Hi, I’m Jody Raines, and I work with my Belgian Malinois in the show ring, and also with obedience, agility and Search and Rescue. One of the things I’ve learned about dogs is how important good nutrition is to optimal health. Dogs get their nutrients from food, and although we’d like to believe that the dog food manufacturers are all devoted to supplying the best nutrients possible, the reality is somewhat different than what we hope.
First, nutrients are what your dog needs and obtains from food for growth and maintenance and energy. When your dog has a nutrient deficiency, it can be manifested as an illness, lethargy, behaviors like coprophalgia (eating poo), or lack of luster in their coat, or dullness around their eyes. In the show ring, having a great coat and sparkling eyes is critical for winning, and that’s why it’s so important to understand what our dog needs, and the best way to provide that food source.
There are six essential types of nutrients that have been identified for canine health:
1. Water. Water is essential to life. You may have heard how important it is to have a clean source of fresh water available for your dog at all times. Consider that a dog’s body weight is roughly 60 – 70 percent water. Especially in the summer, when an animal trys to cool itself by panting, a loss of water can cause dehydration and have serious repercussions. This can happen in any type of weather, and a dog owner should make sure their dog has water available. I keep a disposable water bowl in the car, along with bottled water… and I will also use a water bottle with a spray type attachment to assure that my dogs stay well hydrated. The attached spray can be put on any commercial water bottle, and it’s a convenient way to give the dog water. You will see this alot on the show ring – regardless of the weather, or if the show is indoors or outdoors. A 10% decrease in body water is serious, and a 15% decrease can result in death. IF you see that your dog is lethargic, his gums look dry or sticky, or his eyes appear sunken, this may be a medical emergency. Not only may the dog require water, he may also require electrolytes. Dogs can get some moisture from food (obviously more from canned or moist food than the dry variety) but this is not enough for his needs. Be sure the water bowl is cleaned frequently because bacteria and pathogens can grow in dirty, stagnant water. A good rule of thumb is about an ounce of water per pound of your dog’s body weight daily.
2. Protein. We know that dogs love meat, and generally meats are protein. Protein is essential for dogs, and it is the building block for cells. There are a number of good sources of protein, but not all sources are alike. Animal based sources include beef, fish, chicken, lamb, venison, turkey, pork, eggs. Vegetable proteins are found in cereals, grain and soy. For dogs, vegetable sources are not considered a complete protein. Dogs are carnivores, and although they also eat other things, like vegetables and grains, they need good quality protein for optimal health. Be aware that no all sources of protein are biologically available when digested by your dog. For example, some meat by products, like beaks, feet, hides or snouts, are high in protein. The problem is that this protein is difficult for your dog to absorb and assimilate. Protein that is more digestible, and assimilatible animal sources are more appropriate for a dog’s diet than vegetable sources.
3. Amino Acids. Dogs need 22 amino acids to be healthy. Anino acids are either esssential or non-essential to the dog’s diet. Non-essential amino acids can be “synthesized” or made by your dog, and these represente 12 of those 22. The remaining “essential” amino acids must come from your dog’s diet. Complete dog foods are supplemented with these essential amino acids. One of the risks of a “homemade dog food” diet is that the dog can suffer a deficiency because the essential amino acids are not added. Unfortunately too often, this is discovered only after the dog begins to show problems that are diagnosed as a deficiency. Following a ‘recipe’ that is veterinarian approved can help to balance a homemade diet if the food is supplemented in the correct proportion with the esential amino acids.
4. Fats. Fats provide your dog with twice the energy of carbohydrates or proteins. Fats are essential for the production of some hormones, to provide body insulation and protection of body organs, and for the structure of cells. Some vitamin are ‘fat soluble, so fats are required for absorbtion of them. In addition, a dog cannot produce all the fatty acids needed, so essential fatty acids must be provided in the pet’s diet. Without these fats, the dog can have poor coat, bad eyes, and otherwise, inferior health. This can also result in increased skin issues and stunted growth if the dog does not get the fatty acids needed in his diet. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are vital to reducing inflammation. The proper ration of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids are important to reducing inflammation caused by allergies, arthritis, inflammatory bowel, or the kidneys (renal issues). It’s difficult to assure the proper ration of EFA’s if you make Homemade Dog Food, so be sure if you opt to do this, that you are following a veterinarian nutritionist’s recipe.
5. Carbohydrates. Growing dogs need energy and much of their energy is supplied by fats and carbohydrates. We’ve discussed fats already, so let’s look at the value of carbs. Carbohydrates play a critical role in intestinal health and the health of the reproductive system. Dogs have a glucose requirement to ensure energy to vital organs, and glucose is a carbohydrate. Foods that are high in carbs may also be high in fiber. Be aware that not all fiber has the same effect on your doggy’s digestive system. Fiber sources are fermentable and due to this fermentation factor, they can result in gas and flatulence. I once knew a couple who had the stinkiest Rottweiler – you would walk into their house and the odor was detectable from the front door! Once they finally realized it was the food, and changed the dog’s diet, the flatulence decreased. Thankfully! Foods that are high in fiber may not be the best choice for young, growing dogs or dogs involved in high energy activities – the dog feels ‘full’ but the nutritive value is less due to the high amount of fiber. Look for fiber sources like beet pulp, corn bran, rice bran or wheat bran because these are moderately fermentable and better for your dog’s digestive system.
6. Vitamins and Minerals. Commercial dog food manufacturers stive to supply balanced levels of vitamins and minerals. These vitamins are minerals are both important because they work in unison to support normal metabolic function and enzyme reactions. Not all vitamins and minerals can be synthesized by the dog, therefore, these are essential to be provided in the diet.
Vitamins and minerals, when taken in excess may become too much of a good thing. Some vitamins, when taken in dosages over the recommended levels can cause toxic reactions. Hypervitaminosis (poisoning by excess vitamins) is more common these days than vitamin deficiencies. Some examples of excess vitamins such as vitamin A which can cause pain in the bones or joints, or too much vitamin D which can lead to calcificatin of soft tissues, of joints and dense bones.
Mineral nutrients cannot be synthesized, and therfore must be provided in the diet. Typically, the minerals are inorganic and do not provide any energy (calories) however they are needed for the building of bones and teeth and their involvement in other metabolic reactions.
Most commercial dog foods will indicate they are balanced nutritionally for your dog’s health. If you notice your dog seems to lack energy, or their fur seems dull, or they are losing weight or gaining too much weight, you may wish to talk to a professional to assess whether diet could be the cause.