People and dogs share a lot in common. I’m sure you’ve heard the adage that some people and their dogs even look alike (check out these photos!), but since I’m the proud "mom" to a drooly boxer who can’t quite fit his tongue in his mouth, I hope this is not always the case. I can tell you, however, that the two of us do seem to enjoy a lot of the same things — long walks on a cool morning, for example. What we don’t share much of is food.
When most people think about what not to feed their dogs, they focus on food items that are potentially toxic … chocolate, grapes, raisins, xylitol (a sugar substitute often used in chewing gum), macadamia nuts, onions, etc. And yes, these need to be avoided absolutely. What is less well-recognized, however, is the risk that eating an imbalanced diet poses to a dog.
To get an idea of the different nutritional needs of dogs versus people, take a look at the MyBowl graphic. You’ll see that a dog’s diet should consist of approximately 25% protein, 50% carbohydrates, 10-15% healthy fats and oils, and the rest is filled out by sources of vitamins and minerals. Compare this to the nutritional guidelines for people, where approximately half of our plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, and fats and oils don’t even make an appearance. When it comes to nutrition, dogs are very different from people.
So what does this mean for owners?
It means that 90% of a dog’s diet should consist of a complete and balanced, commercially prepared dog food that is appropriate to a dog’s life stage (e.g., puppy versus adult) and is made from wholesome ingredients. An awful lot of research goes into producing these foods. For example, they must provide everything that is outlined in the Association of American Feed Control Official’s Nutrient Requirements for Dogs. This publication is based on the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, the last edition of which was 424 pages long. Some pet food manufacturers even go the extra step of performing feeding trials with their diets to ensure that pets thrive when eating their foods.
If you are one of those rare owners who have the time and energy to cook special meals for their dogs, make sure you are using a recipe that was put together by a veterinary nutritionist and is appropriate for your dog’s life stage and any medical conditions he might have. Home-cooked diets should always contain protein and carbohydrate sources, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements in the correct proportions.
The remaining 10% of a dog’s diet falls under the category of treats (we’ve all gotta live, right?). These can be commercially prepared, or (and this is where my opinion might differ from other veterinary professionals out there) come directly from your refrigerator or pantry. Mini carrots, apple wedges, a bit of cooked, lean meat … these can all be appropriate treats for dogs (my dog loves bananas). Just make sure you take the extra calories into account and don’t inadvertently feed something you shouldn’t (e.g., something highly spiced or fatty). When in doubt, run any unusual offerings you might be considering by your veterinarian before feeding them to your dog.
How does your dog’s diet measure up?
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Image: Effie. Y. / via Flickr