Feeding Your Dog

Pet Tales
by Barry B.Burtis D.V.M.

Feeding Your Dog

Just think about how much life in Canada has changed in the last one hundred years. In the early part of the 20th century we were largely an agrarian, rural society. Now most Canadians live in urban areas. Dogs, as they have for thousands of years, have made this transition in life style, with us. The canine species continues to demonstrate its amazing adaptability and versatility.

Dogs play key roles in many niches of our modern society. They have roles in law enforcement and as nursing home companions. There are military dogs, search and rescue dogs and dogs assisting in drug law enforcement. Dogs work as paraplegic assistants and help people with sight and hearing impairment. There are canine athletes - racing greyhounds, Iditarod and other trail sled dog racers and fly ball competitors. Dogs are one of the most common pets who validate the important value of the human-animal bond in our world. The emphasis on dogs as valued members of society has driven the development of canine nutrition towards the same goals as we have for ourselves - long life, high quality life and enhanced performance.

Around the world pet ownership has increased. In a recent survey, comparing dog and human populations in selected countries, the United States topped the list with 21 dogs per 100 people. Australia and France were next with 18 dogs/100 people. Canada had 12 dogs/100 people. As the population of dogs has increased, the groups of people willing to provide quality food for their dog has also increased. All these factors have also influenced the importance of diet in providing optimal health care for dogs. Dog owners and their veterinarians now need to understand more than just the basics of canine nutrition.

Feeding recommendations for a dog can be rather a challenge. The modern domestic canine species has a vast number of breeds, each with its own genetic idiosyncrasies. Domestic dogs are the most diverse mammalian species in terms of body weight and size.   The variety of dog breeds has come about as a result of efforts to produce animals with specific traits that may improve performance, show or behavioural characteristics. The result is a species with a wide variety of form and structure; head shape, size, haircoat and musculo-skeletal features. Undoubtedly, this has created variations in metabolism and nutrient use in dogs. Although, just as with humans, knowledge about canine nutrition is constantly evolving, there are some key points to remember about feeding your dog.

• Dogs are omnivores. They are opportunistic eaters and have developed anatomic and physiologic characteristics that permit digestion and usage of a varied diet.
• Lifestage nutrition is the practice of feeding dogs food designed to meet their optimal nutritional requirements at a specific stage or physiologic state (e.g., growth, maintenance, senior or reproduction). Such feeding practices are generally recommended by all veterinary nutritionists.
• The type and level of activity ( house pet, kennel dog, working dog) and neuter status are important in determining energy requirements. Obesity is a serious consequence of ignoring these factors.
• Dogs kept outside in cold weather may need 10-90% more energy than during optimal weather conditions.
• In general dogs will self-regulate water intake according to their needs. They should be allowed free access to clean, safe water.  
• The overall goals of feeding adult dogs are to optimize quality and longevity of life and minimize disease.
• Oral disease is the most common health problem of adult dogs. Owners should discuss with their veterinarian foods that are formulated to decrease the accumulation of plaque and calculus on the teeth and help control gingivitis and breath odour.
Just like you, your dog is what it eats. Feeding your dog right is a big part of being a good dog owner.