Like many of us, perhaps you’ve resolved to eat healthier in the coming year. But have you thought about dog food? We’re not suggesting that you eat it, but if your intentions for the new year revolve around weight loss, fitness or health, these positive goals can be extended to your furry companions, too. PugetPets offers dog walking services to provide exercise and much-needed mental stimulation when you can’t be there, but your dog depends on you and your veterinarian to make decisions about his or her diet. If healthy eating is on your family’s resolution list, why not let your dog join you? You’ll have plenty of new trends and options to chew on—metaphorically speaking, of course!
Growing concern about what’s in our food and where it comes from has led many Americans to make changes in what we eat, from adding more fruits and veggies to the mix, to switching to a raw, vegan diet. The same concerns are beginning to be reflected in dog foods, with a similar spectrum of choices. So what’s a dog guardian to do? Here we’ll take a look at a few of the healthier choices available for your dog.
Traditional dog food often includes lots of grain. This is because grains are cheap, whereas meat, the main component of a dog’s natural diet, is expensive. Grains are used as a filler. Although they provide some protein, which dogs need, dogs have no nutritional need for the high amounts of carbohydrates found in grain. In fact, grains can cause health problems for your dog, as these starchy foods (carbs) convert to sugar in the body.
Feeding dogs a grain-free diet is probably a good idea. But beware: lots of pet foods on the market that boast they are grain-free actually contain substitute fillers, such as sweet potato, peas, lentils or chickpeas. We are led to believe these foods are healthier than grains. In fact, while these foods are good for humans, they are not any better for your companion carnivore than corn, barley or other grains typically added to dog food. Unlike humans, dogs have short digestive tracts that are not adapted to process large amounts of vegetable matter. While it’s okay for your dog to have a few vegetables, they shouldn’t be the main part of his or her diet. Holistic vets suggest a simple formula for figuring out how much starch is in dog food.
Avoiding highly processed foods is another way you can increase the nutritional value of your pup’s food. Whole food diets for dogs may be either raw or cooked. They feature real foods in their natural form, without processing or additives. Whole-foods can be used as a dog’s sole diet or as supplemental food to increase your dog’s overall nutrition. Most canine whole food diets are home-prepared, but some commercially available products, such as Fresh Pet (cooked) and Darwin’s Natural Pet Products (raw), offer prepared whole-food alternatives you can purchase for dogs or cats.
Lots of whole-food resources and recipes are available on the web. Avoid those that suggest feeding your dog large amounts of vegetables. What’s good for you is not necessarily what’s good for your dog. Most of the dog food recipes you can find are remarkably simple and easy to fix. Your dog doesn’t require a culinary degree or an in-depth knowledge of French sauces (hooray!). What your dog does need is a canine-specific nutritional balance. If you want to try the DIY approach, first you’ll want to acquaint yourself with your dog’s specific nutritional requirements. You can find this information, some simple recipes and additional resources at homemadedogfood.com or in this article from BayWoof, for starters. Also keep in mind that there are some foods a dog should never eat. Some have health benefits for humans, notably garlic and onions, but are poisonous to dogs. Others, like cooked bones, can cause internal injury. So if you’re unsure about what NOT to feed your dog, you’ll want to get a handle on that first.
Raw food diets are a subset of whole foods. Raw foods for carnivorous pets have been the subject of discussion and controversy lately. Opponents of raw dog food most often cite dangers of bacterial contamination and difficulties in ensuring proper balance of nutrients. Proponents point to canine biology and the evidence of health benefits when dogs are switched from processed foods. WebMD features a good discussion of the pros and cons of raw dog food.
Most of the concern about bacteria involves humans’ susceptibility to infection. Dogs’ short digestive tracts and high stomach-acid content result in a much higher tolerance for bacterial contaminants than you and I have. Nevertheless, for your own safety, as well as your dog’s, if you prepare or serve raw meats to your dog, you must employ the same safe handling practices that you would when handling raw meat for your human family members! The USDA provides food handling basics for any kitchen.
As with any home-made dog food, if you decide to go raw and want to make the food yourself, take time to learn about the nutritional requirements of your dog and how they differ from your own. A nutritious raw food diet for dogs is not throwing down some raw hamburger and cracking an egg on it! A well-formulated raw food diet, however, is the most species-appropriate way to feed a companion carnivore. That said, raw food is not for every pet. If your dog has a compromised immune system, liver disease or pancreatic illness, raw food is not the best option. Feeding a raw home-prepared diet to puppies can be very tricky, requiring precise balance of specific nutrients. Do your research or opt to switch to home-made when your dog is finished growing.
A growing trend in pet nutrition involves creating custom-made diets for your own dog or cat. Even if being a DIY pet food chef isn’t for you, you can still feed your pet a custom diet. From giants like Purina, with their “Just Right” line of custom dog food, to local companies such as Darwin’s Natural or Natural Pet Pantry, pet food manufacturers are eager to help you customize a diet for your dog based on his or her breed, age, exercise level and special health needs. These custom blends are most often delivered right to your doorstep and are available in traditional kibble, whole cooked and whole raw varieties.
Eating less processed food can be as good for your dog as it is for you. You may not want to switch your dog food completely, but just as you would do for yourself, you can resolve this new year to supplement your dog’s diet with more healthy, low-starch and whole-food alternatives. Before switching to any new dog food, learn about your dog’s nutritional needs, introduce any new diet slowly and gradually, and closely monitor your dog’s adjustment to the new food and his or her overall health. If you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s diet, consult a veterinarian that you trust. PugetPets wishes everyone of all species and nutritional needs a happy, healthy New Year!