We have been taking care of domesticated dogs for thousands of years so we’ve had plenty of practice feeding them. However, as a vet I still get asked loads of questions on which diet an owner should choose to feed their dog. Is tinned food better than dry food? Is feeding raw better than feeding commercial? And what about science diets versus homemade?
It’s not surprising that there is confusion out there since there is so much conflicting information about what to feed your best friend.
The good news is that I’ve seen dogs fed on all sorts of diets who are perfectly healthy. The key is to choose food that suits your dog’s nutritional needs, their activity levels, and ultimately your lifestyle. Feeding good quality ingredients in the right amount, and with the right amount of exercise usually means you get it right.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen people feeding perfectly good diets in the wrong amounts and often with too little exercise. The result is a fast ticket to obesity and all the associated problems that come with excess weight. It’s therefore important that you take a holistic view to your dog’s diet.
I often strip back my advice to some basic common-sense principles. Dogs should be fed on a predominantly meat (protein) based diet with some vegetables for added bulk. I personally don’t like grain-based diets and thankfully most pet food manufacturers are now limiting or reducing the amount of grains in commercial diets.
How much you feed will depend on your dog’s life stage and energy levels. Young and growing dogs require many more calories and senior dogs require much less. Rather than be prescriptive about calorie intake I advise owners to regularly body condition score their dog to ensure that they aren’t getting overweight. Essentially you are assessing the fat levels under the skin and increasing or reducing the amount of food accordingly.
Whether you feed a wet food or dry food is up to you. Dogs love to scavenge and are heavily stimulated by smell so you may find that dry diets aren’t as exciting for them as wet diets and they can develop a fussy nature. However, it’s much more convenient to feed a dry diet and they can keep longer once you open the packet. It is however, much easier to overfeed with these diets so always weight them out accurately.
Raw diets are quite popular with many dog owners who believe they are the closest to a ‘natural’ diet. Some dogs do very well on them and I’m particularly impressed with the teeth of dogs that are fed on raw bones since they get naturally cleaned. However, raw diets are not for the faint hearted and can be quite expensive. They can be difficult to prepare and you often need a huge amount of freezer space if you are going to buy in bulk.
Most commercial store-bought diets are pretty balanced in terms of nutrients. Science diets that are often only available from vets claim to be even more nutritionally advanced. If you have concerns about meeting your dogs’ nutritional needs then I’d definitely consider one of these. The alternative argument is that it’s overkill to meet the exacting requirements of your dog and if you can be trusted to meet the nutritional needs of yourself and your family through a home cooked diet then surely you can do the same for your dog. Again I don’t particular advocate home cooked diets or science diets but I think they both have their place depending on the owner circumstances. Those who are particularly worried about certain deficiencies can always use supplements to boost the nutritional content of the food and there is a number of high quality ones on the market.
So, it’s not just about what you feed your dog, it’s also about how you feed your dog. As a general rule, feed a high-quality diet, which is giving the appropriate amount of calories for your particular dog. You also need to take a more holistic view on exercise and lifestyle to ensure that those calories are being put to good use!
Paul Manktelow regularly appears in the media as one of the UKs leading veterinary surgeons. His accomplished career as a vet allows him to talk on a number of key animal subjects and he regularly provides valuable advice to pet owners across the UK. Appearing on TV shows such as Junior Vets, Animal Madhouse and This Morning, he also writes columns for the Times, Dogs Monthly and blogs on his popular website Vital Pet Health