Feeding the dog(s)… Part 1
A suitable diet encompasses all of the essential and non essential amino acids, balanced with carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water; thus providing the dog with a healthy intake of all the necessary nutrients. Although it is important that the diet is palatable to the dog it is important that it is easily digestible and adequate to meet the individual needs of the dog according to age, health and activities. Dog nutrition should be a concern to all dog managers/carers because ‘optimal nutrition underlies optimal health’ Barbara Fougere, BSCBVMS (hons).
A species appropriate diet – sometimes called ‘barf’ or ‘natural’ – is based on raw protein intake from uncooked meaty bones, vegetables and fruit; cooked/pulped only when necessary to break down cellulose in order to aid digestion, limited gluten rich grain, rice and 2nd class protein in the form of cheese, nuts etc. or home cooked. The ancestors of today’s dogs would naturally have consumed the whole body of their prey; bones, flesh, organs, gut contents; for fibre, skin and feathers, all of which provided the correct balance of nutrients to sustain them. In today’s society this is no longer an option for most of us and meaty bones are not an adequate substitution of a whole carcass, but by adding raw meat, vegetables, fruit, seed and suitable grain, we can offer a close equivalent of this form of natural diet. This type of diet, if monitored and adjusted accordingly, will provide all the nutrients a dog needs for a healthy, active life. It will ensure good levels of energy, easy digestion, healthy skin and coat, maintain teeth and gums, in fact all the things that commercial food manufactures promise. This type of diet is more cost effective than a commercial diet but it is more time consuming and does require management.
Commercial diets, whilst easy to use, requiring little or no management, are costly and poorly protected by legislation. Manufacturers are constantly on the look out for cheap ingredients and will alter recipes accordingly; this is the foremost reason why the wording on their packaging material is so vague; as these changes can be made to the contents without the expenses of reprinting. Commercial foods generally have a higher level of poor quality protein and chemically flavoured fats, these ingredient being more palatable to the dog, with colourings added in order for the food to look more palatable to humans. The title of such foods can be misleading and the use of words like ‘premium’, ‘whole health’ and ‘meaty goodness’ are intended to install confidence.
Converting dry matter basis
This can be the hard part. All pet foods have different levels of moisture. Canned foods can have up to 80% moisture whereas; some dry foods can have as little as 6%. This is important for 2 reasons. The first is that the food is priced by the pound, and when you buy dog food that is 80% water you get 20% food and the rest is water. So the amount of food your pet consumes is small and expensive. The other reason for understanding percent moisture is to help you compare crude protein and fat between brands and between canned and dry. The listings on the label are for the food as it is, not as it would be on a dry matter basis. So without converting both brands of food to a dry matter basis you will not be able to compare them accurately.
If a dry dog food has 10% moisture we know that it has 90% dry matter. So we look at the label and check the protein level that reads 20%. Next, we divide the 20 percent protein by the 90% dry matter and we get 22%, which is the amount of protein on a dry matter basis. Does this make sense so far? Good. Now let us compare this to canned food that has 80% moisture. We know that with 80% moisture we have 20% dry matter. The label shows 5% protein. So we take the 5% and divide it by 20% and we get 25% protein on a dry matter basis. So the canned food has more protein per pound on a dry matter basis after all the water is taken out.
If we take a well known brand of complete food for example; which is quite expensive, the packaging reads ‘lamb and rice – gluten free’, upon reading the label there is only 4% lamb, 2% meaty extract (whatever that is) and 5% brown rice, the remainder seemed to be made up of soluble fats, soya, beet pulp (left over sugar beet from sugar manufacturers), syrup and yeast.
Plus all the ‘extra vitamin and minerals, some of which exceeded the r.d.a. and some which don’t, assuming there is an even mix between bag and bowl. In the analysis it states 24% protein – well if the meat content is only 4% what is the source of the rest? The big bonus is the ‘extract of Yucca – widely acclaimed for its flatulence and faecal odour reducing properties’ well that’s ok then – no smelly dogs!!
Most carers who feed their dogs on commercial food rely on the so called expertise of the manufacturers, who in reality take advantage of the complicated science of nutrition by limiting factual information whilst at the same time exposing a gullible public to marketing material designed to provide reassurance that the dogs’ needs are being catered for.
A good example of this is the following quote taken from the advertising literature for a major brand. ‘Very few pet foods are processed and cooked as thoroughly, as slowly and as ‘hot’ as the xxxxx line of dog foods. You can see how processing every bit as important as the ingredients is. You can also see why a label only tells part of the story’. Well, I don’t know about you but actually I would like the label to tell the whole story.
A few years ago we rescued a clumber spaniel called Zak, a 4-year-old male, with a very bad ulcerating skin condition, which also affected his larynx and colon. Since leaving the breeder he had only been fed on the same, popular, dry complete food; on the basis that ‘anything else makes him really poorly and upsets his stomach’ he was allowed ‘half an apple or carrot once per day’, his carers genuinely believed that his skin and ulcerated internal tissue to be a genetic condition. They had spent a fortune on prescriptions and tests and as the condition started when he was still a very young puppy, the insurance companies would not cover the treatment cost. The food he was on was sold through the veterinary practice that had been treating him and was in fact recommended by their veterinary surgeon as a suitable diet. Tearfully leaving him, with strict instruction not to change his diet, along with 3 months supply of 2 types of antibiotic; one broad spectrum for ‘better days’ and one specific for ‘bad days’, 3 months supply of steroids and a homeopathic tea tree lotion, we didn’t know whether to weep for the dog or the people. It took us 3 months to gradually change his diet and reduce his antibiotic and steroidal intake. We increased his food to 70% home produced/raw and boosted his immune system with the extra minerals and vitamins, C, B2, Biotin and Zinc during the healing process. It took a further 4 months to clear his system of the antibiotics and steroids and to get him producing his own steroids for probably the first time in his life. He had a fine new layer of skin and a full coat in time for his 5th birthday. Unfortunately, as he had taken in insufficient water when on the dry food diet; his liver and kidneys never fully recovered and he only lived until he was 7 years old.
The responsibility of providing ‘optimal food for optimal health’ lies with all who decide to include dogs in their lives. Nutrition can be complicated and exact science but it is not rocket science and as dog carers we have the choice to make ourselves more aware of their needs – unfortunately our dogs don’t.