As the old adage goes, you are what you eat. The same applies to our dogs. A high quality, balanced diet will result in obvious rewards such as a shiny, sleek coat, good muscle tone, sparkling alert eyes and an overall glow of health.
A good or bad diet is quickly reflected in the main organ of the dog's body, the skin. Together with the dog's fur, one can easily pick the well-nourished dogs from those lacking in basic nutrients or not eating high quality food. A dog's most important dietary requirement is energy. Actual energy requirements vary widely from animal to animal, depending on activity level, age and other physical needs.
Protein should comprise between 15-34% of a dog's food. The low end is usually acceptable for Senior Citizen Dogs and the high end for growth and lactating bitches. Research has indicated that high protein growth food may not be indicated for fast-growing large and giant breed puppies and those prone to hip dysplasia and other skeletal diseases. Again, the best way to judge if your dog is getting sufficient energy and nutrients is his apearance, general health, weight and vitality after being on a specific diet for several months.
COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE DOG FOODS
Approximately 8-30% of a dog's food calories should come from fat, ideally animal fat. Since fat can get rancid during long storage of dry or canned foods, it must be preserved. Natural preservatives such as vitamin E (tocopherol) and Rosemary offer alternatives to chemical preservatives and should be preferred. Be aware, however, that foods preserved with these natural substances may not have as long a shelf life as those preserved with chemicals. Buy quantities your dog can consume within a reasonable time limit and always purchase food from retailers with a good turnover of product.
High quality foods with no meat "by-products" should be preferred. The pet food industry does not have the same stringent restrictions as the human food industry and "by-products" sometimes means miscellaneous parts and quality of animals that you don't really want your dog to eat (we'll leave that to your imagination). Thankfully, you do have a choice. Read the labels!
Premium quality dog foods, either canned, dry or frozen, contain vitamins and minerals balanced for a dog's nutritional needs. Although they cost more than other foods, they contain no indigestible fillers or additives that create bulk, while providing nothing but empty calories. Dogs do not really require carbohydrates in their diets. However most dog foods contain them in varying percentages (official standards allow up to 50%) and small amounts help regulate digestive functions. Premium dog food may contain more nutrients that can be absorbed by the body. This means that he will eat less and feel more satisfied than when eating lower cost, lower grade foods. Most premium dog foods also do not contain dyes, a source of many dog food allergies.
The biggest selling point for premium dog foods is the obvious long-range benefits of the sleek, glossy coat your dog will wear after being on such a diet for a few months. Since these foods are utilized more fully, you will also notice a change for the better in small formed stools and less elimination. Look for products whose labels state a "complete and balanced" diet or foods that "meet or exceed the American Association of Feed Control Officials requirements" or the requirements of the National Research Council.
ALTERNATIVE DOG FOODS
Important Note: Before beginning any homemade diet, be sure to discuss it with your veterinarian, holistic animal specialist or with a professional animal nutritionist.
While the world gets more high tech and "advanced," it also gets more removed from nature. Many people have realized that the secrets to maintaining health and energy often lie in nature, rather than in technology. As people turn to natural remedies and healthy eating, they've also found that their dogs can benefit from natural diets, as well.
Although making food for your dog is more time-consuming than simply opening a can or a bag, the health benefits can make it well worth the effort. Feeding less processed natural food, closer to what nature intended, gives clear and unmistakable results. Fur is glossier; muscles are heavier and suppler. Allergies and other illnesses may often clear up or be greatly improved.
When making your own food, it is crucial to achieve the correct balance of nutrients. This is not easy. Too much or too little of necessary nutrients (See: Necessary Nutrients in this section) can actually make your dog ill. There are several books available that deal with natural nutrition and health (see end of article for list).
Our domestic dogs evolved from wild dogs, whose diets consisted of prey such as small mammals and birds. Biologically, a dog's body is designed to eat raw meat. Published studies have indicated that, to dogs, raw meat may actually be more digestible than cooked meat. Raw meat is also an excellent source of essential amino acids. Since dogs' stomachs are highly acidic, they are not as susceptible as people's stomachs to bacteria and other disease-producing organisms in raw meat. However, when using raw meat in dog diets, it is recommended to buy meat from reliable sources (preferably meat raised without steroids) and to sterilize the meat with grapefruit seed extract (see recipes below). Always use high-quality ingredients. Inexpensive but lean cuts of meat, chicken and turkey are the way to go. Vary the meats you use. Use organic vegetables when possible.
Fat, whether animal or vegetable, is easily digestible and does not need to be cooked when fed to dogs. The canine nutritional requirements for fatty acids can be obtained from vegetable fats, since dogs can convert the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid to the essential fatty acid, arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid is present in its natural state in animal fat.
Vegetable starches must be cooked to be easily digested by dogs. Dogs may not require carbohydrates in their diets because most can manufacture enough sugar to maintain blood glucose levels from protein. However, digestible carbohydrates furnish a low-cost source of energy. Use whole grains to get the benefit of dog vitamins, minerals and fiber.
To give your dog the ultimate in healthy, digestible and delicious diets, try this sample menu. You may freeze serving size portions. Depending on the variety of meat and the type of grains used, this recipe provides 22-30% protein (fattier meats, 22%, turkey, 30%):
§ 1 lb. raw ground or chopped lean meat (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, ground chicken backs and necks) or chopped raw organ meat (chicken livers, hearts, giblets, turkey hearts, liver, giblets, beef liver, heart, kidneys, lamb liver, heart, kidneys.) Do not mix proteins. For example, use chicken livers when using ground chicken, etc.
§ Sterilize the meat with standardized grapefruit extract (available at health food stores): Mix 4 drops grapefruit seed extract in 8 oz. purified water, per pound of meat. Pour over meat and mix.
§ 1 cup cooked or chopped raw vegetables: Any mixture of carefully washed zucchini, carrots, yams, broccoli, yellow squash, peas, corn, green beans. You may also use frozen vegetables, but not canned. Grind them partially frozen in your food processor!
§ 4 cups of cooked grains (2 cups uncooked quantity): Rolled oats, brown rice, multigrain cereals, millet flakes, etc. Pour boiling water on flakes, quick cooking cereals, oats. Cook other grains until very soft - add extra water. You can also use left over grains, rice, mashed potatoes, etc. from your own dinner!
§ 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
§ 1 tablespoon Vitamin Mineral Mix (see below)
§ 1/4 teaspoon Vitamin C with Bioflavoids
§ 100 IU Vitamins
§ Dash of salt (or 1/4 tsp. soy sauce)
Mix together. Add enough purified water or homemade chicken broth to get a slightly soupy consistency.
To make Vitamin Mineral Mix:
§ 2 cups bone meal (with marrow, preferred)
§ 2/3 cup brewer's yeast
§ 1/3 cup lecithin granules
§ 1/3 cup kelp powder
Mix all ingredients together. Keep in a closed container in the refrigerator.
If you don't want to get into the whole process of making dog food, but still would like your dog to benefit from a healthier diet, you can top off or mix a premium quality dry food with the following:
§ 1 pound raw chopped or ground lean meat (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, beef heart) or 3/4 cup cottage cheese. Sterilize meat with standardized grapefruit seed extract as described above.
§ 1/2 cup cooked or ground raw vegetables (optional)
§ 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
§ 1 1/2 tablespoons Vitamin Mineral Mix (see above for recipe)
§ 1/4 teaspoon Vitamin C with Bioflavoids (optional)
Quantity: Makes 2 1/2 cups. Add 1/4-1/3 cup "topping" to 1 cup of dry food. Note: In order to maintain a balanced diet, it is necessary to include all of the above required ingredients.