Decoding dog diet with notes on nutrition

Providing food for the body, mind, and soul – a pet-parent’s prime responsibility! Lack of proper nutrition can cause deficiency of certain nutrients and may even result in obesity.
–by Dr HS Madhusudhan

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There are various factors that need to be considered while purchasing dog food from market or to prepare dog food at home. These factors include – breed, gender, body weight, physical activity, life stage, illness, physiological stage of the dog like breeding, pregnancy or lactation. Dogs are considered as omnivores. Hence, a balanced diet for dogs must comprise of ingredients from both plant and animal origin. Some people have the misconception that dogs should not be fed cereal grains, pulses, salt, milk products etc. But, without inclusion of these ingredients it is very difficult to prepare a balanced diet.

Are Dogs Carnivores Or Omnivores?

Some scientific facts say dogs are carnivores because they possess long canine teeth designed to tear and slash the raw meat. Dogs do not have long gastrointestinal tracts unlike other omnivores. Keeping these points in mind, feeding your pet only meat will make them suffer from deficiency of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Over the centuries, the digestive system of dogs has adapted to plant-based foods as well.

Happiness & Health Go Hand-In-Hand

Dr HS Madhusudhan
Dr HS Madhusudhan

Experts believe that five percent fiber is essential in your pet’s daily diet. A diet without fiber may lead to constipation. Protein level in diet with only meat will be high but their energy will be very less. Cereals and grains can provide energy. Nowadays some pet-parents are misguided to feed raw meat to their pet. Raw meat may consist of parasites, bacteria, or virus. If your pet eats infected meat, he might get infected himself. Make sure that if you are giving meat to your pet, it is properly cooked. Cooking of meat destroys all such pathogenic microorganisms and cooked meat is better digestible as compared to raw meat.

On the contrary, feeding your pet a strictly vegetarian diet, especially home-cooked vegetarian diet may cause vitamin deficiency. It can also lack in optimum amount of protein. Certain essential amino acids that your pet needs can be provided through plant-based sources.

Protein from animal origin such as egg, milk, chicken, meat is readily absorbed and utilized compared to pulses or legumes. Research says completely vegetarian diet can lead to more gas fermentation in the large intestine, which may cause bowel irritability and repeated defecation.

Pet Food Market – A Flourishing Industry

Depending on the preference of pet-parents, pet food companies are providing varieties of dog foods. Dog food holds a major share among all pet food. During 2021, the global pet food market share by dogs was 59.4 percent. In the last few decades, pet-parents have become keen in providing their pet a distinctive and special food.

There were times when dry food and canned food were the only two types of dog foods available. But now the concept of personalized pet food products and a trend of customized homemade ready-to-eat fresh food has started, especially in the metro cities.

Do’s And Woes Of Dry & Wet Dog Food

The dry dog food is the most preferred pet food option by pet-parents. There are advantages and disadvantages in both dry and wet dog foods. Weighing, packing and transportation is convenient for dry food. Shelf life of dry food is better as compared to fresh or semi moist food. No refrigeration is required for dry food. Dry food is comparatively cheaper than wet food.

Experts say that dry food encourages dogs to chew their food, which aids in preventing tartar buildup and secondary periodontal disease. Hence, the oral hygiene and breath of dogs on kibbles is good. Whilst few other observations say that dry food may stick firmly to the teeth of your pet leading to dental problems. Dry dog food is recommended for pets who are messy eaters. The energy density of dry dog food is higher than wet food. It would be best to ask your vet to know whether your pet would benefit from dry food or wet food.

Certain homemade dog food portals claim as human-grade. It is prepared from chicken, lamb, fish, free-range eggs, brown rice, grains, and fresh vegetables. Up to 85 percent moisture is present in wet homemade food which makes it highly palatable i.e. tastier as compared to kibbles. Homemade wet food is highly beneficial for pets who don’t drink enough water. It prevents dehydration. The aroma and nutrient profile of fresh wet food makes it more delectable because of similarity with their natural diets. If your pet is a picky eater, then wet homemade food is highly recommendable.

Special Care For Moms-To-Be

A pregnant furry or a nursing mom requires approximately double the energy than an adult dog. Kibble is highly energy dense. So, feeding of kibbles will serve this purpose. Grains are the best source of energy at this stage of their life. Pulses are best sources of plant protein, vegetables are best sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre. But a lot of dogs don’t prefer cereal grains, pulses and vegetables in their diet either in cooked form or fresh form. Since these ingredients are included in dry food along with meat and processed through extrusion and pelleting, dogs can’t distinguish them and so they readily eat the complete dry food.

Healthy & Happy With Homemade Wet Food

Homemade food is highly digestible as compared to dry food. The homemade dog food doesn’t need any preservatives and artificial flavour. Customised homemade wet food can also help obese pets feel their stomach full without increasing their calorie intake, thereby indirectly benefiting them shed off extra kilos from their body. For a sick, senile, or underweight pets who need encouragement to eat, wet food is a better option. If your pet is suffering from dental problems and is unable to crush and chew dry food, homemade fresh food can be a great option.

In terms of serving size, pets need to consume high volume of homemade wet food as compared to dry food to get the same amount of calories. . So, on kilogram of body weight basis, a meal of wet food may seem to be larger than a meal of dry food.

(Dr HS Madhusudhan, MVSc and PhD with a specialisation in canine nutrition, is currently working as Assistant Professor at Department of Animal Nutrition, Veterinary College, Bengaluru)