Pop Quiz: Is Your Dog Eating Properly?

By Darcy Lockman

Pop Quiz: Is Your Dog Eating Properly?

A fast-growing, toy-chasing puppy has different nutritional needs than a slumber-loving, slow-trotting older dog. Feeding your three-month-old meals meant for its elders could mean puppy’s not getting the right amount of calories or nutrition. When the problem is reversed, older dogs could consume too many calories, leading to paunchy pooches. According to the National Academies’ National Research Council, an obesity epidemic now exists among dogs and cats, so we need to better match foods to the needs of our pets.

Keep in mind that your dog will have different nutritional requirements at various stages within its lifetime. Given these fluctuating requirements, how can you best meet the breed- and stage-specific nutritional needs of your best canine friend? Here, The Dog Daily asks veterinarian Trisha Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary Specialists for answers to the most important food-related doggie dilemmas.

Puppies need more calories than adult dogs.

TRUE Puppies are growing rapidly, especially in the first months, and this requires the higher caloric intake of specially formulated puppy food,” says Dr. Joyce. A diet with antioxidants like Vitamin E also helps to support the health of the developing immune system, and may improve your little love’s response to vaccinations.

Puppies are puppies. Large and small breeds can safely eat the same food.

FALSE “All puppy diets support growth,” says Dr. Joyce. “However, breed size does matter.” While small breed dogs can safely grow very quickly, the same is not true for large breed dogs. “To prevent orthopedic issues (such as disorders of the skeletal system and associated muscles, joints and ligaments), we try to slow down their growth.” To feed a small-breed puppy food to a large breed puppy is to put it at risk for hip dysplasia, a gradual loosening of the hip joint that can ultimately be crippling, and other malformation problems. Joint protective agents can be important for large-breed little ones.

The biggest health issue for today’s adult dogs is obesity.

TRUE “The food choices you make for your middle-aged dog largely have to do with whether or not it’s overweight,” says Dr. Joyce. “Owners should always be thinking about preventing obesity, and weight-control formulas can help with this.” Your veterinarian can monitor your dog’s weight, but you can also keep an eye on your canine’s physique. You should be able to feel your dog’s spine and ribs, and see a noticeable waist between the rib cage and hips from above.

Once puppyhood ends, large and small breeds can eat the same foods for optimal health.

FALSE Large-breed dogs should be fed a large-breed diet, says Dr. Joyce. For large-breed dogs, a diet that includes cartilage building-blocks, like glucosamine, can help maintain healthy joints and cartilage.

Male and female dogs have different nutritional needs.

FALSE “This is false, with one exception,” says Dr. Joyce. “Pregnant and lactating females need more calories.” You can provide this extra energy by feeding your pregnant or nursing dog puppy chow. However, make sure it’s small-breed puppy chow, whether or not your dog is small. It is higher in calories than the large-breed puppy equivalent.

Senior-specific diets should be fed after a dog reaches the decade mark.

FALSE “I’m a broken record, but it depends on the breed,” says Dr. Joyce. Veterinarians generally say that dogs in the last third of life are seniors. Larger breeds tend to have shorter life spans, so they may be considered senior as early as six years old, while smaller dogs are not generally considered seniors until 10. New research also shows that a higher-protein diet can also be beneficial for senior dogs. Your veterinarian can tell you whether it’s time to start Rover on a senior meal plan.

You can prevent the common health problems of older dogs by feeding your dog an issue-specific diet -- like a food for dogs with kidney problems -- before your dog is diagnosed.

FALSE “You shouldn’t feed a health-specific diet until a condition has been diagnosed,” says Dr. Joyce. Preventative diets focus on the general health of a dog, its weight and joint health, rather than on specific conditions. That being said, weight-control and joint-health formulas are generally safe for older dogs. There are many maturity foods on the market. Again, breed size should be a consideration in choosing these meal plans.

Though canine health food information may be harder to come by than the human variety, what you learn can go a long way toward helping your pet. With just a bit of dog food nutritional savvy, feeding your canine companion for optimal health is as easy as scooping out a serving of dog chow.

Darcy Lockman is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Dog Daily. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and Rolling Stone. She lives in Brooklyn with the prettiest pug dog in the five boroughs.

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Posted on March 11, 2012

Mayam says: True mixed breed dogs are any dog whose parents are not both the same breed. And mixed reebds are NOT the heartiest against disease. While it is true that a randomly bred dog is less likely to develop health problems than a poorly bred purebred health is still largely a result of genes. Most diseases don't strike until after a dog is old enough to have reproduced, meaning that these diseases are not removed from the gene pool through natural selection. A mutt is only as healthy as the genes it carries and if both parents had bad genes then even mutts will inhierit genetic defects and poor health. One of the LEAST healthy dogs I know is a true heinz 57 from the shelter. This poor dog is only five years old and already crippled by two ruptured cruciate ligaments in her rear legs, can't stomach anything but the most bland of diets due to digestive issues, and suffers from a debilitating auto-immune disease. Talk about loosing the genetic lottery! I don't think I have EVER met a purebred with as many health issues as she has. The only dog I know undergoing chemo is also a true heinz 57 and has been diagnosed with a malignant cancer at the tender age of two.Stepping off my soapbox, yes puppy mills sell mixed breed dogs. Sure, any idiot with half a brain knows that any of the doodle reebds are a mixed breed dog. But then again, idiots with half a brain don't knowingly buy dogs from puppy mills or their brokers either. Not only do they reap huge profits from intentionally mixing poodles with some other breed and slapping a cutesy name on it, but they don't keep accurate records of their supposedly purebred dogs either. I have seen puppy mill dogs that were supposedly purebred and had papers that were quite clearly mixed (one particular dog that comes to mind was a beagle/dachshund mix) but if you even brought that idea up to the owners they got very defensive about it because they bought the dog as a purebred and they firmly believe that it is.

Posted on February 9, 2012

Inocent says: Furburbia Adoption Center in Park City, UT. Did some work with them when I lived there a few years ago. They were great peolpe to work with!

Posted on April 12, 2008

Teresa Clement says: Someone on your show recently stated that dogs were not carnivores, I believe they need to do some research. I've been feeding raw for almost 10 years, to a healthy 15 year old, a 10 year old, and a 9 year old. They are in excellent health. Limited vacs, no dog food, and they thrive. If this were not the case, then explain why SO many dog food companies are now trying to "make" a natural diet for dogs. Raw is the way to go, never had one sick, no problems with digestion, clean teeth, clean ears and bright eyes. What more could an owner ask for? Teresa Clement Morristown, TN

Posted on April 28, 2008

Susan A says: Hooray, Teresa!! I have 3 greyhounds, ages 5 to 11, all fed raw. So happy to see that you've added this comment to the discussion.

Posted on May 23, 2008

Beth Tubin says: I have a Goldendoodle, 11 months old, and weighs 55 pounds. We feed her Eukanuba adult dry food: 1 cup in the a.m. and 2 cups in the p.m. Sometimes she does not eat her a.m. food. Question: How much should she be eating? Should I eliminate her a.m. feeding and give more food in the p.m. feeding? Thank you for your response. Beth Tubin

Posted on May 27, 2008

Crise Billwalk says: Someone on this forum said that someone else had said that dogs weren't carnivores. I made a comment related to that and I never stated that they weren't carnivores. They are natural carnivores but can live normally on a unique dog food diet based on ingredients derived off vegetables and plant proteins. Do some research yourself.

Posted on April 11, 2008

Nancy Boldt says: I exercise my dogs almost daily even when it's cool. the love to play fetch. I have 3 shiba inu's. it seemed that when my femal was spayed she seemed to gain weight more so than the males. So I try to play with them a lot. In he nicer weather I walk them. My dogs are 10.6.and 4yrs. I limit their snacks and the kind I give them. their meals are split three times a day. this keeps their sugar levels on an stable. like some people feed their dogs once a day.I split it up. In the summer they will only eat twice a day. In the cooler weather they eat three times a day. but I do think the key to living longer and a more healthy life is the exercise.

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