Chasing the Chuckwagon: The Basics of Feeding
In This Chapter
- Understanding the basics of canine nutrition
- Identifying the types of food available
- Knowing what to feed your mixed-breed dog
- Looking at special diets for special dogs
- Getting tips on treats
Your mixed-breed dog needs a balanced diet for optimum physical and mental health. If you’ve been in a pet store recently, or even just the pet-food aisle of your local grocery store, you know how many commercial foods are available — and you may have been overwhelmed by all the options. In this chapter, I tell you what to look for in a dog food, based on your dog’s individual attributes.
The Basics of Nutrition
– Give your dog plenty of water. Your dog needs to have plenty of water available at all times. Refresh your dog’s water twice daily — don’t just wait for your dog to finish his bowl. Puppies and their moms tend to drink more, as do working dogs. If it’s hot out, you can bet your dog will tend to drink more than usual.
– If you need to change your dog’s food, do so gradually. Some dogs have very sensitive stomachs. This is why you don’t want to feed your dog table scraps or whatever food happens to be on sale that week. Your dog’s digestive system takes time to adapt. Over a period of two weeks, gradually increase the amount of the new food, and decrease the amount of his old food, until you’re feeding only the new diet.
– Feed your dog consistently. Dogs are happiest when they know what is going to happen and when. The number of times a day to feed your dog depends on your dog’s age and overall physiology. If your dog is between the ages of 3 and 5 months, feed him three times a day. Most adult dogs do well with two meals each day. But in some situations an adult dog may need to be fed more often; for example, if your dog has a digestive disorder, or a tendency to bloat, you’ll want to feed him three or four smaller meals each day. (If you’re not sure, as always, check with your vet.)
– Don’t free feed your dog (leave food out for him to eat whenever he wants) — control the amount he eats. If you control how much he eats and when, you’ll be able to control his weight better.
Pay attention to your dog’s waistline — to be blunt, he should have one. Dogs can develop fat rolls all over their bodies, which not only hinders their ability to exercise but decreases their hearts’ efficiency. Reevaluate the amount of food you feed your dog periodically — your dog’s needs will vary as he ages, as his activity level changes, and as his lifestyle changes.
– Feed your dog a balanced diet. I cover the kinds of foods to find your dog in the following section.
– Make sure your dog’s food is clean and free of contaminants. Commercial foods are typically packed to keep contaminants out, but after you open the food (whether a bag or a can), be sure to securely fasten it, refrigerate canned or raw food, and store dry food in a dry location. After your dog has finished a meal, if he’s left anything in his dish, throw the food away, and clean his bowl after each meal. (You wouldn’t eat off the same dirty plate over and over without washing it, so why should your dog?)
– Consult your vet if your dog experiences any abnormal conditions. Changes in appetite, thirst, or behavioral changes may be signs of serious health issues.
A shiny dog means a healthy dog. You’ll know you’re feeding your mixed-breed dog correctly if he has bright eyes, and a shiny coat, and if he maintains a good weight and energy level.
Types of Dog Food
“Wait!” you say. “What about the semi-moist variety?” You may be tempted to go that route, thinking it’s the best of both worlds, but here’s a serious warning: Stay away. There’s a reason that the food is semi-moist — in a word: preservatives. If you feed your dog a food that contains preservatives, you may as well be pumping poison into him. Over time, preservatives affect your mixed-breed dog’s liver, heart, and other organs. The result is organ malfunction, organ breakdown, and growth of cancerous tumors.
Commercial dog food: Canned or dry
The brands of dog food most advertised in the media aren’t necessarily the best ones for your mixed-breed dog. You can be sure, however, that the least expensive foods are of the poorest quality, because good quality costs more.
Pet-food labeling regulations are poor, so you’ll rarely get full disclosure of all the included ingredients and nutrients that a commercial food contains. You also won’t know all the preservatives either. In fact, although some foods might claim to be preservative-free, that only means they didn’t add anything, not that they didn’t obtain ingredients that already had the preservatives in them.
When reading dog-food labels look for meat proteins, vegetables, vitamins, and as few grains as possible. The first three ingredients should be healthy proteins — not grain, by-product, or a preservative. You should see lamb, turkey, beef, or chicken. After those first three ingredients, you shouldn’t see more than three types of grain within the food. Any more than three and the food is mostly grain filler, not protein-based.
You’ll probably see meat by-products and meals in the ingredient list. By-products are often the organs and other tissue of the protein meats used in the foods. Digest is another popular ingredient, especially in chicken-based foods. Chicken digest is the content of the chicken’s stomach — often grains. Neither the by-product nor the digest are bad for your dog, as long as the food is meat-protein-based and low in grains and preservatives.
– Dry: It’s less expensive, easy to store, and easy to feed. Many people claim that their dogs do better on dry food than they do on canned; the dogs have less loose stool, less gas, and better breath. Dry foods are also good for your dog’s gums and teeth. Dry food doesn’t spoil or attract ants as badly as canned food. However, dry food also has very little moisture and not a lot of flavor. It’s far more processed than canned food, which means it has fewer vitamins and nutrients for your dog. If your dog is at all finicky, he’ll likely turn down plain, dry food.
– Canned: Canned food is more expensive than dry food, especially the premium, holistic brands. It can sell for upwards of $2 per can! But canned food is easy to store.
Canned food is not processed as much as dry food, so it contains more of the whole foods that comprise the ingredients and fewer preservatives. This also means more vitamins, nutrients, and flavor.
Canned food contains a lot of moisture. Dogs don’t get all their moisture from merely drinking water — they also get it from the foods they eat.
Both dry and canned food offer benefits to your dog. The dry food is good for his teeth and gums, and it gives him more bulk to fill him up. The canned food contains more of the nutrients, moisture, and vitamins he needs to remain healthy, but it is more expensive. To give your dog the best of both worlds, give your dog some of each type of food at every meal.
1. Cook some turkey, beef, chicken, or venison until it’s no longer pink inside.
2. Add some chopped vegetables, such as peas, carrots, and/or green beans.
Use raw vegetables for optimum vitamin availability. Cook the veggies slightly if your dog is less than 20 pounds.
3. For roughage, add cooked brown rice.
4. Add some doggie vitamins and a sprinkle of garlic as a parasite repellent.
If you cook up a bunch of the above, with variations in the meat base, you can freeze it for future use. This will make homemade meals for your dog a little more convenient for you. Frozen into meal-sized packets, you just heat it up a bit in the microwave before giving it to your dog. (Dogs really do prefer warm meals.)
For an entire chapter devoted to the pros and cons of homemade diets, along with recipes for adult dogs as well as puppies, check out Dog Health & Nutrition For Dummies, by M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD (Wiley).
The drawback to feeding your mixed-breed dog raw meat is that it often harbors deadly bacteria, such as salmonella or botulism. These bacteria can be fatal to humans, and many veterinarians say it’s dangerous to dogs as well. Due to these dangers, I stay away from feeding my own dogs any raw meat, though I often feed them raw vegetables and fruit as between-meal rewards.
To ensure you always have a consistent raw diet available to your mixed-breed dog, prepare a week’s worth of meals ahead of time, place each meal portion in a freezer-safe storage container and then into the freezer. In the morning, take out enough for two meals, heating one in the microwave prior to feeding your dog, and placing the other in the refrigerator for his evening meal.
Raw diets must be frozen for safekeeping. Because raw foods often harbor bacteria, poor food-preserving practices will increase the potency of these bacteria and spread them. Always wash your hands well after handling the raw meats and vegetables and make sure you wash your dog’s dishes immediately after he finishes eating.
Don’t touch! Foods and plants that are poisonous to dogs
Some plants and foods are dangerous for your mixed-breed dog, and you need to know what they are so you can prevent dangerous accidents. The following is a list of indoor and outdoor plants to avoid. Make sure that you don’t leave these items anywhere that your dog can get to them, either indoors or in his outdoor play area.
- Autumn crocus
- Castor bean
- Daffodil bulbs
- Elephant ear
- English ivy
- Holly berries
- Hyacinth bulbs
- Lily of the valley
- Mistletoe berries
- Sago palm
- Tulip bulbs
- Wisteria seeds
Here are foods to be sure your dog never eats (whether by being given the food by someone in your family, or by digging through the garbage and finding it on his own):
– Chocolate: The most dangerous of foods to dogs is chocolate. Never, ever feed your dog candy or other sweets that contain chocolate or cocoa. Too much is often fatal.
– Grapes: Grapes cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, lethargy, and vomiting in dogs.
– Coffee: Coffee causes not only abdominal symptoms but also seizures, labored breathing, heart arrhythmia, coma, and, in some cases, death.
– Onions: Onions cause intestinal distress, liver damage, convulsions, and sometimes death.
– Mushrooms: Mushrooms cause the same symptoms as onions.
– Nicotine: Nicotine is dangerous to dogs so be sure to watch what he picks up on the sidewalk or street, and if he’s picked up a cigarette butt, get it out of his mouth before he swallows it.
How Much to Feed
If you read the following sections, and you still have absolutely no idea how much to feed your dog, you can ask
– Your veterinarian: Veterinarians can make an educated guess on the amount needed to give your dog appropriate nutrition.
– A canine nutritionist: This person can give you an even better idea of what to feed your dog, because she specializes in proper nutrition for animals.
– The dog’s breeder or foster guardian: This person has been feeding your dog for a while and can give you some advice on what worked while the dog lived there.
A dog with a good energy level is usually of normal weight. This dog can play for a half-hour or more without tiring; whereas a dog who is overweight rarely exercises for more than ten minutes before needing to rest. An overweight dog will pant heavily and take a long time to recuperate. Watching your dog during and after exercise is a good way to judge how much you should be feeding him.
Feeding according to your dog’s age
When your dog reaches 5 months of age, he might naturally decrease his midday intake, preferring a biscuit to a full meal. Giving him a biscuit is a great way of weaning him away from three meals a day.
After sterilization (neutering or spaying), reduce your dog’s food intake by 25 to 30 percent, because his metabolism will automatically slow due to the lack of reproductive hormones. A popular myth is that sterilization causes dogs to become fat and lazy. The reality is that dogs become fat due to too much food for their metabolism, and they become lazy because they’re too fat to exercise. If you monitor his food intake and give him enough exercise, he won’t become fat or lazy.
Feeding according to your dog’s size
Special Dietary Needs
Here are a few signs telling you that what you’re currently feeding may not be right for your dog:
- Your dog is scratching a lot.
- Your dog tends to get frequent ear infections.
- Your dog has really bad gas.
- Your dog has loose, light-colored stool or diarrhea.
- Your dog has lick granulomas on his legs.
- Your dog’s coat is dry, dull, and coarse.
Dogs suffering from physical ailments such as cancer, diabetes, or organ malfunction need prescription diets from a veterinarian. For example, you may need a low-sodium prescription diet if your dog suffers from heart disease, a prescription diet high in complex carbohydrates for a dog with diabetes, or a low-protein prescription diet for a dog with liver problems. Only a veterinarian can test for these disorders, so you’ll serve your dog best by getting the correctly formulated diets that your vet provides.
It’s My Treat: Giving Your Dog a Little Something Extra
On hot days, or if you have a teething puppy, bouillon popsicles are a real treat. Here’s the recipe:
1. Boil 2 cups of water.
2. Dissolve 2 bouillon cubes in the boiling water.
You can use any type of bouillon that is low-salt and free of spices. I usually prefer to use the chicken variety, because it’s less messy.
3. Allow the bouillon water to cool for an hour.
4. Pour the bouillon water into an ice-cube tray and put it in the freezer.
5. Serve your dog a frozen cube.
To prevent a mess inside your house, give it to him outside or on an easy-to-clean surface such as linoleum.
by Miriam Fields-Babineau