Dog Nutrition Basics

There are a lot of options on the food market for dogs. There’s a wide range in price and food quality, and when it comes down to it, finding the food that’s right for your dog is what’s most important. Many animals will do well on some of the newer grain-free diets, but most will do just as well on a more traditional formula.

A Pet Valu Pet Expert can help you choose a quality dog food that will meet your dog’s nutritional needs. Use the feeding guidelines on the bag as a starting point, but keep in mind that they are only a guideline – your dog may have different nutritional needs, so it’s important to monitor him for weight changes and other health effects.

Some dogs will eat continuously if there’s food available. If your dog is like this, try to feed her a limited amount of food at regular intervals.  If your dog prefers to pick at food throughout the day, make sure the portion is controlled. Even if dogs seem to self-regulate their intake, they shouldn’t have free reign to eat as much as they want because this can lead to obesity, which can cause health problems.

You can feed your dog dry food, wet food (canned or raw) or a combination of both. Most people choose dry food simply because it’s convenient and provides all that a dog needs, nutritionally speaking. There are many options on the market, so you’re bound to find one that suits both you and your dog.

Holistic foods are another recent addition to the line-up of dog foods on the market. These foods contain fresh, whole foods supplemented with antioxidants, pre- and pro-biotics, and other beneficial ingredients which can promote better overall health. These foods tend not to include by-products or highly-processed ingredients such as peanut hulls, so they are often nutrient dense and many pets thrive on them.

Grain-free formulas are the latest trend in dog foods. The theory behind grain-free is that dogs didn’t eat grain in the wild, so they don’t need it in dog food. In the past, many of the grains added to dog foods have been processed carbohydrates such as wheat, corn and rice flour. However, these carbohydrates can be difficult for some dogs to digest. Grain-free dog foods include other sources of carbohydrates, such as sweet potato or peas, which are less likely to cause food sensitivities.

Canned food is another option for getting your dog more protein. Some canned foods are made with up to 95% meat! Many dogs prefer canned food because it’s closer to eating a raw meat diet, as they would in the wild. It’s a little less convenient than dry food, but it helps dogs stay hydrated and can be easier to digest for some dogs.

If you choose to feed canned food, make sure your dog’s dental health is monitored. Dry kibble acts help to keep dogs’ teeth clean because it rubs the teeth as they chew. If you feed only canned food, make sure you also provide dental care (chews, tooth brushing or dental supplement) to maintain good oral health.

No matter the type of food, it’s always important to review the nutritional information. The ingredients and nutrient levels vary across all dog foods.

Treats are very useful for training, as rewards for positive behavior and even as distractions when necessary, but, as with people, treats should be eaten in moderation. If you are doing a lot of training, sometimes just using a piece of the dog’s dry kibble will be enough of a reward. This is a good idea if you’re working with a puppy as they can quickly fill up on treats, which do not provide the same nutrition as a balanced food.

Food Safety

Many dogs will eat just about anything – people food that’s dropped (or left too close to the edge of the table!), stuff they find on the ground, kitty litter, and so on. Obviously, these things are not part of a balanced diet for dogs. While it’s important to train your dog not to eat these things, it’s equally important to train you, the human, not to leave anything ‘appetizing’ in reach of a dog. This may include keeping food items far back on the counter, if you have a cat, getting a litter box that prevents dogs from getting in, and keeping any potentially toxic items such as medications and cleaning and personal care products out of your dog’s reach.

People assume that because people can eat something, it’s fine for dogs as well. This is not always the case. Certain foods such as grapes and chocolate are toxic to dogs if they eat enough. Even meat items like cold cuts are very high in sodium, which is not good for pets. Learn more about safety in Household Hazards.

Water

Fresh water should always be available in your home. It is equally important to have water available outside, if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors. You should even take a portable supply of water to the park and on car trips.

If your dog spends a lot of time outside in winter, keep in mind that his water may freeze. Some dogs may eat snow to try to quench their thirst, but this often provides a deceivingly small amount of water. While some people may go so far as to have a heated water dish, just bringing your dog inside periodically can solve that problem just as easily. It’s also a good idea to have a plastic water dish rather than metal if it’s cold. Your dog’s tongue or snout could freeze on to a metal dish, and while he’ll probably shake the dish off as fast as he can, it can cause pain and damage.

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