How to Feed a Dog

It is important that we have considerations for the attitudes dogs hold for food and feeding patterns. Generally speaking dogs are able to adjust varying feeding routines such as time-controlled feeding, or the opposite of that regime, which is referred to a free-choice feeding.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these regimes. An understanding of the psychology of dogs would help you develop a greater of understanding of when free choice feeding is a good idea and when time-controlled feeding is better.

Time-controlled Feeding

It is generally accepted that feeding should be routinely and timed. Practicing food management and routine feeding helps to ensure dogs are not given too much food and maintenance feeding take places – maintenance feeding normally prevents weight gain.

Free-choice Feeding
Changing the diet regularly is not recommended. Frequent diet changes can result in stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation. Changes to any diet pattern should be introduced gradually. Add items from the new diet to the old diet over a period of a few days to avoid or prevent gastrointestinal upset. 


Commercially Produced Food

Commercially produced foods include dry, canned, dehydrated, frozen and raw and will generally be labelled complete and balanced. Recommendations on complete and balanced meals are only general and they specific quantities within them are almost always based on the needs of dogs which live indoors and are given modest exercise. Of course, it is expected the levels of certain nutrients or components within food would need adjusting depending on the body condition and life stage. Understanding how much to feed a dog is based on calculations relating to the ongoing metabolism and tissue stores. There are experts in animal nutritional science who can help you ensure feeding takes place to benefit the dog(s) you care for.

Commercial diets are highly palatable which means they have a number of additives which can easily lead to weight gain. Dry foods are recommended before canned and wet/moist food. Moist food will generally have a higher energy density per 100g of dry weight, but they contain much more water in their moist state, therefore financially you will be paying for fewer nutrients for your money.

If feeding low energy diets, supplements may be required in addition if exercise is increased or if a deficiency in a certain nutrient is indentified. Low energy diets still need to be complete and balanced. 

Medicinal (Veterinary Exclusive) Foods
Diet formulated for specific conditions dental care, skin sensitivities or allergies, hip and joint care, weight management, coat care and high performance.

Brands include: Advance, Biotic Plus, Eukanuba, Hills Science Diet, Iams, Royal Canin, Optimum, Purina (this list is designed to give examples only).

Home Cooked Meals
There are a number of benefits of home cooking such as providing fresh foods free from preservatives and additives. The major benefit from an owner’s perspective is that they know exactly what is in the food given. Home cooked meals should include some carbohydrates such as brown rice, pasta or root vegetables, some green or mixed vegetables and protein sources such as lamb, chicken, turkey, beef. Home cooking takes planning and time but many owners enjoy doing this for their dogs and find it is a most cost effective way to feed their dogs without buying ‘cheaper’ products.

On the downside, the balance of vitamins, protein, fat, minerals and carbohydrates could be inaccurate if the owner feeds too much of one thing and not enough of the other. The dog may experience deficiencies which can lead to health problems over time. Additionally, again if the meal is not balanced properly, it may be less palatable for the dog – for example too much carrot or too much fish could result in fussy feeders refusing meals. There are websites that are designed to help people work out how to home cook a nutritionally balanced meal. There are even some sites designed so the user only needs to input the ingredients they have available, and nutritionally complete meals can be designed through the software on the websites to make meal suggestions for you. It sounds great in theory and many will be genuine, however, if you decide to utilise websites to come up with meals for you, be sure you can trust that company. Perhaps you may find it is worthwhile to research the credentials for the website owner/company staff before starting. 

Consider differences between raw meat and cooked meat when feeding. There are arguments for and against feeding meats which are uncooked. One of the major arguments for feeding raw foods is that the food has been minimally processed and therefore the nutrients can be most readily absorbed. What we mean is the food has not been altered or damaged during the cooking and manufacturing process; therefore the nutrients exist in their original state and will be absorbed by the body easily and efficiently. It is thought that the dog’s digestive system is designed to cope with the uncooked state of meat products, with very high numbers of microorganisms designed for the digestive processing to take place in the intestinal canal and the immune system present to deal with the higher number of bacteria present in the food too. 

The disadvantages of feeding uncooked meats are that foods need to be given as quickly as possible after purchase to minimise the depletion of nutrients or rotting. Additionally, there is undoubtedly a greater risk of bacteria present in the food e.g. E coli. Another key point to consider is that some dogs may have sensitivity to uncooked meats if introduced either too quickly or later in life.

Any decision to feed cooked or uncooked food is that of the owner. If you are personally considering uncooked feeding for your own dog, you may want to discuss it further with your veterinarian.

Snack and Treats
Uncooked bones, ‘dog’ biscuits (not biscuits for human consumption), chews, animal products e.g. cooked or dried hoof, ears, skin (rawhide), dried liver, home-made treat bags (mixture of bite-size kibble, chicken, rabbit meat etc). All of these are suitable snacks and treats which can be fed to dogs.

Snacks and treats can be useful as rewards or can be used to prevent boredom. For example, leaving a dog with a large bone to chew on whilst you are out of the house is an ideal way for the dog to remain remained occupied during that time. Another great alternative here is leaving small treats in a toy which is specifically designed to hold small treats whilst the dog tries to release them. Again the purpose of this is to alleviate periods of boredom. Young dogs that are teething can benefit greatly from bones and rubber toys – helping them relieve some of the discomfort of teething.

Behaviour management and correction can also be aided by the use of treats as rewards. Be careful not to overfeed and use them correctly. It is suggested that you may give a dog a small flavourful snack once every few days. Overfeeding snack and treats can interfere with the balanced diet if given too often.    

Do not feed human snacks and sweet foods.

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