Getting The Balance Right
To help him lead an active, healthy life, your dog's diet needs to achieve the right balance of the six major nutrient groups: proteins, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and water. Unless your dog is pregnant or nursing, or suffering from a particular condition, there is no reason to upset this balance from the early days of adulthood until the end of the sixth year when your dog reaches 'senior' status.
Dogs have different nutritional needs from humans. Whereas we are advised to eat fresh fruit and vegetables to provide vitamin C, bacteria in a dog's stomach produce enough vitamin C so they don't need any more in their diet. Dogs can also live without carbohydrates, but importantly they are not true carnivores and can't exist on meat alone. Ideally they need a combination of meat, cereals and vegetables to get the balance right.
All good quality manufactured dog foods have been carefully formulated to provide the proper balance of all the nutrients a dog requires, as well as tasting good. Despite the temptation, adding human food and scraps to a nutritionally balanced food doesn't do your dog any favours, and will often upset this fine nutritional balance.
Proteins, made from amino acids, are the building blocks of the body. The proteins you feed your dog (like chicken or beef, for example) are responsible for releasing energy and forming muscle, skin, hair, antibodies, enzymes, blood clots, haemoglobin and hormones.
Fats and oils provide the 'fuel' your dog needs to stay active - supplying more than twice as much energy as protein and carbohydrates. Fats, and fatty acids, are a source of vitamins, and are essential for good skin and coat condition and a healthy immune system. Fats are also important in improving the taste and digestibility of food.
Common carbohydrates like cereals, rice and pasta are an excellent energy source. Fibre also supports the digestive process.
Minerals, such as calcium and phosphorous, are essential for strong bones and teeth, cell and tissue development, fluid balance and metabolic processes. Minerals must be carefully balanced; an excess of one can lead to a deficiency in another.
Vitamins are required in small amounts to help maintain growth, a healthy skin and coat, and to support the immune system. Too much of certain types can be harmful, whilst a deficiency in others can be equally damaging. Fat soluble vitamins, (A, D, E and K) are stored in your dog's fatty tissues, whereas water-soluble vitamins (B complex and C) are excreted in the urine. Unlike humans, dogs do not require vitamin C.
Water is essential for all living things and dogs are no exception. The amount of water dogs need depends on several factors including air temperature, exercise levels and whether or not they are eating canned or dried food. Water regulates the body's temperature, transporting nutrients around the body and removing waste. You should make sure your dog has access to clean, fresh drinking water at all times.
What not to feed
If you prepare your dog's meals from scraps or specially purchased meat, take care. These diets are often too high in meat and not rich enough in other important nutrients and minerals, like calcium. On top of that, some common human foods such as rhubarb, soya, onions, spinach, beetroot, and undercooked maize or kidney beans are poisonous to dogs. Chocolate can be extremely harmful, and should never be fed to your dog. As little as 3oz of cooking chocolate can kill a medium-sized animal!
Supplements are not necessary when a normal, healthy dog is being fed a complete and balanced food. However, factors like feeding table scraps, inconsistent exercise or stressful changes in routine can leave dogs with special nutritional needs.
Some pet owners believe that extra calcium should be added to the diets of pregnant and nursing bitches and growing puppies. Whilst it is true that more minerals are needed at these times, they should be obtained through a high quality, nutritionally balanced diet. Adding them out of proportion to other nutrients can contribute to skeletal deformities and other problems. A good quality manufactured puppy formula diet will provide your pregnant or lactating bitch with everything she needs.