It goes unsaid - a healthy diet makes a healthy dog! That and loads of love and care, of course. Nutrition is paramount when it comes to the well being of our furry four-legged best friends, yet it is frequently underestimated until a serious health complication crops up sooner or later in the dog's life.
In short, any diet that meets all the nutritional requirements in adequate proportion, according to age and activity level, to reach optimum growth and development of every part of a dog's body is what's considered as 'right'.
Now, how to find this right diet? And more importantly, will my dog like it?
Opinions on canine nutrition differ vastly among people in the pet industry. Some prefer homecooked meals, while others advocate dry food. Veterinarians, canine nutritionists, breeders, dog trainers, dog parents - each have a different say on the right type of dog food. However, eventually, you and your family are the ones who decide what's best for your dog in terms of taste, type of food, quality of ingredients, and expense.
That said, here are some helpful tips in making that crucial decision!
What makes dog food 'right'?
Forget all the advertising that pet food brands do, and let's look at the Canis Lupus Familiaris' history - dogs are not obligate carnivores like cats. They are omnivores, although a majority of their diet must consist of protein in the form of meat or adequately substituted vegetable protein. Domestic dogs derive their nutrition from protein (meat or vegetable protein), fats, vitamins, minerals, and roughage (fibre). Quite like humans, only the proportion of carbohydrates is relatively lesser.
A good quality dog diet will have protein in the highest proportion followed by certain grains, fruits, vegetables, and sometimes, carbohydrate fillers like maize.
If your dog likes wet food, feed him wet food. If he prefers the taste of kibble, feed him kibble. If he enjoys a combination of both, then so be it! As long as your dog is getting all of his nutritional requirements in proper portions as per his age, breed, and activity level, there is no standard right or wrong type of dog food.
Are dogs supposed to only eat meat?
Wolves are 95% carnivores; dogs are omnivores. When wolves were domesticated, they weren't fed only meat but ate whatever their humans ate. Besides, when a wolf kills a herbivore in the wild, it eats the prey's stomach too - an organ that has grass from what the herbivore ate before being killed.
Dogs have evolved over the years to eat a balance of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. That said, your dog will benefit from a balanced diet that has meat in a higher proportion, alongside fruits, vegetables, and grains in adequate amounts.
Tips on choosing the best dog diet
Always keep your dog's age in mind
Age-appropriate nutrition is paramount when choosing the right dog food. Puppies need more calories for healthy growth, while adult dogs need lesser calories, i.e. just enough for maintenance. When buying dog food, remember to always buy according to your dog's exact age. In certain cases, breed-specific dog food is also helpful.
Never forget their activity level
An overfed and under-exercised dog is well on its way to obesity and obesity-related health complications. No matter your dog's life stage, always feed them as per their activity level. A common misconception among dog parents is the amount of exercise that is considered 'active' or 'sedentary'.
Active dogs are those that are exercised for more than four hours a day. Their bodies and brains are constantly working in different ways - swimming, hiking, running, flyball, agility, police work, guide work etc.
Sedentary dogs are those who are exercised for close to two hours a day. Dogs that are walked twice a day or those who play for an hour at the park do not require the same amount of calories as a dog who is practising agility or flyball.
Despite those irresistible puppy dog eyes, remember that overfeeding can have irreversible consequences that can affect both the quality and quantity of your dog's life.
Make sure the diet is nutritionally adequate and appropriately balanced
A nutritionally adequate and appropriately balanced meal is one that has macro and micronutrients in proper proportion so as to maintain a healthy mind and body, alongside protecting the body from illnesses. Nutritionally adequate diets have protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, fibre, and selective carbohydrates in optimum proportion as per age requirement.
Check for allergens
Often we don't realize that our dog is allergic to a particular ingredient until it has an adverse reaction in their body. The best way to check for allergies is through a blood test at the veterinarian, after which certain dogs are put on hypoallergenic diets.
Stock up on supplements
In case you choose to feed dog food that doesn't match all nutritional requirements, you can always make up for what's lost through food with supplements. Supplements are health boosters with several benefits apart from aiding dog food in delivering nutritional benefits - they aid digestion, improve immunity, strengthen the cardiovascular system, maintain healthy skin and coat, reduce age-related health complications, and enhances brain function.
Taste and Smell
You may have all the nutrients power packed in one packet of dog food, but if your dog doesn't like the taste of it, you'd best be throwing it away. Taste and smell are crucial in deciding whether your dog might eat something or not. This is why most dog parents who have picky eaters opt for wet food because of its tantalizing aroma. It is best to buy a small portion of the dog food to test whether your dog likes it or not before going in to buy in bulk.
There is no right type of dog food, and there never will be! Just like how every human's body is different, every dog's is too. You and your dog are the best judges of what's right for you,
but remember to never turn a blind eye to feeding nutritionally balanced, age-appropriate food that is in accordance with activity level.
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