Never before in the history of mankind has such a seemingly innocuous topic driven such heated debate. What am I talking about?
What is the *right* diet to feed a new and growing puppy.
Wow. This is a subject that attracts so many different views it's little wonder that new dog owners are often left in a virtual state of thought paralysis as they try to wade through the options available to them and the conflicting advice of both well meaning friends and nutritional experts, says Ryan O'Meara.
Should my puppy be on a specialist puppy diet?
Should my puppy be on a raw diet?
Is uncooked meat a good diet for my puppy?
I could keep going, there are so many questions you're probably asking right now but that's a good thing. It means you care. It means you understand the real importance of the fuel you'll be powering your puppy with and it means you recognise that there's not just a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to the best diet for your new canine pal.
Let's take a brief look at the most commonly suggested puppy diet choices.
1. A specialist, complete, commercial puppy food.
2. Raw/BARF meat based diet.
3. A combination of meat and complete puppy food.
Firstly, let's try and approach this topic with some myth busting.
Bluey was an Australian cattle dog, born June 7, 1910, who worked among sheep and cattle for 20 years, and survived until Nov. 14, 1939, when he was put down. He had lived for 29 years, five months and seven days. His secret to extraordinary longevity?
Well, according to his owner Bluey lived on a diet of…wait for it….Kangaroos and Emus. He was the world’s oldest dog, a record that has never been beaten.
If we were to take this discussion in to the language most commonly used by marketing men we could be expected to hear a statement such as this:
"Dogs who live on a diet of Kangaroos and Emus live until a grand old age."
Of course, life (and death) is not so simple. Nor would it be so easy to get a regular supply of Kangaroo and Emu meat, but that’s by the by. The principle of Blue’s diet was meat is good. The principle is that dogs can live on a diet, their entire lives, and enjoy good health as well as longevity.
So is it a myth to say all puppies are better off being fed a diet of meat which should be continued through their whole life?
Or is it a myth to say puppies are better off getting all of their nutrients from modern, commercially prepared pet food that contains everything they'll need according to their current lifestage?
Neither are true and neither are false. Dogs, just like us, are individuals. They have individual nutritional needs, individual tastes and individual responses to different types of nutrition.
I knew a Golden Retriever once who had terrible reactions to *most* types of commercially available diets. She couldn't maintain weight, she would become hyperactive and generally responded poorly when fed on a wide spectrum of complete dog foods. Through trial and error her owner's eventually discovered that she did fantsatically well on a diet of brown rice, lamb and fish. She gained weight, behaved better and lived a much more enjoyable life.
Can we conclude, therefore, that all Golden Retrievers will do best on a diet of lamb, rice and fish? You see where I'm going with this don't you?
Let's touch briefly on nutritional imbalances.
Nutritional deficiencies or excesses that can be harmful for dogs of any age but particularly growing puppies. One good example is the calcium-phosphorus ration in the food. Too little calcium in the diet can causes rickets. The result is bone pain and swelling, lameness and fractures.
On the other hand, excess calcium in growing pups has been linked with the development of orthopaedic conditions such as osteochondrosis dissecans.
Nutritional imbalances can be particularly important in giant breeds such as the Great Dane or St Bernard. But on top of that, even if you have the perfect type of food, if you give too much of it to a puppy they can become overweight quite quickly and this too can result in joint problems that can have ongoing problems throughout their lives.
What you put in your dog’s food bowl has a direct correlation to his health and happiness. There are several similarities between humans and dogs concerning nutrients and proper feeding and there are some universal truths that apply to puppy diets. Dogs, like humans, are omnivores. This means that we need both meat and vegetables in order to be healthy.
Our diet should include the right amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals that is necessary to acquire optimum health. We also need an unlimited supply of water to keep our body functioning and alive. So do puppies.
Similar to humans, dogs need to be fed according to their age, size, shape, and lifestyle. For example, a sheep dog that is working in a field will have different dietary needs compared to a Chihuahua living in a small house. If they shared the same diet it would be like asking an Olympic weight lifter to eat a diet more suitable to a long distance runner, or vice versa. Individually, the diet could be perfect but fed to the 'wrong' person it could have genuinely unpleasant consequences.
There are many different kinds of dog food on the market today. The majority of these foods contain the right amount of nutrients that your dog needs for a well-balanced diet. Do some research online regarding individual commercial foods. It's fair to say some brands/recipes are more well received than others. The same is true if you decide to go for a raw diet. You'll find many people have different experiences with different types of meat.
On the subject of meat, just meat, let's ask a simple question. Is a meat diet good for puppies?
Most definitely. Here's why.
Although dogs have evolved over the years to take up firm positioning as one of the family, dogs are essentially at their core still carnivores and have the same dietary requirements as their ancestors. They can and do eat vegetables, just like us, but they can thrive on primarily meat based diet from puppies through to adulthood if that's the preferred choice for you as an owner.
To ensure they get the right nutrients a puppy's diet must contain the right amount of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.
A wild dog would typically eat up to 90% meat with small amounts of fish and eggs, in addition to 10% of grasses, berries, nuts and vegetation.
There are three factors that determine protein quality:
1) Protein source – animal protein or plant & cereal protein
2) Amino acid content – amino acids are the building blocks of protein, these blocks determine the quality of the protein
3) Digestibility of the protein content
Animal proteins are more ‘complete proteins’ because they contain all the essential amino acids required whereas plant and cereal proteins lack one or more of the essential amino acids and are therefore considered ‘incomplete’. Animal proteins are also more digestible than plant and cereal proteins, hence animal proteins have a higher bio-availability.
It is important that all essential amino acids are present, if an essential amino acid is missing or there is not the correct level/amount, then protein metabolism stops. Protein is vital for cell maintenance and growth and for dogs can also provide most of their energy requirements.
Does My Puppy Need Supplements?
Many dog owners ask whether they need to supplement their dog's food in order to attain a level of proper dog nutrition.
If you use a good quality meat-meal based food you usually do not have to supplement your dog's ration. In fact, it is very easy to throw the formulation of some of the speciality foods out of kilter if you play with supplements.
Unfortunately, adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that is a cultural mentality handed down from the time when pet foods weren't complete and needed supplementation. Breeders often advocate supplements and many send their clients home with long lists of additives – vitamins, minerals, dairy products, oils and other lotions and potions.
Many breeders will turn an absolutely deaf ear to entreaties from veterinarians or canine nutritionists who suggest a good basic ration and a minimum of supplementation.
Supplement supporters aren't usually thinking along behavioural lines and, since they themselves rarely have difficulty house-training their dogs, don't realise that not everyone is so knowledgeable and over-supplementation can easily produce loose stools and make good control difficult for the dog. Coat conditioners, for instance, can easily be withheld from the diet until the puppy is house-trained.
The puppy doesn't need them if he or she is eating a good quality food, and (in most breeds) the puppy coat has to grow out naturally anyway. Oils and people foods, especially those high in fat (like steak trimmings) easily 'oil up' the intestines and in many cases cause stools to 'slide out' quite unexpectedly. So in summary, no. Your puppy does not need supplements if they're getting the right balance of nutrients from their food.
Conclusion: What Puppy Food is Best?
It has been said that the best food to feed your dog is the food he does best on, whether it is a dry food or a raw diet. Now I really hate to repeat myself but on this occasion I'm going to do exactly that...
The best food for your puppy is the food they do best on whether it is a dry food or a raw diet.
How do we know which food our puppy is doing best on? This is where our old friend the vet comes in.
By allowing your pup to get regular check ups, rather than visiting the vet when they're eight-weeks old and then not seeing them again until their a year or more, we can have our dog's weight and all round health charted and measured. Feedback at these meetings can be invaluable for the rest of the dog's life. Keeping your dog the right for their age, breed and lifestyle can - genuinely - add years to their life. Ensuring our dogs are not having undue stress placed on their joints can ensure they live a life free of the burden of all manner of mobility problems. Other factors can be analysed too. Their teeth, their skin and coat, their eyes and their all round vitality.
What you really need to know about choosing the *best* food/diet for YOUR puppy is this: Be prepared to experiment. Be prepared to closely observe how your puppy responds to particular foods. Are they prone to getting on the tubby side with a particular food? Do they enjoy/dislike the taste of certain types of dog foods? Are particular treats responsible for changes in the puppy? Are the dog's stools consistently well formed and regular on one food over another?
Measure, analyse and look closely all the time.
In the past I've found myself finding myself changing a puppy's diet in an effort to get the food that the puppy does best on. By best we look at all of the above factors. Obviously we don't want to be experimenting for the sake of experimenting. You'll get to know your own dog. You'll recognise what their stools, for example, would normally look like. If they're suddenly loose, did they get a new treat? Did they eat something they shouldn't have or has something happened that has caused the dog to respond differently to the food they're eating.
Which type of food is most convenient for you? Do you, for example, have the storage space for lots of raw meaty bones? Does your local pet shop only stock certain types of food? Is it better for you to buy your puppy food online and have it delivered?
So, in short. Work closely with your vet. Don't be afraid to change and evaluate. Understand your individual puppy's responses to certain foods and if you own a big dog, help keep them in good condition as they age (arthritis) by considering something like a raised dog bowl, either free standing or wall mounted, because the more then grow, the more they'll stoop to their bowl if it's on the ground. If you elevate their head and neck, it puts less stress on them.
Monitor growth changes, coat condition, stool output and overall vitality. Understand and be confident that by doing all of this you are doing best by your pup and that there is no secret 'best puppy diet in the world' but more a 'best diet in the world for YOUR puppy' depending on their age, lifestyle, breed and individual requirements.