NOTS when Feeding your Dog

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

NOTS when Feeding Your Dog

There are lots of things to do when planning how to best feed your dog. There are also some things NOT to do.

Giving your pet a treat is one of life's little pleasures. It is estimated that 60 to 80% of dog owners regularly give their pets commercial treats. If table foods are included, 90% or more of dogs receive treats, snacks and biscuits as a supplement to their regular food. People like to give treats and snacks for emotional reasons, to change their pet's behaviour or to improve and maintain oral health. However, it is important to remember NOT to give too many treats.

Several daily treats will have a marked effect on the dog's total nutritional intake. Obviously, the total impact will depend on the calorie content of the treat and the number of treats provided. Snacks provide energy. A handful of snacks can easily be equivalent to 40% of a small dog's daily energy requirement or 10% of a large breed dog's requirement. An owner must adjust for this by feeding less of the dog's usual food. It's not just commercial treats that are a problem.  An adult dog weighing 10 kilograms (22 pounds) requires approximately 700 kilocalories of metabolizable energy daily for maintenance. One ounce of cheddar cheese yields 105 kilocalories of metabolizable energy. A wiener has 189 kilocalories, an ounce of potato chips 149 kilocalories. If an owner fails to compensate for these extra calories, obesity quickly follows.

There is another important thing to remember about treats. For dogs with certain health conditions, treats may NOT be a good thing. When a dog is affected by disease such as bladder stones, kidney disease, heart failure or diabetes, strict dietary restrictions should be followed. Treats must be carefully selected or even banned. Otherwise, an owner may be negating all the benefits of the special diet being fed. Your veterinarian should be consulted about feeding treats to pets with these health problems.

Garbage eating is probably normal behaviour for dogs but it is NOT a good thing to let your dog do. Many dogs prefer their food in an advanced stage of decomposition. However, eating garbage can be very unhealthy. It can cause brief mild gastro-intestinal upsets or very serious, possible life-threatening illness, depending on the bacterial toxins or by-products of putrefaction contained in the waste materials. Bones, roast cords and animal or vegetable fats, commonly found in household garbage, can also be very dangerous when eaten by dogs. Spraying garbage bags with a dog repellent usually does not work. It is best to follow strict measures to prevent access to any garbage or compost materials.

Begging for food may be fun when dogs sit up or perform other tricks but it is NOT pleasant if you create an annoying habit. A dog that is constantly whining, barking, nudging or scratching is not much fun to be around. In one study of more than 1,400 dog owners, begging for food was one of the most common complaints and was perceived as a problem in one third of the dogs. In addition, begging may encourage owners to feed the dog more of its regular food, in an attempt to reduce the behaviour. Offering between meal treats reinforces begging. Multiply the begging by the number of people in the home and you can see how the tidbits add up. Once again those extra calories are NOT good.

Finally, plant and grass eating by dogs is normal behaviour.  No one knows for sure why they do it, but they may just like the way plants taste or prefer the texture. However, I always suggest to clients that they be a bit watchful of the habit. It is NOT a good idea for a dog to eat too much grass or some vomiting may result. It is particularly NOT good for a dog to eat grass that has been recently sprayed with chemicals or fertilized.

Your veterinarian can best advise you about the things to do and NOT to do, to help keep your pet healthy.