Your dog’s health is completely reliant on the pet 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
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
Each dog food contains different numbers of calories and protein, so ensure you feed your dog according to the guidelines on the back of the packet. These guidelines are based on your dog’s ideal weight, and not their current weight, so if your dog is 20kg, but should actually be 18kg, feed them as an 18kg dog should be fed.
In addition to this, the suggested quantities of food are simply a guideline for an average dog. If your dog is particularly active, or more sedentary than an average dog, you might need to increase or decrease the amount accordingly.
In the end, if your dog is over- or underweight, it is best to ask your veterinarian how much food your dog should be given as they will be able to tailor a nutrition plan specifically for your dog and their body condition.
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 different amounts of pet food than adult dogs – Puppies are growing, so naturally they need plenty of food. But this food should be a puppy food, as it is higher in protein for healthy musculoskeletal development. Puppies should be fed accurately according to the food guidelines to ensure their growth is not compromised. This is particularly important for large breed puppies who grow very quickly. Puppies may also need several meals a day, rather than one or two like an adult dog.
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 do better on a bland commercial food which your veterinarian can provide. Alternatively, boiled chicken, plain white rice and pumpkin are all excellent at settling an upset gut. However they do not provide a balanced diet and shouldn’t be fed long-term.
Alternatively, dogs with dry skin or allergy problems would benefit from food with plenty of oils in them, such as food containing fish and seed/seed oils as ingredients. Omega oils, also known as essential fatty acids, are natural anti-inflammatories which decrease the inflammation in the skin and help improve the quality of the skin and coat. In addition to this, some dogs have allergies because of a particular protein in their food. Hypoallergenic diets or foods containing novel proteins, such as venison, duck and turkey, are usually good alternatives to diets containing common proteins, such as beef and chicken.
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 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.
How about organ meats?
Dehydrated organ meats, such as liver or heart, can be full of nutrients for your dog. However, keep portions to small amounts, as some dogs have stomach upsets with the richness.
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, it can be the same for your dog. Giving home cooked food decreases the amount of processing involved in a meal. However, this option is suggested with a big caveat: homemade meals can be nutritionally imbalanced. You should only ever formulate homemade meals under the direct guidance of your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist.
If you’ve got the time, making homemade dog food is sure to benefit your pooch. Focus on including good quality meats, eggs, fish, as well as whole grains, 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!
Here is a list of poisonous foods for your dog.
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.
An example of a birthday feast for your dog could include a few pieces of chicken or calf liver with 100% apple puree, carrots, a few spoons of chicken broth, and a whole boiled egg.
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!