. For owners who raw feed, or who have very fussy dogs we will still recommend the DIY serotonin raising diet (please book as consultation for details!). However, for those owners who would prefer to feed a kibble food twice a day we will recommend Breakthrough ™.

If you think your dog might benefit from either the DIY serotonin boosting diet, or from Breakthrough™, we would strongly advise you to book a behavioural assessment. If you decide to try Breakthrough™ before a consultation, please thank us for making you aware of it by choosing 02301 Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care as your referring behaviour practice.

KIBBLE? BUT AREN’T YOU PRO RAW FEEDING!!!!?

We don’t judge our clients. We aim to help as many pet owners as possible improve the physical and mental health of their pets through a truly holistic combination of conventional diagnostics, conventional medicines, acupuncture, physical therapy, behavioural assessment and treatment, herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, and dietary changes, as appropriate for each client and pet.

We do love raw feeding as it allows owners to feed high quality protein, and to know exactly what their pet is eating. Some dogs don’t do well on grain based diets, and others become intolerant of processed meat proteins so raw feeding can be ideal for these pets. It can be a cost effective way to feed, and when whole meaty bones are fed there is ample opportunity for chewing and food play. However, raw feeding isn’t for everyone! It may not be safe for those who are immunocompromised, and may not be practical for those without room to store meat and bones. It is also unsuitable for dogs with food guarding issues until these have been addressed. If our clients want to feed raw we will help them every step of the way, even adapting the serotonin raising diet to suit raw feeding. However, for those who can’t or won’t raw feed, we will work with our client to find the best alternative.

 

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

DRY DOG FOOD IS KILLING YOUR PET!

Really? It looks like it’s time for another episode of Four Seasons Holistic Veterinary Care Mythbusters…

At Four Seasons we think the BEST way to feed your dog is with a home prepared raw diet made with meat and veg that you could eat yourself (and bones which you’d be happy to make stock from!) but we also appreciate that not all our clients are able to provide that, for a variety of reasons, and instead feed their dogs on premium dry or wet foods.

This week a blog about the UK’s worst dog foods has been doing the rounds and it’s got several of our clients worried as it contains brand they thought were high quality, so what should you be concerned about when buying dog food?

INGREDIENTS

Look for a food which lists all the ingredients. If it says ‘lamb meat’ that’s what you’re getting. If it says ‘meat and animal by-products’ it could well include poor quality protein sources including beaks, feet and feathers. These are not toxic to your dog but too many of them mean he may miss out on essential amino acids.

If you have concerns over GM ingredients then there are dry foods which are GM free, and which use meat from animals fed GM free diets. Similarly if you prefer organic foods then several brands offer organic ranges and use free range meat. Fish varieties should state if they are from sustainable wild or farmed sources.

Carbohydrates and grains are a big source of concern for some owners. Grains are not a natural part of a dogs diet but for many dogs they provide a cheaper source of carbohydrates and protein than meat. Some grains are more digestible than others and quality and processing are important factors too. Alternative sources of carbohydrate include pulses and potato and many manufacturers now offer ‘grain free’ dry and wet diets.

ADDITIVES

Most foods will need some additives to prevent spoiling. Avoid the artificial ones like BHT and BHA which may be linked to health problems and look for natural anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C and Rosemary oil. Don’t panic about E- numbers but do take the time to check them out if listed. Even natural colours get an E-number! E-162 is Beetroot juice used for colouring.

PROTEIN, FAT, MOISTURE, ASH!

You might be looking for a low fat dog food,  or maybe a high protein one so with these percentages on the packet it’s easy….right? Actually it’s not because a wet food with 5% fat is much more fatty than a dry food with 5% fat! Confused? It’s all about DRY MATTER.

If a canned food if 5% fat and 80% moisture this makes it’s Dry Matter fat 25%

If a dry food is 5% fat and 10% moisture this makes it’s Dry Matter fat 5.5%!

For most healthy dogs look for a DM protein of at least 25% and fat around 10-15% in pre-prepared food. The rest will be carbohydrates, fibre and ash.  Carbohydrates aren’t the dogs preferred energy source (they work most efficiently from animal fat and protein) but they are a cheaper source of energy than animal fat and protein so make up around 50% of most dog foods. Fibre is indigestible but useful to bulk out diets for overweight dogs and provides certain good gut bacteria with their fuel (sugar beet pulp is often included for this reason and despite the name the product used in dogs foods has had almost all the sugar removed, chicory is another plant added for fibre and gut bacterial health). Ash is everything else; the minerals and trace elements.

MADE IN BRITAIN

We’ve seen some scare stories about foreign dog food containing road-kill, diseased meat and even dead pets! We don’t know how true these tales are but by sticking to foods made in the UK you are assured that only meat passed as safe for human consumption is used (although it might not be the prime cuts!).

There have been verified health scares with ingredients from China (including medicinal herbs) being deliberately or accidentally contaminated with toxic substances; another reason to buy British.

SO WHAT TO FEED?

Avoid: wet or dry foods with unclear ingredients, artificial additives, mostly grain based.

Good: dry food with clear, limited ingredients list, natural additives, high meat content.

Better: sachets or pouches of lightly cooked meat and veg with minimal grain or a pre-prepared raw diet.

Best: home prepared raw diet.

For more advice on feeding your dog make an appointment!