Diet and Nutrition
Feeding your Puppy
There is a multitude of different foods on the market to feed our dogs so it is often hard to decide which is the most appropriate for our pet. When choosing a food, it is important to realise that the needs of our pets will change throughout their lives and will vary for different species and breeds.
On collecting you new puppy, you will usually be informed of the diet the animal has received. However, the diets given are not always easy to follow, consisting of combinations of weetabix, porridge, scrambled egg, tripe or similar concoctions! Many have the disadvantages of not being completely balanced in minerals and vitamins. It is much better to use a puppy food that has been properly formulated and has a feeding guide to enable you to supply the correct amount of calories.
Puppies have a lot of growing to do in a short space of time, their bodies have to develop incredibly quickly and so it is important that they are fed a diet that is correctly formulated for their needs. Manufactured puppy foods are formulated to provide nutrition without the bulk. Puppy formulas have good levels of high quality protein to support healthy tissue and organ development, higher levels of essential minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and iron, as well as vitamin D to help build strong bones and teeth.
Puppies have small stomachs but large appetites, so feed small amounts often depending on their age. Up to four months of age a puppy should be fed four meals a day, this can then be reduced to three meals a day until six months of age and over six months of age two meals a day can be feed. Don’t be tempted to overfeed you puppy as it will cause digestive upset and could lead to painful bone problems in the future. Also overweight puppies turn into overweight dogs.
It is important not to feed your puppy immediately before or after exercise and allow at least one hour to pass between feeding and exercise/playing. This is especially relevant in large/giant breed dogs not only when they are puppies but throughout their lives. Resting after feeding and also soaking dried food before feeding, helps to prevent the risk of swelling or twisting of the stomach.
Puppies should be fed in a quiet place away from interruptions. Children should not be allowed to disturb them whilst eating as they may think they are predators and this could lead to an aggressive reaction.
As puppies grow bigger their appetites increase, they need more energy to support fast bursts of growth and build muscle mass. Larger breeds at six months of age may require up to twice the daily requirement of a two month old puppy. After six months the rate of growth will slow and food intake needs to be reduced.
Feeding the Adult Dog
Once your dog reaches maturity (from 9 months in small dogs but 12-18 months in larger breed dogs) it is time to settle into a regular feeding routine and change to a maintenance diet. Any diet change should be done gradually over one week to avoid stomach upsets. To maintain an optimal body condition, your dogs diet needs to contain the correct balance of nutrients. The main nutrient groups are proteins, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins, carbohydrates and water. Any good quality manufactured complete food will provide your dog with all the basic nutrients. Canned or dried or a mixture of the two may be fed depending on personal preference.
There is now a wide range of commercial diets available to match, more accurately specific dogs needs. Small/toy breeds have a more rapid metabolism than larger dogs, this may result in them needing as many as twice the amount of calories. Larger/giant breed dogs have larger appetites but also need different minerals and vitamins to help support fragile bones and cartilage.
There are also diets formulated for particularly active dogs which contain higher levels of fat, protein and vitamins such as B12 to help release energy from the food. Less active dogs may need a lighter version of a maintenance diet, which will contain less fat and increased amounts of fibre and avoid weight gain.
Adult dogs can be fed once or twice daily. Larger deeper chested dogs such as German Shepards, Great Danes and Dobermans benefit from two smaller meals. Food should be fed at room temperature, this helps the dog to small and taste it properly. Do not feed your dog immediately before or after exercise also try and soak dried food, as many dogs are susceptible to twisting of the stomach and the gut if fed and exercised as the food swells causing gastric torsions, this requires immediate veterinary attention.
Feeding a Larger Dog
Larger dogs have big appetites but also have slower metabolism than smaller dogs they require fewer calories and less fat too. Larger breed dogs however also need to develop a large, strong skeletal system and require additional minerals such as calcium and phosphorus to do this. It is very important in large and giant breed dogs not to over feed. This is not only because of the usual health problem but also because if the animals weight is too heavy for the skeletal system to carry it can lead to deformities, this is especially relevant when feeding them as puppies.
Specially prepared large breed formulas have a larger, more satisfying kibble which will encourage them to chew their food for longer and slow the rate at which they eat, as larger breeds tend to bolt their food. These foods have a reduced fat content to help control weight gain and minimise the impact on the joints and other vital organs.
Feeding Senior Dogs
Senior diets can be introduced from five years of age in larger breed dogs and seven years in smaller breed dogs. Senior dogs are less active and have a slower metabolism so fewer calories and fat are required, reduced levels of protein are also in senior diets to help older kidneys from having to detoxify excess protein. Higher quality easily digested proteins become more important to enable the body to maintain a good body condition.
Diets for older dogs provide a specific amount of high quality protein and are lower in fat than the adult diets, but also contains easily digestible carbohydrates. These diets also contain essential minerals and vitamins along with protein that helps the body fight infection.
As dogs age their sense of smell and taste may fade, also they may not be able to cope with the harder biscuits and a smaller kibble maybe better suited to the older animal and can also be soaked. Specially formulated senior dog food is available and it is advisable to move older dogs onto this food. Manufactured senior dog foods are carefully formulated to reflect the changes that occur as a dog gets older.
The frequency of meals for the older dog can still be 1-2 meals daily but sometimes they may prefer smaller portions more frequently. It is important not to over feed older dogs as they may put on weight which will lead to increased stress on their joints and worsen any existing arthritis.
For more advise on nutrition and diet visit the Hill's Nutrition website www.hillspet.com.