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.