How to feed your dog
Written by Bev Cobley for BDWS.
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).
An appropriate diet
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 a 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 manufacturers 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 lookout 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 ingredients 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’ is 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 fecal 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 a 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.
Starting Pups or Crossover Dogs on a Natural Diet:
If the puppy has not been fed natural by the breeder then you need to introduce a change of diet gradually – increasing the raw/home cooked gradually – in the meantime here are the home cooked recipes that I use for rescues coming in that I want to change and for getting pups going as weaning commences.
- Raw Stuff: (yes even the chicken)
- Chicken necks are excellent – very small bones will teach the ‘chew’ which they all need to learn. Most ‘barf’ suppliers do necks.
- Chicken Wings – again very good for teaching the chewing technique and good for getting weight on because of the fat content.
- Duck – any part of the duck is good, excellent for putting on weight but pricey if you don’t shoot – if you have a local shoot, they usually have some for sale.
- Raw/ground minced lamb, chicken or pork – usually mixed with rice or pasta plus grated carrots or a processed raw veggie mix and some wholemeal mixer.
- Fish – whole heads and all – oily fish is best, herring, mackerel, sardines, pilchards. Don’t worry about the bones – the dog can cope with them but no smoked fish.
I boil a large chicken or a lamb breast/neck in plain water with some olive/veggie oil added until it is well cooked (as the pup gets older/or the older dog more accustomed, I cook it less and less until it is virtually raw then feed it raw) and falling off the bone – drain and cool but add to the stock (having first checked there are no bones in it) a kilo of good quality pasta or rice, throw in the potato/veggie peeling and trimmings from your own dinner (no onion family) – if no veggies that day (you been to MacDonald’s ha-ha) then add either barley, lentils or oats or a combination and cook all out. Pick down the chicken/lamb and combine the lot – feed in portions with wholemeal mixer added.
Offal – good if you are not meat sensitive
Liver, lites, hearts, tripe, kidney, brains, tongue, etc all good – especially for the next stage feeding as the pup gets older or the older dog adjusts.
Cut into pieces and very lightly boil in plain water with some oats/lentils etc – but feed the veggies raw – either processed down slightly or grated.
I get pig and sheep heads from my butcher which are very cheap, I boil this until cooked then strip everything out and off (many find this too yucky) the skin gets slow roasted until crispy for chews everything except the bone and teeth is cut up put back into the boiling water and used as above.
Pate for Kongs and Liver Cake for Rewards:
1kg liver, 2 kg belly pork – cook very lightly in oil so still bloody in the middle – process to a very smooth gunk – put in a loaf tin – stand in a tray of water and bake until just firm – if, when it is cold it is too firm, then make it into a paste with some margarine or oil or cream cheese. See our guide for more kong filling ideas.
1kg liver, 2 mugs of semolina or rice flour or potato flour, 2 eggs. Blast in the processor and bake in a tray until really firm and dry – when cool cut into tiny squares. Recipe here.
Wash the blood off the liver for this – lay out on a tray and dry out in a very low oven until it completely dry – cut into very thin strips. Recipe here.
Extra special bingo treats:
Belly pork and pigs trotters – dried the same way. See our dog pork scratching recipe for more info.
Any raw meaty bone is good for the dog – I do not feed beef at all but many do.
There are 2 types – the easy to crunch – for feeding as a meal, ribs, neck, shoulder, etc and the big knuckle type, filled with good marrow, which cleans the teeth whilst the dog is getting the marrow out. On a bone only day – for dogs 6 months and upwards – they need a combination of both – as a guide a 40k dog will need the equivalent of 2 large lamb breasts and 2 shin/knuckle bones – usually given early lunchtime if you feed twice daily then reduce this by a third and give lighter meal of 2nd class protein, fish or minced raw chicken/lamb with wholemeal, or pasta or rice – with fruit/veggies later.
To get the pup/rescue used to this quantity of bone then introduce a bone a day as one of the daily meals – start off with chicken necks and chicken wings and build it up.
And last but not least …
Bones are a high resource to the dog – make sure you work at the training of taking the bone off him and giving it back etc. – especially if you have young children in the house. Also teach the children they mustn’t disturb rover whilst he is eating his bones – after all they wouldn’t be happy if rover tried to nick their chocolate bar!
Where to find your dog food
Look for local game butchers and get to know them – chat – buy some of your meat from them and get them to save anything and everything – you can sort it out once home.
Contact local shoots – see if any of them sell the excess of rabbits etc
Supermarkets like Lidl, Aldi, Netto sell human graded cheap meats and cuts and frozen free flow mince at a good price – get to know their sell-off days – usually Thursday and Monday. …They also sell good quality sardines in oil for around 30p a tin.
If you have a local market – get to know the stallholders – go when near closing time and buy the bruised fruit and veggies…our market man now keeps us stuff like bananas and apples and we get them really cheap – if there is a fish man ask him to save things like fish heads and roes and the bruised unsold fish – they would rather sell it for something than dump it.
The larger supermarkets have a huge sell by date turn around – we know that Monday mornings is our Sainsbury’s day for the cheap shelf and that Tesco’s clear out there’s on a Friday morning ready for the weekend – Asda have stuff daily – Morrisons not so much but they do sell packs of bones on their fresh meat section for about 30p… don’t forget to also check out the dried goods sell off shelf for dried peas, lentils, rice etc
Find farm shops that are selling local produce – try and talk to their suppliers and ask them for the bones, vegetable trimmings etc
Try and use only human grade foods – these wont have any of the more nasty preservatives in (like vit K3 for example) that dog food manufactures can use without labeling.
With things like supplements watch out for Holland and Barrets 2 for one offers – things like oil capsules, honey, sea kelp etc don’t need a use by date so stock up
We only spend on average (excluding the pups of course) 30p per dog per day and we have big dogs with the girls weighing in at 33K and the boys at 40K
Once you up and running it easy…honest!
Dietary requirements for healthy dogs
Individual dogs have individual nutritional requirements, even within the same breed, their dietary needs require to be adjusted according to their lifestyle and environment and importantly, for each of the life stages.
There are 6 groups of nutrients.
Within these groups are the 45 individual nutrients that are needed by dogs in order to stay healthy. The quality of the diet is determined by the appropriate blend of these nutrients not the ingredients that offer them, whilst the ingredients are important as they contribute to the palatability, digestibility and cost, it is the nutritional benefits that affect health.
- Puppies and juveniles require the essential amino acids that are broken down and absorbed during the digestion of proteins in order to grow physically and mature mentally. Due to the accelerated growth at these ages, good quality proteins are needed more than at any other time during a dog’s life. A diet that consists of 40% high quality protein is of greater value at this stage than a diet of 70% second-class protein as the conversion of the amino acids produces toxic waste, i.e. nitrogen compounds, which will cause excessive evacuation, thus taking other valuable nutrients with it. By the age of 3 months and up to 1 year of age, a diet consisting of 40% of raw protein will give the adequate protein requirement after biochemical conversion of a 15% intake as long as the quality is still high.
- Once the dog is over a year old then the protein requirements need to be assessed according to the individual needs. This will depend on breed, level of activity and exposure to stress. This assessment will require adjusting for lifetime changes, i.e. pregnant and lactating mothers, injury and illness. In adulthood, approximately 5% less protein is required than during juvenility, the important thing to remember is that protein does not produce energy; as the carbohydrates do, and a high protein diet continued over a period of time will produce health problems later in life; with urea and liver functions being overworked in order to rid the body of the nitrogen compounds and other waste.
- Obese and older dogs will only require approximately 25% protein in their diet. They require less in order to reduce the strain on the kidneys and liver and only require enough to repair viable damaged tissue. As most forms of protein fed to dogs also have a high fat content, this is the time of life that dogs become obese if overfed protein, one of the most common misconceptions by feeders is that an older dog requires more protein to stay healthy, when in fact the opposite is true.
- Fat is an essential requirement in a dog’s diet as it stores and carries the fat soluble vitamins A and E, thus ensuring the omega fatty acids are utilised to maintain coat quality, breeding efficiency and internal organ functions. As it only provides fuel for energy that has to be used immediately; and excess is only extra calories which will lay down fat layers in the body, it is important to control the amounts given in order to avoid obesity in later life.
- Puppies and juveniles require no more than 15% of fat in their diets, if too much fat is consumed, then less of the other essential nutrients are taken, resulting in young dogs suffering health problems due to vitamin deficiencies and other nutritional shortages.
- Adult and geriatric dogs will only require 10% to 12% of fat content in their diets unless the dog is very active. The energy produced from fat has to be burned off daily and a diet high in fat content will put a strain on the older dogs liver; due to the extra work asked of it in order to convert the excess fatty acids, the heart; due to the fat deposits being laid down in the cardiovascular system and obesity; creating breathing problems and overall poor muscular fitness.
Carbohydrates provide the main source of energy by being turned into glucose that the body needs in order to be active. Extra glucose can be stored in the liver and muscles for later use; unlike the energy produced from fat, which has to be burned off daily. The most important forms of carbohydrates are those that are easily digested by the dog. Cellulose, whilst being a good source of energy, is not easy for a dog to digest and care is required in its preparation.
- Puppies and juveniles will require 50% to 60% of carbohydrate in their diets, of which 90% should be of easily digestible fibre, otherwise digestive problems will occur.
- Adult dogs require approximately 50% of protein unless they are very active working dogs when a minimum of 60 % will be required to produce the extra energy asked for.
- Adult dogs require approximately 50% of protein unless they are very active working dogs when a minimum of 60 % will be required to produce the extra energy asked for.
Vitamins and Minerals
It is important to be aware that there is a strong interdependency between minerals; within each other and also with certain vitamins. The most commonly known is that of calcium and vitamin D and calcium and phosphorous. The recommended daily allowance of all minerals and vitamins will be provided in a healthy balanced diet, often any deficiencies are only discovered when there is a problem with health. Calcium and phosphorus maintain the strength of teeth and bone; calcium also helps with the clotting of the blood and helps nerve and muscle function. Phosphorus helps the storage and transfer of energy throughout the body, low doses of both can cause skeletal deformities in growing puppies and juveniles, but high doses of both can also cause serious problems, i.e. excessive bone growth in puppies leading to problems in later life.
- Magnesium is required for healthy bones and teeth and for the cardiovascular system and acts as a catalyst for enzyme reaction throughout the body.
- Potassium helps the metabolism, nerve and muscle functions and the control of the osmotic balance of body fluids.
- Sodium also regulates the body fluids and whilst a deficiency can cause tiredness, fatigue and hair loss, too much will cause a greater amount of water intake and place strain on the kidneys, especially in the older dog.
- Iron and copper enhance the efficiency of the blood, cell and enzyme systems, a deficiency of either will produce fatigue and weight loss; even if iron is present in the diet, without copper then anaemia will occur due to the interdependency of these two minerals.
- Zinc maintains skin and coat and a deficiency can lead to poor growth rate in puppies, emaciation and in the adult and geriatric dog, testicular atrophy.
- Iodine keeps the thyroid gland and thyroid hormones in healthy production, the symptoms for too much are similar to those of too little, tiredness, apathy and poor reproduction.
- Selenium acts as an antioxidant and protects the cell membranes but can only work in conjunction with vitamin E. There is a very fine line between a normal and a large dose and is very toxic.
- Manganese supports the carbohydrate and fat metabolism by helping the utilisation of produced energy; a deficiency will slow down the rate of growth in young dogs and affect the reproductive systems in adult dogs.
- Cobalt is a part of the vitamin B12 molecule and deficiency is unlikely if sufficient B12 is in the diet.
- Vitamin A assists vision, keeps skin healthy and helps replace coat loss after moulting. It is toxic in large quantities but deficiencies are rare with a healthy diet.
- Vitamin D can be synthesised through the skin when exposed to sunlight and helps the absorption of calcium, deficiency can cause rickets; an illness of the joints and bone, but is quite rare.
- Vitamin E protects the cell agonist oxidation and acts with selenium.
- Vitamin K regulates the clotting of the blood.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) works with carbohydrates and a deficiency can lead to severe weight loss due to the carbohydrates not being utilised in the body correctly.
- Vitamin B2 is essential for cell growth and repair; a deficiency can lead to skin disorders, eye problems and in older dogs testicular hypoplasia.
- Vitamin B6 aids the metabolism of the amino acids; deficiency causes weight loss, anaemia and kidney damage.
- Biotin is important for maintaining skin and hair condition and also helps in the metabolism of the amino acids. A deficiency is rare but long-term use of antibiotic and steroidal drugs will cause a serious deficiency with symptoms such as skin ulcers, eczema and pruritus; all of which are often treated with more antibiotics and steroids!
- Folic acid is an important catalyst, providing many functions, the most important being the maturation of red blood cells in the bone marrow. Deficiency; unlikely with a healthy diet, produces anaemia with it’s associated problems. It is important to ensure that females have an adequate supply during pregnancy or post birth anaemia will occur, especially if there has been blood loss during whelping.
Do you give your dogs fruit and veg?
Canines are meat eaters…but…they do graze and if they’re wild canines then they eat the stomach contents of the grazers that are their prey. My ethos is actually very simple…if they eat it then they 1) like it and 2) they know it good for them….
Because I feed natural, my dogs from tiny pups onwards, get fruit, vegetables and herbs…and any rescue dogs that come in very quickly pick up the habit. I am lucky as i have a large garden and we grow stuff, but the one area that always attracts them is the herb garden. One of the things that has always fascinated me is the ‘selective’ choice on any given day for a ‘graze’. I have many examples of this…
Fennel… Amilou was having ‘girlie period problems’ and I noticed that she would munch the fennel before her blind seasons. Fennel in Egyptian times was a natural contraceptive and ‘eased’ women problems.
Falkor (now passed away) had pancreatic cancer and would munch away on the new shoots of lemon balm…it helps with liver bile production.
Ami is a watercress freak, she can actually smell it in the fridge if i buy it, but on one of our walks it grows, starting spring all through to late autumn. In winter she will actually break the ice and dig up the shoots…getting her out of a watercress patch is fun lol…it a good natural antioxidant and high in folic acid.
They all love the wild garlic shoots that appear in spring and a dog that smells of garlic is less likely to attract ticks and fleas and my males have always liked flowering clover…hey girls…forget viagra give your man some purple clover flowers lol!
There are all sorts of ‘myths’ about dogs eating grass, for example it makes dogs sick. Well, you know what? They do because it does, grass is a healer! If they are feeling ‘off’ then the cellulose and fibre and sugars etc, is like us taking liver salts. If they’re not sick and just munching then they like the sugars…it’s fine…let them do it!
My lot adore fruit and seeds, they will graze the blackberries, sloes, seeds in cow parsley, cherries that are low to ground, windfall apples and plums etc. And because I encourage it and don’t do ‘leave it’ late summer and autumn are a feasting ground for them!
In the winter we buy the cheap bruised stuff from the markets and cheap fruit/veggie juice from Aldi etc to add to their cooked dinner days. Got a dog with a bit of a water infection? Then if the dog is used to fruit juices and you can catch it quick, cranberry juice will work a treat…cheaper than a consult at vets and better than antibiotics!
I am a clicker trainer, one of the rules of clicker training is the high quality of the treat. I had a dog that would do anything for a raw brussel sprout. Cubert when he was a little pup would work fast for peas, I’ve got all his basic behaviours including the recall at 10 weeks using frozen peas!
My message is don’t stop them from choosing to graze, give them raw veg and fruit in their diet and use what they like as a low calories reward when you’re training. Let them self heal if they’re starting to feel ill before you even know it, they will kick in with what they know they need.
This above pic is of our Hollysocks on her 16th birthday who went over the bridge at 16 and 5 months, she was real special and there is lots on the internet about her as she made the doggie news when she got to 16 bless her…she even got a telegram from the Queen’s corgis haha!
But we got her at aged 3, seriously abused seriously at death’s door and seriously didn’t think even I could save her as her mental problems were so bad. She saw the vet the week we got her and as I said she was 3. When we had to help her go over the bridge at 16 that was the only record the vets had. How many times has your dog been to the vet for stuff like upset tum or itchy skin, ear problems, eye problems, anal glands etc? How much has it cost you?
I feed my dogs natural recipes , and no chemical wormers, no chemical flea treatment, no steroids, no antibiotics, natural arthritis meds when old, grazing at will, Hollysocks is my example, she lived way beyond the normal for clumbers