Feeding and Nutrition

posted: 05/15/12
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Your dog's instinct to find food remains strong, a carryover from his wild roots.
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More Topics1. The Aging Dog, 2. Bonding with Your Dog, 3. Quick Fix Cleaning Tips, 4. Dog-proof Your Pad, 5. Exercise


Wild canids are constantly in search of food for survival. Although you will never let your dog go hungry, his instinct to find food remains strong. So while it may be a nuisance when your dog is constantly pawing through garbage, sniffing at the table or trying to cadge a snack, keep in mind that he's only following his survival instincts, and work to gently correct this behavior.

Some dogs are allowed to eat all day; that is, food is left in their bowls at all times. This constant availability of food can lead to an overweight dog. Treats and snacks add up in calories, too. To check your dog's body condition, do the "rib test." Run your hands on either side of his body along his rib cage. You should be able to feel the outline of his ribs. With an overweight dog, you might not be able to make them out at all. On the other hand, if the ribs are too prominent, the dog is underweight.

In either case, visit the vet to rule out any health problems: Dogs may gain or lose weight with illness. You may see other symptoms; for example, dogs suffering from kidney problems will also urinate and drink more, and may vomit and be depressed.

Your vet can recommend dietary modifications or special foods, and for an overweight dog, probably an exercise program as well. It's vital to get a chubby pup back to a healthy weight, since overweight dogs are at risk of diabetes, heart problems and cancer, among other things. Keep track of all the extra bits of food given outside of mealtimes, and be more stingy in doling out treats, or ask your vet for ideas on healthier alternatives.

Underweight dogs, too, are at a higher risk for all types of illness, due to their reduced ability to fight infection, decreased reserves of fat and energy, and poor healing ability. These dogs may need dietary supplements to bring them back into the pink of health.


Your dog requires a minimum daily amount of six essential elements: water, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. Your vet can help you pick out a good commercial dog food, or monitor a homemade diet. Always read store-bought food labels, and remember the following:

- Animal proteins are digested more easily than soy and other vegetable protein in general.

- You don't need to feed a dog as high a volume of food if it is easily digestible. The more digestible a food, the less stool will be produced.

- Keep in mind that a sick or stressed dog may need more protein.

- An unbalanced diet too rich in carbohydrates and/or fiber can cause constipation, bloating and other digestive problems, as well as excessive elimination. Keep in mind that foods high in vegetable proteins are also high in carbohydrates.

- Fats keep skin and coats healthy and provide energy. Even an overweight dog needs a certain amount of fat in his diet.

- Rancidity can be a problem with food that has been sitting on the shelf for too long. Food treated with chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin will last for up to 18 months, whereas vitamin E and other natural preservatives will keep food nutritionally sound for six to eight months.

- A diet lacking in vitamins can lead to problems such as a weakened immune system, a greasy coat, bone disorders, thyroid problems or behavioral changes, to name a few.

- Never give your dog mineral supplements unless prescribed by your veterinarian.

- Water keeps the bodily processes flowing. Make sure fresh, clean water is always available.

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