Changing your dog’s food isn’t always a quick process but it can be made easier when you know why switching your dog’s food is the right thing to do.
With the help of Dr John Lowe, canine nutritionist for Autarky, we have identified five of the most common signs, symptoms and effects to look for when considering switching your dog’s diet to help you pick a new food that’s right for them.
1. Age: why a dog’s age should determine their diet
Dr John Lowe tells us there are three crucial life stages and as dogs progress through life, the best way to help their body manage these changes is by using diets targeted for each life stage.
What puppies need
Protein is key for a puppy’s development inside and out.
“As the dog ages its nutritional requirements change. For example, the puppy is growing; laying down muscle and bone, as well as developing other physiological systems, such as the nervous system. Protein, both in amount and quality, is a key factor here.”
What adult dogs need
As soon as dogs enter adulthood, it’s important to switch to an appropriate diet for their age. An adult dog’s diet should take into account their lifestyle, with a key focus on helping them maintain a healthy weight.
“Once the dog is an adult, then it is more about managing its weight, body condition score and targeting the diet to the particular lifestyle that it enjoys.”
What older dogs need
As dogs enter their senior years, generally considered to be around 5-7 years depending on the dog’s breed, it’s important to switch diet to give additional support to joints for example, with extra vitamins and nutrients, such as glucosamine and/or fatty acids such as DHA and EPA.
In some cases, vets will also recommend switching to a senior/lighter diet to help older dogs maintain a healthy weight as their exercise regime adapts to their life stage or to help them to manage diseases like liver, kidney or heart disease.
“For the senior dog, there are many areas relating to the ageing process that can be supported to the benefit of the dog by targeting certain nutrients and nutrient concentrations in the diet as well as including beneficial nutraceuticals.”
2. Energy: a dog’s energy levels could tell you it’s time to switch diets
A dog’s energy levels are fed by what they eat and if a dog is hyperactive or lethargic, it could be a sign that their diet isn’t balanced and giving them what they need.
Dr Lowe tells us that assessing a dog’s body condition score is now recognised as the best way to ensure that the amount of food being fed is appropriate for the dog.
“It is interesting to note that the amount of energy (food) required for activity is directly related to the distance the dog travels, both in a horizontal and vertical direction, whereas the intensity and/or speed that the dog undertakes the activity at dictates which fuel is relied upon for that energy supply.
“In other words the type of, rather than the amount, of food. Foods that support sprint are more about energy from carbohydrate, whereas for stamina related efforts, fat becomes the key energy source.
“Autarky has diets designed, by adjusting carbohydrate to fat ratios, that suit all types of events and dog lifestyles. These diets also help support energy metabolism through key nutraceuticals such as carnitine, taurine and B-vitamins.”
3. Weight: how a dog’s weight helps to determine their right diet
Although a dog’s ideal weight can vary depending on their breed and age, it’s important to know what a healthy weight is because health problems can quite easily, sadly, develop as a result of being under or overweight.
Dr Lowe says, “Overweight dogs do not perform as well as lean or ideal body condition score dogs. If, for example, scenting is involved in the activity, the excessive panting of the overweight dog will hinder its ability to scent.
“Excess weight also puts increased demand on joints and leave dogs in a condition that is more likely to be associated with ill health. It is also possible that an obese dog will be in an inflammatory state and thus more prone to adverse reactions to allergens and disease challenges."
4. Allergies: a dog’s itchy skin could be a sign that it’s time to switch diets
As a society, we are becoming more aware of the link between diet and allergies.
Dr Lowe tells us about some of the most common signs dogs might exhibit if they have intolerances to ingredients, such as grain or gluten.
“Although quite rare, adverse reactions to food only account for between 1 and 5% of all skin conditions, the most common signs of a food intolerance is skin related.
"Itching which can be localized or more general and can vary in intensity from slight redness to serious skin damage and weeping. Only about 10-15% of adverse food reactions result in gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhoea and vomiting.
“It is only a protein that has the potential to induce such intolerances and/or allergic reactions and thus Autarky provides a range of diets that avoid the most commonly suspected food ingredients for causing allergies. Autarky also now has a range of cereal free dog diets.”
Changes to a dog’s coat can often be a sign that something is wrong.
Dr Lowe explains why.
“Coat quality is the result of a myriad of factors. Poor general health or adverse reactions can be a factor. Within the diet, a deficiency of one key nutrient, both in its own right or as part of a bigger mismatch of ingredients can be the cause.
“Autarky has a coat support package within its design to help avoid such issues and promote a great coat condition as perceived by the softness, sheen and thickness of the hair.
“Such nutrients and ingredients as essential fatty acids, zinc, copper, B-vitamins and certain amino acids are all vital to maintain coat quality and condition.”