Your dog’s health is completely reliant on the food you choose to give them - yep, it’s literally all in your hands. A balanced diet with plenty of nutrients will help keep your dog’s immune system and cell maintenance in check, improve their joint and digestive health and lower the risk of numerous diseases.
Truthfully, we could go on and on about the benefits of good pet nutrition - it’s the most powerful tool you have. So, let’s get going - check out these top dog nutrition tips:
Nutrition tip #1: Keep their weight in check
“Too many dogs are overfed, under-exercised and stressed. Over the past 20 years, the rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and skin problems in our dogs has rocketed,” says Kate Bendix in The Dog Diet.
Overweight and obese dogs have an increased risk of a long list of diseases, not to mention the decreased life-span they suffer. No matter how, when or what you choose to feed your pup, this tip is the most important - make sure they remain at a healthy weight.
Nutrition Tip #2: Feed them the right amount
Normal dogs require around 2.5% of their ideal weight in food, every day. Make sure you base this calculation on their ideal weight (ask your vet!) rather than their current weight. If your dog is particularly active, you might need to go up to 3%, whereas sedentary dogs may only need 2%.
We’d recommend starting at 2%-3% depending on your dog’s activity levels and then adjust accordingly. Not many people get it right first time - every dog is different, after all. Eventually, you’ll find the soft spot which allows your dog to maintain a healthy, happy weight.
Nutrition Tip #3: Consider your dog’s age
Dogs’ bodies change throughout their life, so dog nutrition will need to be adapted to suit your pup’s age.
Puppies need more food than adult dogs - aim for around 10% of their ideal body weight. They need way more calories than adult dogs to support their growing bodies, so always opt for food specially formulated for puppies.
Senior dogs, unless they’re particularly active for their age, will probably need to switch to a lower calorie diet. An older dog will sleep and sit more, just like us humans in our old age - so lowering their calories will prevent weight gain.
You’ll also need to consider your senior dog’s individual needs. For example, arthritic dogs will benefit from foods with added glucosamine or chondroitin sulphate to aid joint function, whereas those who tend to get constipated will benefit from a high-fibre food formulation.
Nutrition Tip #4: Consider your dog’s health
A dog’s nutritional needs will change according to its health status.
For example, dogs with digestive problems will be happier with a handful of soft cooked rice (just like for humans with tummy problems!), cooked ground beef, and a couple of teaspoons of plain, non-fat yoghurt to help support their digestive tract.
Alternatively, dogs with dry skin or allergy problems would benefit from healthy, organic ingredients like safflower oil, sardines, lima beans and spinach, and should avoid preservatives and food allergens (e.g. beef, dairy, and wheat).
Nutrition Tip #5: Pick healthy treats
Most dog owners don’t realise how many calories treats are adding to their pup’s otherwise healthy diet. If you want to feed your dog treats, at least make them something nutritious.
When you finish your next pack of store-bought dog treats, don’t get another. Instead, pick fruits and veggies like broccoli, carrots, slices of banana or apple, or berries. They’re low in calories, provide a good level of dog nutrition and still make your pooch happy - after all, a treat is a treat.
You shouldn’t give it to your dog every day, but once in a while liver can be beneficial to their health. Keep portions low, as some dogs have stomach upsets with rich meat.
Nutrition Tip #6: Choose high-quality food
There’s an overwhelming amount of dog food brands on the market, making it hard to know which to pick. The quality of ingredients in the food you pick for your dog will make a huge difference to their long-term health, fitness and wellbeing.
Always check the ingredients list on dog food labels. Look out for good quality meats. Avoid non-specific ingredients such as ‘meat meal’ - they’re most likely a low-quality by-product. Ideally, named meats should take the top 3 spots of the ingredients list.
Cereals and fillers are best avoided. On top of meats, you should be looking for named fats (for example, ‘chicken fat’ rather than ‘animal fat’), whole fruits and vegetables and vitamins.
Nutrition Tip #7: Make it yourself
You probably know how much healthier it is for humans to cook at home rather than buy ready-meals or have takeaways - well, the same goes for your dog. The less processed your dog’s food, the better it is for their health.
If you’ve got the time, making homemade dog food is sure to benefit your pooch. Focus on including good quality meats, eggs, dairy, fish, as well as whole grain fruits and vegetables.
Whatever dinner you are cooking for your dog, remember that proportions are essential for the right nutrition: A healthy bowl should contain 40% protein (e.g. chicken), 10% carbohydrates (e.g. sweet potato) and 50% vegetables (e.g. broccoli stems).
If you’re going for home-cooked food, you can even prepare all-round balanced meals for the both of you! For example: Carrots, turkey thighs and peas can be cooked together in a delicious stew that you can add brown rice to afterwards. Avoid adding salt, which is thought to raise a dog’s cholesterol (although some studies disagree) as well as saturated fats and added sugars. Your dog will adore this recipe, and you can freeze a big pot of it to last your dog, and you if you’re tempted, for several days.
Nutrition Tip #8: Consider supplements
If you use a high-quality, commercial dog food, it’s unlikely your pooch will require supplements to aid dog nutrition. However, if you do decide to go down the homemade route, you might need to add in some supplementary vitamins and minerals.
There are so many vitamins and minerals to consider. The best thing to do is chat with your vet about your dog’s specific needs - different vitamins will help with specific health concerns.
Nutrition Tip #9: Educate yourself on toxic foods
Some foods are toxic for dogs. They can make dogs extremely ill and could even lead to poisoning - and that's definitely not on the right track to perfect dog nutrition!
We’d recommend familiarising yourself with the foods which are toxic to dogs - that way, you can ensure no mistakes will be made. Here are some of the most common household ingredients which your dog should never get his paws on:
- Onions and garlic
- Grapes and raisins
- Macadamia nuts
- Alcoholic drinks
- Caffeinated drinks
- Xylitol (commonly found in sugar-free drinks and sweeteners)
- Mouldy food
Nutrition Tip #10: Once in a while, a special meal for a special dog
For Christmas, or on your dog’s birthday, you may want to treat him to a special meal. That’s fine, but make sure you keep it as safe and healthy as possible for your dog.
A few pieces of chicken or calf liver are nutritious (and taste delicious) with 100% apple puree, carrots, a few spoons of chicken broth, and a whole boiled egg. Dogs can digest egg shell, and it provides a good source of protein. Just make sure you crush up the pieces to avoid any irritating the throat.
Follow these dog nutrition tips and your pooch will be well on the way to a healthy body and a happy mind! As long as your pooch gets plenty of exercise, high-quality food and lots of love, they'll be living their best life - good luck!