Many owners still view the dog as a solely carnivorous feeder, but the reality of the modern dog is that he is a versatile, omnivorous eater. The dietary needs of the dog have evolved since his domestication. Most dogs have swapped the barren fields of Europe for the comfort of a basket or bed (maybe even your bed) in a centrally heated home.
Dogs, by and large, are less active today than they were 40 or 50 years ago, says Aaron Rayme. That is if our own lifestyles are anything to go by. Less need for us to exert ourselves physically hunting and gathering, and certainly less of a desire to do so in the absence of that need.
Our dogs don’t need to hunt and so they expend less energy in pursuit of their food. In times gone by our dogs would hunt in order to feed, in order to give enough energy to hunt again. This is clearly not the case in modern times.
Most dogs get used to being routinely fed and they actually acquire tastes of their own rather being happy to simply eat what’s available to provide them with enough calories to simply exist.
Modern dogs don’t gorge in order to stock up on calories and they can afford to be more picky with their dietary regime (this is still quite rare though, most dogs will still try to stuff themselves, but they no longer need to).
Already we can spot various reasons why the canine diet has changed. They no longer need large amounts of fat to stay warm, our houses do that for them; they no longer need huge amounts of energy to hunt with, so their survival requirement for protein is diminishing and they no longer need to gorge on a day’s worth of food as we provide it to them in nice, pre-proportioned amounts on a regular, daily basis.
There is a significant difference between humans and dogs in their need for carbohydrates and in their ability to digest them. The digestive tract of a human is longer than that of a dog, and the formation of jaws and teeth is entirely different.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates come in two forms, simple and complex.
Simple carbohydrates come from grains such as wheat, corn, rice, oats, soy and millet. They break down into starches and sugar when properly cooked. Complex carbohydrates come in the form of various fibres such as brans, hulls and peanut shells from the outside of plants. A small amount is needed for proper digestion and stool formation. Nutrients are obtained from both sources, but most come from simple carbohydrates.
If carbohydrates are a major part of your dog's diet, the time and energy needed for digestion increase, the dog performs less well, large amounts of stool are produced, and a protein deficiency disease may even develop in extreme cases.
Evolution of the Canine Diet
Dogs have evolved as meat eaters and although they need some grains, their health and longevity tend to be better served on a diet containing more animal protein than protein derived from grains.
Think about the origin of the dog. It is unrecorded in history that wolves lit fires and cooked grains picked in fields! But there were whole carcasses available which did contain everything needed for wolves to survive, including predigested vegetable matter in the intestinal tracts of their prey. The perfect ‘ready meal’ for the canine consumer, if you will.
Allergic reactions to grains can occur in dogs which is why it pays to always question whether you are feeding your dog the most appropriate diet.
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Modern Pet Food
The pet food industry today is vastly different from the one operating just 10, 15 or even 25 years ago. More competition for your business in the grocery aisles means pet food manufacturers simply have to produce a wide range of products catering for a whole host of different canine dietary requirements.
After all, if you feed your dog on a commercial product and it results in your pet’s behaviour changing, large, runny stools being produced, excessive weight gain or weight loss or even worse, it’s to be expected that you’d reevaluate what you were feeding and you’d more than likely take your custom to another product.
5 Top Tips
Learn to understand pet food labels:
Many diets are developed with a particular dog in mind i.e a middle-aged, low activity large breed. If a formula developed for a low activity large breed is being given to a highly active, small Terrier it goes without saying problems can ensue and, at the very least, the dog would not be getting an ideal diet.
Speak to manufacturers:
Most of the pet food companies nowadays operate helplines, in many cases operated by full trained (if not slightly biased) dieticians. Use this to your advantage. Call them and quiz them on why their food would be perfect for your dog.
Ask if they have specially formulated products which might not be readily available in the high street, and if not, where can you purchase them from? Call a range of different companies and make a genuinely educated decision on what the most suitable nutrients your dog requires.
Don’t rely on pot luck:
You wouldn’t feed yourself by pot luck, for example, going to the shops, picking the food with the most colourful packaging or the one with supported by the most charming advertising campaign as your staple diet forevermore. It’s incredible how many dog owners do just this though.
Educate yourself to know exactly what your dog needs in their individual diet, learn what it is you should be looking for on the label, what you should be looking to avoid and then go find it.
Mix and match:
Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. This applies equally to your dog. Whilst it’s understandable that commercial pet food makes for convenient life and it’s certainly true that pet food standards have evolved enormously, don’t be afraid to mix and match occasionally with your dog’s diet.
Raw meat now and then will often be seen as a welcome treat. Be careful not to feed it as well as a normal meal but don’t be scared to add some variety to your dog’s feeding regime. Some owners occasionally miss a whole day once in a while simply to keep their dog’s primal, hunter/scavenger instincts primed.
Make feeding fun:
For many dogs, their whole day is focused around food. They get so excited at the mere thought of receiving their meals, treats and expeditions to the fridge.
Once you know what your dog should be eating in a day, why not consider splitting it up into smaller meals and making your dog really work for it? Hide food, scatter it, ask your dog to ‘perform’ for it, use it as treats when out on a walk rather than using other foods as rewards in addition to their daily required intake which could lead to obesity.