If a dog is not getting a lot of
exercise it does not need a high energy diet.
As a maintenance diet for the 'average' companion dog, somewhere around the 20% protein range is suitable.
This is on the basis that your dog goes out, running free, with you for at least a couple of hours a day interacting by chasing balls or romping around with other dogs.
If your dog only walks on the lead a couple of times a day and other than that only exercises in the confines of an average garden, somewhere around the 18% protein mark is better suited.
Every mammal requires some protein input for good health.
Like humans, a dog will break down protein to obtain specific amino acids that support growth, tissue repair and the production of enzymes.
Although these are all necessary nutrients, there is no benefit in getting more protein than needed.
Excess protein is either burnt off for energy, excreted or stored as fat.
Too much protein can have an adverse effect on a dogs behaviour.
It can make the dog hyperactive, unfocussed, cause lack of concentration and even unpredictable behaviour - 'whizzy' is a term we have heard used to describe such an effect. A bit like the effect too much sugar can have on young children.
It is surprising how much of a change occurs in a hyperactive dogs behaviour when the protein level in its diet is reduced. High protein diets and low levels of exercise can also lead to weight gain.
It's a question of meeting the dogs needs.
If your dog has a higher level of activity and energy output - maybe it goes jogging with you or you do regular daily agility, flyball or other sort of interactive practice sessions with competition at weekends you may need to raise the level of protein a little - to around 22% - on the active days.
If your dog is required to do a lot of exercising or is pregnant or ill then it may be best to feed a food with a higher protein level - up to 24% - but going much above that is unnecessary and potentially detrimental.
If a dog is ill then speak to a veterinary practitioner about diet but be wary of using a specialist and very expensive food as manufacturers of such diets offer vets and retailers a high profit margin to promote their products.
There are better priced options on the open market.
Think about the exercise levels your dog gets and the level of protein in the diet you feed. Is it balanced?
A balance is what you should seek to achieve.
If your dog has some days of low energy output and other days with more exercise you may consider having different foods in stock for different occasions so you can substitute or mix in the higher protein food with your normal maintenance diet as and when required.
If this is your choice then make sure the two foods are compatible. Maybe from the same manufacturer.
Another consideration is quantity. You may think that you can vary the amount of protein your dog is getting simply by feeding less, or more of the same food, but this will affect the levels of other nutrients your dog is receiving so it's not an advisable course of action.
The answer to this one is to initially follow manufacturers instruction and then closely monitor your dogs weight.
If your dog starts to gain weight, reduce the quantity, if it loses weight, increase the quantity.
There are various popular
methods of feeding dogs these days.
The most convenient is a complete food.
By law, in order to be labeled a 'complete' food, these have to contain all the necessary nutritional components a dog needs in the correct proportions.
Complete foods are available dried, wet and raw. There are also vegetarian versions in each category.
Any nutrients destroyed by the processing of a complete food must be replaced before the product can be so described.
If you feed a complete food, the theory is that you only need to adjust quantity to suit a dogs energy output in order to achieve a balanced nutritional level. You do not need to supplement such a diet - in fact many nutritionists and manufacturers are quick to point out that any supplementation of these foods throws the balance out and is undesirable.
The most popular, cheapest and most available complete foods are dried versions and there are a variety of ways these can be prepared, the most common being extruded, but they can also be baked, air dried or cold pressed with the cost rising according to the process used.
As well as the advantage of convenience, complete dried foods come in a range of types to suit dogs of different ages because a dogs requirements also vary with their age as well as their levels of activity.
Puppies require a diet with high protein to aid growth, Adolescent dogs a lower level. Mature dogs lower still and senior dogs even less (although there is an ongoing debate about this). The levels of other nutrients in the food also vary to suit a dogs age.
These diets are growing in popularity because they are normally unprocessed and are theoretically much closer to a dogs natural diet. They are available as complete or complimentary versions.
They are usually frozen for preservation in retail outlets but can be prepared at home using natural ingredients or purchased as fresh complete diets from specialised, artisan, producers.
If feeding a raw or 'barf' diet you may also find it available in pouches or trays but here we need to be cautious because in order to ensure these foods are free of bacterial pollutants they would need to contain preservatives or be pasteurised to extend shelf life, in which case they have diverged from the original principal of feeding raw foods and are better described as raw 'wet' foods.
'Wet' foods, i.e. tinned, pouches,
trays or chubs.
Generally speaking these are complimentary foods not complete diets (unless labeled as such) and need to be supplemented by the addition of other components in order to achieve a balanced diet.
The labeling of protein levels in wet foods can be a little confusing as they contain a high proportion of water which is a nutritionally neutral component.
A wet food with a 10% protein level could only be compared to a dried food protein level if the proportion of water in it is deducted. Wet foods need to be fed in greater quantities than dried foods and need the addition of other components to balance the diet.
The most popular added component is a biscuit base but even this come in various levels of protein and carbohydrate and are not balanced in their nutritional value. There are forms of complimentary additives to wet foods that have biscuit and vegetable ingredients that are more desirable but there is nothing to stop you adding your own fresh Cooked or raw) vegetables to your dogs bowl to add vitamins, fibre and minerals.
Remember the 'old days' when dried foods had not been invented, tinned foods were the only available versions of a 'wet' food and were rather expensive and most dogs were fed what was left over from the family table supplemented by cheap cuts, bones and offal from the butchers, often fed raw?
The expression 'fit as a butchers dog' meant more than an advertising slogan for a manufacturer and has a ring of truth.
There are manufactured version of 'Fresh Foods', the main difference between these and a 'wet' food being that they are not processed by pasteurisation and contain no added preservatives. Their shelf life is short and they need to be kept refrigerated.
Are they balanced? Only if labeled 'Complete'. Can they be prepared at home? Yes, fresh daily and varied according to what the family is consuming at the time, however we do not suggest a diet of takeaway foods and ready meals.
In most cases, at best such over processed takeaway or ready meal diets should be labeled fuel, not food.
The trick with a 'fresh' food diet is getting the nutritional balance right and that is not so easy.
Mix and match.
Ideally speaking this means a varied diet of dried, wet, raw and fresh foods, complete or complimentary, carefully thought out to provide a dog with a good nutritional balance and able to be varied to suit age, energy levels and physical composition of the breed in question. Practically speaking this is complimenting a complete dried diet with a variety of extras calculated to maintain the correct balance of nutrients the dog needs. Either way it means variety.
In Border Collie Rescue we feed complete dried foods for the most part but we do compliment and vary this diet by the addition of other components like fresh or cooked meats, raw or cooked vegetables, wet foods and additional supplementary treats like bedtime biscuits. The amount of dried complete diet is varied to take into consideration the nutritional value of the additional components (yes - even the biscuit treats) and in most cases that additions to the dried complete foods are in very small quantities that are added more for variation and interest than anything else.
Whatever form of diet or mix of food type
you chose the key point to remember is balance and adjustment to the
dogs varying needs as it progresses through life and its daily
requirements according to the amount of its energy output.
Always read the labels and stay away from foods with unnaturally coloured ingredients as some of these may be chemical based colourants banned in human food because they have been found to have an adverse effect on health.
As to how regularly you should feed your
dog - once daily, twice daily, more often?
We follow the twice daily routine. Half the daily requirement in the morning and half in the evening, but if a dog is going to travel or do a lot of exercise you would not want to feed too much beforehand so on days with high energy output a good meal the night before, followed by a smaller breakfast may better suit the dog.
There are exceptions to all this - pregnant bitches, puppies and growing young dogs and older dogs all need different balances in their diets and taking that into consideration the level of exercise and energy output needs to be looked at to arrive at the right conclusion.
A final consideration is what else you feed your dog other than it's daily meals. Treats and training aids, even chew sticks, all add calories and need to be taken into consideration as part of the overall intake of nutrients.
Getting the diet right is not simple, but it's not rocket science either.
Basis rules coupled with observation and tweaking will achieve the correct result.
As mentioned before, an important thing to remember is that a dogs diet needs to be varied according to its
requirements at the time.
Age is one thing to consider and energy output is another.
These days allergic reactions to certain ingredients is also be a consideration but don't always rely on what a manufacturer says on its products - after all, their main intention is to sell you their foods and take your money.
There are hypoallergenic foods out there that use substitutes for the most common ingredients that cause allergic reactions. Dogs can be allergic or intolerant to ingredients like wheat, corn, dairy, soya, beef products, even fish - and of course additives like food colourants and preservatives.
There is a difference between an allergy and intolerance although neither is desirable as reactions in either case cause discomfort and can also lead to poor absorbsion of nutrients.
If your dogs shows symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, loss of appetite, excessive flatulence, loss of hair, itching or other skin conditions it is possible these may be caused by an allergic reaction or intolerance to something in its diet.
There again it may be something else entirely, something much more serious, so before trying to sort it out yourself - seek veterinary assistance.
Do some research.
See what other people think and make your choice based on some independent information, but look carefully and be very wary of fanatics who believe that their choice of diet is the only one and are on a mission to convert the uninitiated!
Look out for, and be cautious of, sources of information that have a vested interest in persuading you that a particular product is the best one to use.
Manufacturers of some of the dog foods made by subsidiaries of bigger global companies are not above having reviews in their favour posted by their agents (posing as members of the public) on forums and other public platforms.
Some of them are also not above using vivisection to 'prove' some of their products. See our 'Dark Side' section.
It is a mess of contradictory information out there so very much 'buyer beware'.
Try and use a family food manufacturer with which you can communicate and hold accountable - but check they are independent and not a subsidiary of a bigger corporate conglomerate. many are - look them up.
All dogs should have access to fresh water at all times.
When we say 'access to fresh water at
all times' it means that sufficient water to last a dog between top
ups should be there, within it's reach, so it can drink as and when
it is inclined to and that the water container is emptied and
refilled with fresh water at every opportunity.
Every time the bowl is refilled it should be cleaned. It should be made of a material that is easy to clean. It must be anchored down or of a design that cannot accidentally be knocked over or pushed outside of the dogs reach.
This is particularly important if feeding any type of dried food, where
water should always be provided alongside the food. These dried foods can be soaked beforehand if required, which is
particularly good for older dogs or invalids.
However, most dogs prefer to eat the extruded complete diets dry and crunchy with any water added being introduced immediately prior to the food being given so it has no time to soak. So a full water bowl needs to be provided.
In situations where there is concern that a dog
unlimited access to water it may drink too much and urinate in its
accommodation area, there is a simple solution. Take the dog out
on a regularly so it can relieve itself outside!
Don't deprive it of water and don't expect it to wait. If it leaks or involuntarily soils itself, take veterinary advice!