"Dog" Food For Thought

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The Humane Society of Utah frequently receives complaints related to either the lack of, or insufficient quality or quantity of, food for dogs. Many owners assume dogs can eat and remain in good, healthy physical condition on almost any diet, including the cheapest dog food available in the store or leftovers (i.e.: pizza, food scraps, etc.). This can result in animals which are underweight, demonstrate poor performance, have hair coat problems, teeth in poor condition and other related conditions.

Let’s begin with very young puppies. It is important that the mother dog (the “bitch”) nurses her puppies right from the start so they can obtain an important component in her milk called “colostrum,” which helps to protect the puppies from disease in their early weeks of life. Bitches in late pregnancy and during nursing require 15%-20% additional nutrition to meet the puppies’ nutritional needs.

If the litter is large or if it is the bitch’s first litter, all of the puppies may not receive adequate nutrition and supplemental feeding with a veterinary or pet store milk replacer, tube feeders, or nursing bottles may be required. Puppies, if supplemental feeding is required, should be fed at least three times a day until they are 3-4 weeks of age, at which time the puppy can begin to be introduced to eating puppy food in a gruel mixture from a bowl. After that the puppy should be fed three times a day up until six months of age and twice a day from seven to twelve months of age.

Puppies should continue to nurse until they are weaned, which occurs at about 7-8 weeks of age. At that point they should receive a quality “puppy” food that is formulated specifically to aid in its growth until one year of age or longer in some breeds. Be wary of “generic” label dog foods as they may be deficient in required nutrients and may contain low-quality ingredients. It is probably best to stick with common name brand products, rather than their no-name cousins.

Once they reach adult size their feeding changes from one of growth to that of maintenance. At that point, once-a-day feeding with the proper amount of quality food should be sufficient for most adult dogs. If the animal starts to lose weight, increase the feedings to twice-a-day. Always provide fresh, clean and cool water to your animal in a clean container which is anchored to prevent it from tipping over.

Because of the many breeds and sizes of dogs, i.e.: giant, medium, small and toy breeds, it is important to plan your nutritional program to fit your dog’s physical requirements, body condition and lifestyle.

To determine whether a dog food is nutritionally adequate for your dog; read the label. Proteins in dog foods come from cattle, swine, chicken, lamb, or other livestock by-products. It may include grease, fat, oils, wheat, soy, corn, peanut hulls, and other vegetable protein, as well as additives (colors, flavorings, antioxidants, etc.) and preservatives. Some vegetable proteins may be of poor quality or may be hard to digest, resulting in chronic diarrhea, allergies, hypersensitivity, vomiting, or colitis (inflammation of the colon).

Labels list ingredients in order based on the amount of each ingredient present in the food. Look for meat as the first ingredient. Avoid bone meal by-products. If corn is listed as one of the first five ingredients, select another brand. Check the package expiration date to ensure its freshness. Smell the contents for freshness or possible contamination before feeding it to your pet as there have been a number of instances recently involving contaminated / tainted pet foods and related dog deaths. In 2008, alone, three pet food companies were indicted over tainted food; two Chinese and one U.S. company.