Does Your Dog Need Vitamins?

Providing your dog with vitamins, minerals and other nutritional components is important to your pet's health and well-being. The best way to do so is by feeding it a high-quality, complete and balanced diet. Often you may be tempted, for a number of reasons, to supplement your pet's diet with table scraps or other nutritional supplements.

It is actually better for your dog if you forego supplementing its food, however. Here's why:

Risks of Supplementing
It is important for concerned pet owners like you to realize that quality dog foods are carefully formulated to meet the caloric needs of your pet. In addition, quality dog food provides the essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals specific to the nutritional requirements of your dog. Quality foods are complete and balanced for a specific life stage or lifestyle. By adding table scraps or other supplements, the delicate nutrient balance can be disrupted.

The interaction between different minerals is very complex. Research has shown that not only are the individual levels of minerals in a diet important, but so is the proper balance. An excess of one mineral may affect the absorption of a second. This could lead to a deficiency in that second mineral.

One common supplement is feeding additional meat. However, because meat contains 20 to 40 times more phosphorus than calcium, adding meat to a balanced diet will upset the calcium to phosphorus (or Ca:P) ratio, which is important for proper bone development and maintenance. This may prompt your dog's body to absorb calcium from the bones in order to reach the right balance. Ca:P ratio should range between 1.1 and 1.4 parts of calcium for each 1 part of phosphorus.

Excess amounts of calcium have been associated with several bone diseases that affect growing puppies. If you own a large-breed puppy, for example, you may believe it requires extra calcium for proper development of bones. However, adding yogurt, cottage cheese, or calcium tablets to the pup's diet will only upset the body's delicate mineral balance. Remember that large-breed puppies will consume more food and receive the calcium their bodies need by eating the recommended portions. The best way to support a normal growth rate is to feed growing dogs adequate, but not excessive, amounts of food that are part of a balanced diet, using a portion-controlled regimen.

Complete and Balanced Food
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates the pet food industry and has established certain nutritional requirements for dogs and cats. These requirements are published annually in the AAFCO Manual. Only pet foods that have met the strict testing criteria established by AAFCO can carry the "complete and balanced" statement on the label. Check to make sure your dog's food has it.

So, while supplementing begins with good intentions, it is often unnecessary and it can upset the delicately balanced nutritional requirements of your dog.

Five Things About Feeding Your Dog

Do you have a pudgy puppy? Many dogs, like their owners, could stand to shed a few pounds. That extra weight isn't healthy and can lead to serious health problems. And some canines are simply couch potatoes -- which is never what nature intended for our dogs. But how do you trim down and fire up your pudgy pooch?

  1. Visit your veterinarian for advice. Some obesity stems from medical conditions such as hypothyroid. Have your vet check for health problems. If your dog is simply exploiting your heavy-handed feeding practices, your veterinarian can recommend a prescription dog food that will help shed those unwanted pounds, or recommend sensible proportions.
  2. Cut out snacks. That includes the pizza and dinner scraps you've been sneaking under the table.
  3. Have your veterinarian clear your dog for exercise. Start slow -- a daily walk around the block or a short game of fetch -- but do this every day and gradually build up to longer and more strenuous activity. Easy and fun exercises include fetching a ball or Frisbee, creating a small obstacle course and having your dog negotiate it, or short, brisk walks. Remember to start slow and keep cool, especially in hot weather. As your dog becomes more fit, increase his activity. Bicycle with your dog (provided your dog is well-trained to run beside your bike) using a Springer or similar device designed to safely tether your dog to the bike.
  4. Participate in a dog sport or activity. In my book, The Simple Guide to Getting Active with Your Dog (TFH, 2002), I discuss activities and dog sports for your pet. Backpacking with your dog (even in urban areas), agility, flyball, Frisbee, and skijoring are all activities open to all dogs.
  5. Warm up and cool down your dog. Warming up can include a slow walk before beginning an activity or a slow stretch, where you gently move your dog's legs through a full range of motion. Doing this before an after exercise will help keep your pooch limber and fit. So will bringing along extra water so your dog does not become dehydrated.

From Finicky Fido to Chowhound Charlie

No matter how hungry your dog may be at mealtime, you'll notice that a quick sniff of the food will almost always precede the chow down. Like a connoisseur inhaling the bouquet of a fine wine before the first sip, your dog is deciding if what you've laid out for the meal is worth eating.

Dogs reportedly have about one sixth the number of taste buds that we humans do, but their sense of smell is far more sophisticated than ours. "The tissue in their brain used for smelling is bigger and actually weighs more than the same tissue in human brain," says Dr. Nancy Scanlon, DVM, at the Sherman Oaks Veterinary Clinic in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Moisture on your dog's nose helps to dissolve molecules in the air around the food, which are then inhaled, making contact with the nerves inside the nose. The nerve impulses travel instantly from the nose directly to the brain and, at this point, your discriminating doggy can immediately determine if this food is familiar, fresh, rotten, sweet or salty -- and whether or not it should be eaten.

But dogs are not easily fooled. Once your dog starts eating, the sense of taste takes over. If a food has been artificially altered so that it smells like beef but is actually soybean mush, your dog will not continue to eat if the flavor is not to its liking.

What flavors do dogs like?
One study found that dogs prefer meat to any cereal foods. They like canned meat more than fresh meat, and cooked meat better than raw. And while dogs have a taste for sweetness, they can quickly detect -- and will avoid -- food with a bitter taste.

Some dog owners may feel that their pets need a variety or certain intensity of flavors to keep them interested. Not so, say experts. "Dogs don't need a lot of flavors," says Scanlon. There is no need to switch foods, she says, unless you need to coax your dog to eat, for instance, when it's sick. Most dogs love, and will accept, flavorful treats, but these should only be used when you're training your dog or at other special times, but not as a meal replacement.

Picky eater problems
Most of us know dogs that will eat just about anything. These tend to be bigger dogs, strays or dogs that were bred to be hunters. "But for the picky guys, the fresher (the food) the better," says Scanlon, who adds that small, thin dogs, such as whippets or grey hounds, tend to be pickier eaters. Canned food or a combination of canned and dry may be best for these dogs.

If you constantly change your dog's food, or frequently give your dog scraps of human food, you could actually create a picky eater, says Dr. Kimberly Bolduc, DVM at Willowood Acres Veterinary Clinic in Romulus, Mich. Keep your dog on a consistent diet and refrain from offering human food, which can be dangerous to a dog's health.

If your dog has lost interest in its food, for some reason, here are a few tips to try to make it more palatable:

1. Warm the food in the microwave for a minute or two, making sure it doesn't get too hot. Most dogs prefer moderately warm to cold food. Warming has the added advantage of heightening the food's aroma, making it all the more enticing to your dog.

2. Add a little bit of fat-free chicken or beef broth to the food. The added hint of moisture, taste and nutrition can sometimes pep up your pup's interest. It can also help to keep the food moist if you microwave it, per the first tip. You can additionally achieve the warming effect by heating the broth itself, but not the dog food, before stirring the two together.

3. Combine wet with dry dog food. Canned food can be more satisfying to some dogs, so try adding a tablespoon or two of canned food to the bowl of dry food, mixing it together completely.

4. Try adding a small amount of a specially formulated dog food sauce to your dog's dry food. These new sauces are designed just for dogs, so look for them at your local pet food store or other pet food retailer.

Dog Food Goes Natural and Holistic

Consumers have become increasingly aware of the link between food and health, which was recently confirmed by a PetfoodIndustry.com survey that found that owners were interested in “green” pet foods. These products were most often defined as being natural and containing no artificial ingredients.

Manufacturers of premium pet foods have responded, formulating new products that emphasize quality, natural ingredients. The approach is often termed “holistic,” but what exactly does that mean? Dr. Katy J. Nelson, an associate emergency veterinarian at the Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Va., and Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian for Iams, shed some light on the matter and explain how the approach goes beyond food.

Natural, Holistic Dog Food
“Holistic simply means supplying a complete and balanced diet that supports the entire animal,” says Dicke. Adds Nelson: “Only natural sources are used for the ingredients: no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives and no fillers.”

The holistic concept first gained strength among medical professionals. Holistic health holds that all aspects of an individual’s needs, including psychological, physical or social, should be taken into account and seen as a whole. In terms of your dog, the food that it eats may therefore affect all aspects of its life, since the same nutrition fuels every thought and activity.

Desirable Ingredients
If you take a look at the ingredients list for new pet food formulas, you’ll probably see quite a few ingredients that you’d include on your own shopping lists. You might also see other nutrients, like FOS, which have more of a medical sound to them. In that particular case, FOS is a prebiotic often derived from fruits and vegetables that can benefit your dog’s digestion and immune system. FOS is found in some foods that you might eat too, such as certain yogurts.

Here are a few other ingredients to be on the lookout for:

Protein from meat Dogs are not carnivores like cats, but they do love and crave meat. Real, whole protein from meat sources is therefore a great food source for your pet. Beef and fish are possibilities, but you’ll often see chicken as the meat source these days. “Chicken, like all meat proteins, can provide all the essential amino acids,” explains Dicke. Chicken is a high-quality, lean protein source that is easily obtainable and inexpensive. It can then be the basis for a “nutritionally superior diet that is very affordable,” says Nelson.

Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants These important nutrients are found in familiar ingredients, such as apples, spinach, eggs and more. “Natural sources of vitamins are used for overall health,” says Nelson. High levels of vitamin E are sometimes included to help boost your dog’s immune system.

Oils for skin and coat health Omega fatty acids, such as those from fish oils, “are extremely important for skin, coat, GI and joint health,” says Nelson. “Obtaining them from fish oils and flaxseed is preferred to synthetically produced sources.” Again, there’s a crossover to human health, since flaxseed is often now included in many breads, breakfast cereals and other products.

Holistic Means More than Just Food
Nelson advises that you should extend the holistic and natural mindset outside of feeding time. She provides the following three tips:

1. Consult with your veterinarian about ways in which your dog’s exposure to chemicals and drugs can be decreased. Many veterinary practices now include alternative medicines or nutrition-based treatments based on natural ingredients.

2. If you have an arthritic dog, perhaps acupuncture could help you decrease the amount of medication required to keep your pet comfortable.

3. Instead of monthly preventatives, discuss with your veterinarian newer products on the market, which may only have to be used every six weeks to every six months.

Dicke believes that the holistic approach can be applied to the entire experience of owning a pet. “A pet needs quality nutrition; health care; a stable, safe and interactive environment; and love. That is holistic pet ownership,” she says.

The Best Meat Meal for Your Dog

Dogs are omnivores, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a veterinarian who would recommend a vegetarian diet for your dog. Dr. Trisha Joyce, veterinarian of New York City Veterinary Specialists, has seen dogs survive but not thrive without meat. “In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, we saw dogs that had probably eaten garbage on the streets for weeks but likely no protein. The body starts consuming muscle. They were skin and bones.”

Luckily, dogs are not picky eaters. “Their sense of smell is incredibly acute, but their sense of taste is much duller,” says Joyce. Your furry friend may not exhibit a preference for chicken over beef over lamb, but that doesn’t mean that one isn’t better, health-wise, than the other. Below, Joyce comments on the carnivorous leanings of canines and whether all meats are created equal.

Protein for Growth and Maintenance
Protein is crucial for all aspects of growth and development, which is why puppies as well as pregnant and lactating females need an even greater amount than other dogs. It is also crucial to the maintenance of the immune system and the body in general.

There are 22 amino acids (the stuff that protein is made of) required by dogs, and 12 of them dogs produce themselves. The other 10 must be consumed, and a lack of any one of them can cause health issues.

Choosing a High-quality Food
Dogs thrive on meat-based diets. To make sure your dog is getting just that, choose a food that has a high-quality animal protein as its first ingredient. That is, a meat or meat byproduct, such as meat meal, which is simply meat with the water and fat removed.

Commercial foods with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) seal have an adequate proportion of protein to carbohydrates. You cannot feed a healthy dog too much protein, and a high-protein diet will not cause kidney problems. If these develop, however, a special food may be in order. If a dog’s protein intake outpaces its need for it, the extra will be secreted into urine or turned into fat.

“Think of canines in the wild. They catch and consume other animals, and probably have a higher protein intake than what would ever be sold in pet stores,” says Joyce.

Chicken, Beef or Lamb?
Every protein source has a different level of usable amino acids. This amount is termed biological value. Egg has the highest biological value, followed by chicken, fish and red meat, in that order. But don’t let that information distract you. Any source of meat protein will serve your dog well.

The one time to consider switching your dog’s protein source is if allergies develop. Indications of food allergies include chronic itching without evidence of an infection; intermittent vomiting; or intermittent diarrhea.

“If you’re seeing a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms, blood tests can reveal whether the GI tract is out of whack. Sometimes the culprit is an allergic reaction to a protein caused by overexposure. The answer to this is a novel protein -- one they haven’t seen before, like duck or venison,” says Joyce.

In short, a commercial food with any high-quality protein will satisfy your dog’s nutritional needs.