Health & Nutrition

Balanced Diet

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shutterstock_150375212“Be sure to eat a balanced diet”, this is a lesson we grow up hearing but not many of us think to apply it to our pets as well.  Since nutrients and nourishment are important to keep us healthy, why wouldn’t it apply to our furry loved ones too?

Many people do not realize dog food can be misleading; while the pictures on the bags are pretty and make everything look well balanced, they are actually just trying to convince you to buy it, and it works.  The key is to understand the dog food label; do not look at the front of the bag, completely ignore it.  Instead, immediately turn to the back label and start reading.  It is best if you can find a food with the first ingredient listed is some type of meat.  Not corn, not wheat, not some other type of ingredient.  This will insure your pet is indeed getting the promised protein.  Pay close attention to the other ingredients listed; they are listed by weight so this will help you get a better idea of the quality of the food.  Be careful with certain foods that break up their ingredients list though.  For example, many food lists ground corn, gluten corn, corn bran, etc., while this sounds like each is their own individual category, in reality, they are all still corn.  This can lead to you thinking there isn’t that much of a bad ingredient in it than there actually is.  Basically, many dog food companies try to be sneaky and get away with things that might not actually be the best for your pet.

Another thing about dog food you probably won’t like to hear, if the food is cheap, it is most likely not very good quality.  Yes, this means you will have to spend a little extra on food, but that means it will be better for your pet.  Food is your pet’s life source, why wouldn’t you want to feed them the best that is out there?!  Now I’m not saying the most expensive food is the best food, but high quality does come with a higher price tag.

Now depending on who you ask, each veterinarian has a different opinion on dog food.  But from my experience of working with multiple holistic vets, the major lessons I have learned are this:

  1. Switch dog foods every couple months or so-this is due to the fact that not one single dry dog food has every single ingredient your pet needs. By switching dog food brands (not flavors within the same brand) what one brand is lacking in nutrition will most likely be present in another brand, therefore your pet will receive everything their bodies need.
  2. Raw dog food diets are excellent. While expensive, these diets cover everything your pet needs.
  3. Cooking for your dog is also another great option. This way you control what your dog is consuming.  There are lots of great recipes on the internet as well as entire books on how to cook for your pet.  Or you can ask your veterinarian what some good choices would be.
  4. Veterinary prescription diets aren’t always the best or even needed. If you get prescribed a veterinary diet, be sure to do your homework, ask for a second opinion from another vet, and make sure your pet needs to be on it.

If your dog has some type of allergy but you cannot find the culprit, think about the food your pet is eating.  Not many people realize their dog might have a food allergy.  The most common allergy causing foods include chicken, beef, and grains.  Talk to your veterinarian if you think this might be a concern.

While rare, some veterinarians can perform what is called a BICOM test-they take a few drops of blood from your pet to test with a machine.  This will allow them to see what food is good and what is bad and will cause a reaction in your dog.  Or, a cheaper but more common way to see what your dog is allergic to is trial and error.  For example, if you believe your dog might be allergic to chicken, you will need to switch them over to a food without it, such as a duck and sweet potato blend.  You will need to feed them this and only this for approximately 3 months, no other treats or goodies with chicken in it.  Then if the problem is still there, you know it is something else.  If it seems the issue has stopped, you will put your dog back on the previous food containing chicken.  If they symptoms return, you have found your culprit, if the issues do not return, then your dog is allergic to something else.

Another thing to keep in mind if switching foods, do it gradually; it will be easier on your dog’s GI system.  A good rule to follow is to switch it over in about a week and a halves time.  This means if you are running low on your current food but want to switch, go buy a new food now.  The first few days you will want to give 3/4 of the normal meal portion of the ‘old’ food and 1/4 portion of the meal as new food.  Just mix it together all in the same bowl.  About days four through six, do 1/2 portion old food and 1/2 portion new food.  Days seven through ten, give 1/4 portion old food and 3/4 portion of the new food.  After this, you can give full meals of the new food.  Transitioning slowly like this shouldn’t upset your dog’s tummy or give them the runs.  If they do get loose stool, you can add in some canned sweet potato or some canned pumpkin (the one WITHOUT the spices premixed in).  This will help firm up their poops and get them back on track.  However, if they have diarrhea for than a day without any improvement, it will be beneficial to take a trip to your veterinarian to make sure something else isn’t going on.

Another good tip I learned when feeding dry food, wet it and let the food soak for about 30 minutes before giving it to your pet.  You see, dog’s ancestors were natural carnivores that bit off a piece of meat that is juicy and wet and swallowed it whole.  Today, we offer these crunchy bits that are found no where it nature.  This leads to your dog chewing them, getting pieces stuck between their teeth and cheeks which lead to a buildup of dental tartar.  If you soak your dog’s food in water, it will become soft enough for them to swallow whole and not have to chew it which will prevent it getting stuck in their mouths and forming tartar.

When feeding your dog, their age will determine how many meals are best.  If your dog is 4 months or younger, meals four times a day, a few hours apart is best.  Ages 4-6months, 3 meals a day are ideal.  If your dog is 6 months or older, feeding only 1-2 times a day is just fine.  While it is okay to keep food down all day and ‘free feed’ your dog, it is better to give them meal times.  This will make it easier for you to determine if your dog decides to not eat one day, which is often the first sign of them not feeling well.  If food is down all the time and they just nibble on it throughout the day, you might not notice their lack of appetite for a few days.  However, if you feed them at specific times, you will know their feeding habits exactly and know when they aren’t acting like themselves.

If you are ever unsure if something is okay or not for your dog to eat, do not hesitate to do some research and to discuss it with your veterinarian.  Feeding your dog the best you possibly can will give them a healthier and longer life—something we all want for our furry companions!

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