Saturday, July 28

Your Dog's Nutrition

By  Adam Hobbs, Canine Behaviourist

During consultations with difficult dogs the subject of diet and nutrition often arises. So here is a brief explanation as to how to understand food labels and what your dog actually requires.

Diet is fast becoming an important area of research in regards to canine behaviour. A high quality diet can make huge difference to your dog, but unfortunately the most common off the shelf commercial foods are nutritionally very poor!
Here is a brief guide on how to understand what is in commercial dog foods by reading the ingredients on the label.
First off, quick definitions for the terminology used in labelling;
Meal (chicken/beef/lamb/meat) – mammal tissue ground to small particles. Bone meal is ground up sterilized bone. The sort of meat which is ground up is generally the meat which cannot be sold on in any other form, it’s not very nutritious.
Meat derivatives  - not necessarily meat, usually heads, feet, nails, blood, hair, ligaments, if fact it can be any part of the animal, so expect it to be the least nutritional (and least profitable) parts.
By products (chicken) – beaks, feet, neck, foetuses, intestines, organ meat and feathers.  Obviously these are low in nutrition, except some organ meats.
By products (meat) – parts of the animal unfit for human consumption, heads, feet, lungs, bone, hair, tails, not good nutrition.  Unfit for humans also means the meat that is diseased.
Cereals (corn, wheat etc etc) – dogs struggle to digest cereals and get little nutrition from them. Corn and wheat are both known allergens and can contribute to allergic reactions in dogs.  It is generally used as cheap filler in foods.
On the label, food ingredients are listed by highest quantity first, so for an example of quality, here are the ingredients of 6 tinned foods off my local super market shelf.
TESCO chunks in gravy with pork and liver – Ingredients – Meat and Animal derivatives (min 4% pork, min 4% liver) cereals, vegetables, minerals & sugars.
Chappie original – Ingredients – cereals (4%), fish and fish derivatives (14% of this white fish), meat and animal derivatives (4% chicken), oils and fats, minerals, herbs.
Pedigree with chicken – Ingredients – meat and animal derivates (44% including 4% chicken), cereals, derivatives of vegetable origin, oils, fats, minerals.
Gelert country choice with chicken – Ingredients – meat and animal derivatives (chicken min 4%), cereal, derivatives of vegetable origin, vitamins, minerals.
Butchers, Pro Vitality – Ingredients - meat & animal derivatives (min 42% of which 60% chicken, 10% fresh meat) vegetables, oils & fats, minerals, mannan-oligosaccharide, joint mobility ingredients.
Butchers, Superior – Ingredients – meat and animal derivatives (total 40%, of which beef 4% min, fresh chicken 4% min), vegetables, minerals.
Not one tin simply had ‘meat’ listed as an ingredient, they all had derivates of meat as their primary ingredient, except ‘Chappie’, which had cereal first and then derivates. Also notice the low percentages of meat protein in the meals. ‘Butchers’ does have a much higher meat content, but that meat content is still only by-products. This is even before we consider the processing of dog food using high heat generally destroys most of the nourishment, vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc, so artificial nutrients and added fats (for flavour) are included after processing. 
If a dog caught and ate a rabbit, (a fairly natural thing to do in the wild) I’m very sure the quantity of meat in that meal would be far higher than, say, 4% minimum. Also the quality of that meat would be much higher. So, compared to a natural diet of catching and eating prey animals a commercial diet offers very poor quality nutrition for the modern dog.
Dry food/Kibble.  The same applies as tinned food in regards to the quality of the ingredients.
Although through selective breeding and the development of ‘pedigree’  breeds has seen huge changes in the appearance and lesser changes in potential behaviour in dogs, their digestive systems have remained the same throughout domestication. What this basically means is a dog is still designed primarily to eat prey animals, and scavenge vegetables, fruit and berries as a secondary food source. This has been so for tens of thousands (possible hundreds of thousands) of years.  Mass manufactured (commercial) dry dog food has existed for around 50 years in Europe and was developed to make profit, not improve domestic dog health. It’s rise in popularity over the last 50 years has also coincided with a dramatic rise in allergies in pet dogs.
My dog.
I feed my own dog, Mizzie, a raw meat and raw vegetable based diet.  I do add dry food (with no cereal content) principally to offer some abrasive foodstuff to help clean Mizzie’s teeth (rawhide chews and dental sticks are also used for this) and it also adds a bit more nutrient depth to the meal. I also mix in some dried meat I buy from a local pet supplier.  To further increase nutrients I also add salmon oil and multivitamins (designed for pets not people) and maybe a mashed in banana every couple of days.
The meat I use for Miz’s meals are typically mainly muscle meat with some organ meat mixed in from time to time as this helps replicate the natural concept of eating caught prey. Muscle meat would be the majority of the meal with a lesser amount of rich organ meat. Usually I will buy meat from the price reduced section of the supermarket and freeze it. Typical meat includes, beef, lamb, chicken, rabbit and fish (sometimes ham but it’s salt and fat content is high), whilst the organ meat is usually heart, liver and kidney.  Sometimes items like ox tongue appear with the price reduced so I will include that in small amounts too for variety. I also buy meat on smaller bones, like chicken wings or ox tails for variety, but more on bones later.
A general guide for the amount to feed is around 3% of the dogs body weight per day. A tin of food is usually 400g.
So typical meals may include;
Around 400g of diced beef, mashed peas/carrots/green leaf veg, a raw egg & a sprinkle of multi vitamins.
Around 400g of minced lamb, a piece of chopped liver, or chopped lamb heart, sweet potatoes, finely chopped green beans & cucumber, and a small amount of salmon oil.
Around 400g of diced chicken, a scoop of commercial dry food.
In this clip I mince up beef, prawns and lamb together with carrots, lettuce, cucumber and green beans. The mince is then put into tubs weighing around 370g and 400g (meal size portions) then put it all in the freezer. Usually I would add some organ meat into the mince too.
Mizzie has a small breakfast after our morning walk, this is generally half a tin of commercial food and the same amount of dry food (both cereal free).  Although I know this meal will be low quality nutritionally, it adds variety to her diet and also provides the convenience that if for any reason we have no raw food prepared for her (usually if I forgot to thaw some out!) then she can is still used to and comfortable eating this type of food. Also, if somebody else has to take care of her for us, it may be an easy option for that short period.
Prepared raw food meals can be bought online or from pet shops in the form of frozen blocks. This can be a good way to ensure a more balanced meal is being provided.
I’m not 100% convinced bones are necessary in a domestic dogs diet from a nutritional point of view. Bones aren’t highly digestible so it’s difficult for the dog to get nutrients from them, although the middle of the bone, the marrow, is nutritious and digestible.  Bone fragments or sharp pieces pose a small risk to the digestive system.  Although wolves, feral and stray dogs often consume the smaller to medium bones they don’t have regular meals so can’t afford to waste any aspect of a meal. Also load bearing bones, such as thigh bones are extremely hard and can damage dog’s teeth. Cooked bones are generally more brittle and therefore carry a much higher risk of splintering and damaging the dog’s stomach or intestines, cooked bones shouldn't be given to dogs.
The bones I do allow Mizzie to eat are smaller ones like chicken legs, wings and ox tails. To begin with I supervised her and made sure she understood these items need crushing and are not just wolfed down.  She systematically crushes the chicken wing bone with her back teeth as she’s eating the meat off it.  The ox tail is usually pre cut into 1 inch pieces and she also crushed these up too. She sometimes gets bigger bones just to chew on for fun as a treat. Bones are of great benefit when it comes to cleaning your dogs teeth.
I would never risk Miz swallowing a fish bone and therefore she only eats filleted fish.

Switching diets or introducing new foods.
Changing your dog’s diet should be done slowly. Digesting food is basically done via enzymes and bacteria in the stomach and intestine.  If a new food type is introduced the body needs to develop the specific enzymes and bacteria in order to digest it.  If a large amount of ‘new’ food is suddenly introduced this can cause trouble, usually diarrhoea, and the dog gets very little out of the meal. (People get exactly the same problem when they holiday in different countries or continents).
Slowly increasing the amount of new food, and reducing the old food, over a week or so gives the digestive system time to adapt and thus gain the most from the new diet.  This is also the reason I still feed my dog a commercial food breakfast, if I have no raw food for Miz her digestive system can still handle a tinned food meal instead.
If the risk of bacteria is a concern; lightly cooking raw meat by searing the surface will kill any surface borne bacteria (the meats surface is where bacteria is typically found). Although not common, being aware of this is sensible. Bear in mind dogs digestive system is more acidic than our own meaning they handle bacteria far better than we do. This isn't a great risk, but is worthy of note.
Handling raw meat of course requires high standards of cleanliness regarding storing, defrosting and the cleaning of equipment, surfaces and hands!
These foods shouldn’t be fed to dogs;
Chocolate, caffeine, macadamia nuts, walnuts, fruit pips, seeds and stones, broccoli (in large amounts), tomato (mainly the leaves and stems), alcohol, grapes (raisins, seed extract) and onions. These are all toxic for dogs.
Pacific Salmon (can contain bacteria harmful to dogs)
In Summary.
With commercial food the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ is very apt.  Cheap food is at best worse than processed fast food for humans, it is food, but living on such low nutrition brings with it a much higher risk of poor health. Of course your dog can survive on commercial foods, even the cheap awful types, (just as they could survive stray eating out of bins) but will your dog thrive? Are you giving your dog the best chance at good health? There is a very strong argument for a quality diet improving health and vastly reducing vet visits and costs!
High quality ingredients and a good variety of foods is the best way to provide your pet pooch with a good healthy balanced diet. Even if you don't feel a raw food diet would be practical for your household, consideration should still be given as to how to improve your dog's nutrition.  Cooking human grade meats from the supermarket (from the reduced section for the bargains) and adding it to your dogs meal, or replacing the tinned food for that meal, is always a good simple option to boost your dogs nutrition.
Quality tinned food diets can be found online or in some pet stores, but always check the labels now you know what you are looking for!
There are many books and websites dedicated to domestic dog diets, so researching what you think would be best isn’t a difficult process! For a raw food diet, search for; BARF (Bones And Raw Food) diet, RMB (Raw Meaty Bones) diet or Natural dog diets etc. Or, look for books by Ian Billinghurst who has been very popular in this field for over 20 years.