Proper nutrition is one of the most basic needs of your canine companion. It’s also one of the best ways to keep your dog healthy. While an appropriate food is vital to your dog’s overall well-being, choosing the “right” dog food is just one part of good nutrition. Read on to learn more about what veterinarians and pet nutritionists mean when they talk about “nutrition.”
What is nutrition?
Nutrition is the study of food, its nutrients and other components. This includes how specific nutrients act, how they interact with other nutrients, and how they are balanced within a food. The science of nutrition also includes how an animal’s body digests, absorbs and uses nutrients. Finally, as in human nutrition, pet nutrition evaluates the relationship between diet, health and disease.
For optimal nutrition, the following factors must be considered:
- The specific dog and his or her health
- The particular food
- Feeding practices used by the dog owner
- Conditions in the home environment
In other words, proper nutrition involves complex interactions between the dog that eats the food, the diet itself, how the food is fed and the surroundings in which the diet is eaten. Doing nutrition well means reevaluating these factors as often as needed. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Every dog is different
From Yorkshire terriers to Great Danes, dogs are an incredibly diverse group of animals. Every dog requires a wide range of nutrients in varying quantities over the course of a lifetime — the nutritional needs of a puppy are different from those of an adult dog. A dog’s gender, reproductive status (neutered or spayed; intact, pregnant or nursing a litter) and activity also influence nutritional requirements.
Some dogs have food intolerances, allergies and organ-specific diseases (for example, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes and kidney disease) that can affect which food they’re fed. These animal-specific factors are called nutrient-sensitive disorders. If your dog has a nutrient-sensitive disorder such as an adverse reaction to beef or chronic kidney disease, chances are you’re feeding a special or therapeutic diet to help manage the condition.
Not every dog food is right for every dog
The best food for your canine companion should match their nutritional needs. Although most dog foods are formulated to meet the minimum nutrient requirements of dogs, they may provide more than the minimum of some nutrients, such as protein, fat, calcium or phosphorus. In other words, not all dog foods provide the same levels of nutrients. That’s why a diet needs to be considered in relation to a specific dog. A large-breed puppy formula most likely would not match the needs of your medium-size, sedentary senior dog.
Meal time and environment matters
When, where and how — including how much and how often — you feed your dog is considered part of nutrition. While some adult dogs can be fed once daily, feeding twice daily is considered healthier and more satisfying for many others. Small dogs and those with certain digestive system issues may benefit from being fed three or more times per day.
It’s important to remember that a dog’s nutrient requirements aren’t just met by the nutrient levels in a food. The amount of food offered and eaten, including treats, helps satisfy a dog’s nutritional needs. Poor nutrition can occur if too much or too little food is fed — even if that food has an appropriate nutrient profile. (Veterinary nutritionists consider obesity to be malnutrition!)
The environment in which a dog is fed can also influence your pet’s nutrition. Especially in multiple-dog homes, competitive eating or resource (food) guarding can become an issue. Such eating behaviors can be dangerous for the dogs involved or for human family members.
How can conscientious dog owners ensure they’re providing proper nutrition?
Talking to your veterinarian is a great first step. Your veterinarian can assess your dog’s nutritional needs based on age, body condition, activity level and medical issues (if present), then recommend an appropriate food including how much to feed.
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