Welcome to this week’s Canine Nutrition Match-Up. In this corner, weighing in at 220 “table scrap-eating” pounds, 7 year-old Mastiff, Over-the-Maximum Max! (Cheers and boos erupt from the audience).
And in this corner, weighing in at a “killer, well-balanced diet” 5 pounds, 7 year-old, lean and keen Chihuahua, Chipper Chi Chi! (More cheers and boos come from the audience).
Stay tuned as these two champs battle to overcome lifetime health issues that can arise from obesity. Diabetes. Liver disease. Kidney issues. Joint and arthritis problems. Who will win the match-up? If you bet on Chipper Chi Chi, you would have a winner! Poor Over-the-Maximum Max never stood a chance being 30 to 40 pounds over his ideal weight for his breed.
Just like humans, eating right, exercising and staying fit, make an impact on canine long-term health. As dogs transition into adulthood, providing the correct, well-balanced diet will establish his overall health and well-being for the duration of his life.
Knowledge Nuggets about Dog Nutrition
Adult dog nutrition takes some brainpower to digest, but a simple understanding will help you fill your dog’s food dish wisely. A short course on canine history is the first step. Dogs descend from wolves and they ate mostly protein with a high percentage of fat, a little fiber and some carbohydrates on the side. Basically, meat met their nutritional needs. As canine life and other animal’s lifestyles evolved, so did their dietary requirements. Today, dogs and humans are considered omnivores-animals that need a combination of meat and plants. Luckily, dogs do not require raw meat as a regular diet staple like their ancestors. Cats, on the other hand, are obligate carnivores. They want meat, like meat, expect meat, regardless if it is in dry or wet food or free range rodent hunting.
Dogs need protein (water, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins) to thrive. It helps growth and development of all body parts, its structure, and supports the immune system. It provides the energy, which is burned as calories and can be converted and stored as fat, a necessary dietary function. However, protein is only the means to an end. What dogs really need to lead a healthy life is the amino acids (building blocks) in the protein. Hang on now because things get a little complicated from this point. Dogs need 22 amino acids that are found in protein, but produce (synthesize) 12 from their food combination. The rest of these essential amino acids must be consumed. A deficiency in any of these amino acids can cause health-related problems. Case in point, before dog food was required to meet federal dietary requirements, it often contained the cheapest meat source available that did not meet these needs. Dogs could eat this food, but it made them sick or worse.
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Protein Packs a Punch
Today, things have changed for the better. New dog foods are produced to meet the dietary requirements of canines with quality meat sources and all the fat, minerals and vitamins a healthy canine needs. One of the things brand name dog food does well now is balance the quality (source), digestibility and quantity of protein because (brace for this news flash) not all proteins are created equal. Every single source of protein is different and breaks down in unique ways. Some will be better than others and will deliver varied amounts of amino acids. For nutrition purposes, proteins are assigned a biological value (protein quality) based on the protein’s ability to be used by the body and its amount of usable amino acids. The higher a protein’s biological value, the better it is suited for digestibility and usable amino acids. It is complicated, but if you keep certain proteins and their bio levels in mind, it helps to rank their protein strength. An egg tips the scale with a 100 and fish and beef can score in the 70 range. Milk and cheese might earn marks in the 80 and 90 range. Ironically, at the bottom end of the scale are items connected (hair and feathers) to animals from fresh kills. While they do have high protein amounts, they lack much bio value. Corn and wheat will have bio values from 60 to 40. Make sure to look at the ingredients listed on your dog food package and pay attention to the order here. Ingredients will descend in the listing from most to least amounts.
So what exactly does a dog need to eat for an appropriate and healthy diet? It really depends on the breed of dog, his activity level, and his stage of life. Basically, an adult dog will need a diet consisting of about 18% protein and 9-15% fat. Puppies will demand more protein and fat as they grow into adulthood and pregnant and lactating females will also need more protein and fat to carry out their biological functions. Senior dogs will require less and may have protein restrictions if kidney disease is involved. For a good overview of what your specific dog should eat daily for good nutrition, check out weight tables on line for breed and age and also consult with your veterinarian about the best options.
Note that the protein level listed on a dog food product does not mean it is highly digestible. Ingredients should be listed by order of weight so if meats like chicken, lamb and such come first, it may represent a higher standard of protein. Meat and/or bone meal listed at the topic packs a lot less protein. Some dog food manufacturers can also mask how much grain and other items are in a food by calling it different things when in fact it is all the same. A good rule to follow is to buy the highest, quality dog food you can afford. The difference will be in how digestible the protein is in the better brands.
As a pet parent, selecting a reputable, brand name dog food, whether moist or dry, will usually solve the canine nutritional dilemma. It will work well for the majority of dogs. However, dogs with special health issues like kidney problems, allergies and other concerns, may need a unique diet and food source. The best product guide can be found on the dog food itself. Look for Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on labels. This group sets nutrient guidelines that most reputable pet food manufacturers follow. Quality dog food will have a statement on the label saying, “…the food is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient guidelines for complete and balanced nutrition, or that feeding trials following AAFCO guidelines have substantiated that it provides complete nutrition.” Packaging should also tell the buyer the life stage the food is designed for in canines and the daily amount needed for a healthy dog. Generally, look for a low-calorie diet for your canine if your dog is an indoor, spayed or neutered pet since their energy needs will be less. This will help keep unwanted weight off. You can feed your dog this recommended daily allowance divided into two or three meals every day, depending on your schedule and your canine’s eating habits. Both wet and dry food are equally nutritious and digestible, so pick what works best for a dog’s needs and your pocketbook. Moist food tends to deliver more water if a dog needs to increase his consumption. Dry food is often created to help remove plaque and encourage dental health. Ask your vet for his/her recommendation as well.
Be careful about overdoing treats for your canine companion, too. Dogs love a tasty reward or tidbit, but all these little nuggets can add up and increase a pet’s daily calorie intake. Be sure to pick low calorie, nutritious treats when you use them and don’t go overboard in handing them out, no matter how much your buddy begs or how cute he is.
So keep your furry friend in the fit circle and ready for action by providing the best food alternatives for all his nutritional needs. Fight off obesity at all costs through proper diet, exercise and activity, and here’s betting your canine will stick for more years of enjoyment.