If your dog could talk (and yes, we know yours can), they would likely say this when it comes to nutrition: “I’m hungry. Feed me. Now!” In fact, your dog probably already says that to you—through doggy eyes, insistent stares, persistent barks, or refusal to move away from the dog food bowl.
But what your dog isn’t saying—and what we’re going to talk about in this week’s blog post—is that just like with you, when it comes to your dog, nutrition matters. Whether it’s getting the right nutrients, eating the right size portions, using nutrition to help ward off serious ailments or filling your Fido’s nutrient gaps, we’re going to break it all down and share some good sources.
Dogs: They’re Just Like Us… Well, Sort of…
You love your dog. We know that. But did you know that your dog is at risk for many of the same kinds of illnesses and maladies that all of us may face? Problems like cancer, heart disease, inflammation, joint issues, arthritis, allergies and more.
And just like us, some of those issues are a result of unfortunate genetics, the environment, bad luck or related to breed. Okay that last one isn’t exactly just like us, but it’s especially relevant information to know when you’re considering adding a fur baby to your family and to keep in mind once you’ve created a forever home for that pup.
On the other hand, some of these health conditions can be prevented or be less debilitating based on many of the things we do—or should be doing—for ourselves.
5 Pet Nutrition Tips to Help Your Dog Stay Healthy
- Take your dog for regular visits to the veterinarian. Just like you, your dog needs annual doctor check-ups and check-ins when you suspect a problem. Sometimes you’ll want to bring in a doggie doctor specialist, especially if your “primary care” vet recommends it, or if you’re concerned that the problem is not being solved. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are dentistry, dermatology, and dietary veterinary specialists—and that’s just the d’s!
- Watch for changes in your dog’s sleep patterns. An article posted on the American Kennel Club website advised that “Sleeping is the main event in most dogs’ daily lives…” (And you thought the main event was when you returned home from work.) It’s not unusual for your dog to sleep the time away, and how much sleep a dog needs depends on age, breed, personality, and their health. But if you notice a change in your dog’s sleeping habits, be sure to check with your vet.
- Help your dog avoid stress. You know what we’re going to say. Stress leads to all sorts of bad health outcomes. In short: calm good; stress bad. Lots of things can cause stress in dogs including separation anxiety, loneliness, a suitcase in the hallway, loud noises and other fear factors. Dogs can also sense anxiety in humans, which can create additional stress for them. Fortunately, Bustle shares seven ways to help stressed dogs calm down. (Here’s a hint: some, if not all, of the tips are human stress solutions too.)
- Help your dog maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise. Those early morning and pre-bedtime walks are not only good for your dog, but they’re good for you. Playing frisbee or catch is not only cute and great content for Instagram, it also keeps your dog active and creates a bonding experience between you and your Fifi. And who doesn’t love to watch a dog swim in a pool? Obesity leads to all sorts of problems, not just for us, but for dogs too.
- Help your dog maintain a healthy weight through proper nutrition. The basics of good nutrition for your dog start with getting the right balance of nutrients. WebMD explains that that requires a mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. For example, the “good” fats—like omega-3s—give your dog energy, fight inflammation, and should even keep your dog’s skin healthy and fur shiny.
What You Need to Know About Pet Nutrition for Dogs
Those scary health conditions we talked about in the beginning of this blog? Well, proper nutrition potentially plays an important role in helping your dog avoid them, hopefully for most of their life.
What and how much a dog needs to eat is dependent on their age, breed, size and level of energy. From puppyhood to adult life and hopefully through senior citizenship, dietary needs change for dogs, but one thing remains constant. Dogs need balanced nutrition just like their human companions.
According to PetMD.com, which features a wealth of information written and reviewed by vets, “…understanding how each nutrient is used in a dog’s body, understanding the processes, and knowing how much of each nutrient is needed for a healthy dog at all life stages is very complex.” This helpful guide is a basic primer for dog nutrition.
Let’s quickly run through some of the straightforward tips for pet nutrition.
5 Ways to Improve Your Dog’s Nutrition
- Balance your dog’s nutrition. Reputable dog food companies are careful to manufacture dog food products that are formulated to meet label claims that may state “complete,” “balanced,” or “100% nutritious.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these products on a federal level and offers a guide to pet food labels here. And here’s another source that explains how to read a dog food label.
- Different ages require different nutritional needs. Once puppies are fully weaned from their mother’s milk—by around week eight of their lives—they’ll require a food containing 25-30% protein as they need about twice the energy intake of adult dogs. Beyond puppyhood, adult dogs still need enough nutrients to meet their energy needs and repair body tissues. Anywhere from age seven to 12, dogs start to show age-related changes. At that point, the main objective for dog food should be to maintain a dog’s health and optimum body weight and minimize or slow development of chronic disease. Read more in this article and work with your veterinarian to help ensure your dog gets the nutritious diet that’s right for them.
- Practice portion control. Your dog is not going to control how much they eat, so you’ll need to do this for them. Don’t wait till your dog is overweight. Make a plan with your vet from the very beginning.
- Dogs want their food to smell good. If you’ve seen some of the places your dog puts their nose, you may not believe this tip. But it’s true. People mainly rely on visual appeal when it comes to food; for dogs, it’s truly about the smell. What smells good to you is not necessarily what smells good to your dog. But smart pet nutrition brands are on it!
- Know the nutrients your dog needs. We mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating. In addition to water, there are five other essential categories that your dogs need for proper nutrition:
- Protein—23 amino acids form the building blocks for protein. Your dog’s body makes 13 of them; the other ten need to come from food, so be sure your dog food includes beef, chicken, fish, chickpeas, lentils, beans). Your dog needs protein daily, so check the dog food label to be sure there’s enough protein.
- Healthy Fats—your dog needs to get these fats from food or supplements; their bodies do not make them on their own. Good fats for dogs include omega-3s, omega-6s and linoleic acid
- Carbohydrates—your dog does need fiber as well as some sugars and starches for good digestion, absorption and energy. Check with your vet for the best sources of carbs for dogs.
- Vitamins—it’s not just people who need vitamins. Dogs need them for energy and to keep them healthy overall. Interestingly, dogs make (and biosynthesize) their own vitamin C, so they don’t need extra from food or supplements.
- Minerals—dogs also rely on minerals like calcium and phosphorous to keep their bones and teeth strong.
Ideally the dog food you select will have a complete nutrient profile for your dog. But nutritional supplements are also an option. The American Kennel Club (AKC) estimates that about one-third of dogs in the U.S. are given a dietary supplement. Popular supplements for dogs include glucosamine, fish oil (omega-3s), antioxidants and probiotics, according to the AKC. Do your research for your fur baby, just like you would for yourself. And remember these 5 things if you’re planning on using nutritional supplements:
- Buy from a reputable brand.
- Supplements don’t replace the need for a nutritious diet.
- Don’t overdo how much you give your dog—pay attention to label recommendations.
- Don’t go right to the cheapest option as it may seem better for your pocketbook. In the long run, you may pay in other ways. Go for quality.
- Talk with your veterinarian about what supplements your dog might need.
While some people choose to give their dogs human supplements, that’s not always the best idea as the formulation may not be appropriate for dogs. There are in fact companies that make supplements specifically for dogs (and some of them also make supplements for humans). Here are four examples as a start for you to check out for your dog: Nordic Naturals, Nutramax Laboratories, Standard Process, and Veterinarian Recommended Solutions.
Remember this: while dogs may want to eat everything, they shouldn’t actually being doing that. In fact, there are some specific foods—like chocolate, grapes, macadamia nuts (and nuts in general) that health experts say can be toxic for your dog. Oh, and no alcohol please. No matter how much your dog begs.