Caring for dogs isn’t always easy. It is usually a joy, but as your dog gets older you will naturally start to take more interest in their general health and how you can improve it. This involves making sure that your dog is on the right diet and getting the right amount of exercise. If these two things are in place, everything else should naturally fall into place as far as your dog is concerned. Getting your dog on a good diet and sticking to it can be tough, however, and is more difficult to get right than many people realize.
Increasingly, owners are now choosing to cook food specifically for their dogs, or at least share the food they eat with them. There is much debate among dog owners as to whether this is a good idea or not.
Fortunately, as long as you know a few general rules you should be ok. Formulating an optimal diet for your pet does occasionally require specific knowledge of that particular breed.
Before we go any further, we should get this issue out of the way; is it OK to feed your dog scraps from the table? Ask this question to a bunch of dog owners and you’ll get a whole range of answers, each fiercely defended by its proponents. Some argue that it is a terrible, even dangerous idea, others view it in the complete opposite manner, as a good way of making sure your dog gets some proper food.
As always, the true answer lies somewhere in the middle; there is nothing wrong with feeding your dog leftovers, as long as they are the right leftovers. It is true that some foods are not suitable for dogs and while the likelihood of a toxic reaction is usually quite overblown, it is still true to say that consuming these foods is less than ideal for them. With the food you buy in the store, or that you cook according to a recipe formulated for dogs, you can be certain that it doesn’t contain anything that would be harmful to your dog. With food you have prepared for yourself, you should always check whether the ingredients are safe for dogs before placing it down.
Most experts agree that the key to feeding a dog scraps is moderation. The biggest concern is in fact obesity; it is unlikely a dog would ingest enough of anything harmful to cause toxic effects if they are only eating the last scraps of a meal. Smaller dogs will put on weight more easily than large dogs so you should take this into account whenever putting down food that is high in sugars, fats, or calories. The best way to combat obesity is to ensure that your dog is getting the appropriate amount of exercise. If they consume more fatty foods, then they will need to exercise more to compensate, just as a person would. Alternatively, you can reduce the amount of dog food you give your dog to compensate for the extra.
You also need to be aware of a few particular food groups which can negatively impact your dog’s health. Foods which are high in fat, for example, can cause pancreatitis, a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed and which can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms which can range from a mild sense of discomfort, to a more serious complication such as a blood infection (sepsis). The most common high fat foods that contribute to obesity and other complications in dogs are bacon, pâté, sausage, beef trimmings, and poultry skin.
Meanwhile, carbohydrates, from sources such as pasta and rice, can be a great source of energy for your dog, however you need to be cautious with your amounts and avoid these foods altogether in a dog with diabetes. As long as they have no other health issues, as long as you are conservative with your portions your dog will be fine.
What Should I Feed My Dog?
There is no simple answer to this question. It depends on who you ask, and it will depend on your individual dog. However, as far as general guidelines go, by and large, what is good for us is good for them. Fresh fruit and vegetables are always good; fruit contains a lot of water and fiber, it is an excellent source of both, although be sure, as always, to moderate.
Dried fruit makes for good reward treats, however, note that they will be sweeter than fresh fruit as the sugar within is more concentrated. If dogs overindulge in dried fruit, it can lead to an upset stomach and diarrhea.
As far as meat goes, lean meat, such as chicken, turkey, fish, and beef, make an excellent treat for your dog now and then and offer a rich source of protein. Herbs and spices can also safely be added to dog’s food. At the moment, there is still little formal research on the health benefits that are gained by animals from herbs but they are believed to react broadly the same as people do. Consequently, cinnamon can be used as an anti-cancer agent. In fact, there a number of different herbs with purported benefits:
- Cinnamon – cinnamon is a potent antioxidant. Antioxidants protect our cells from the action of ‘free radicals’; fast moving, high energy particles that damage skin at the atomic level. Cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory effects and lowers triglyceride levels in the blood. It is also an antiemetic (reduces feelings of nausea, and vomiting). There is some evidence to suggest it can aid in weight loss by increasing sensitivity to insulin. It is also a good source of calcium, iron, and manganese.
- Basil – basil is another effective anti-inflammatory. It also has antiviral properties and is good for bones, reducing rates of osteoarthritis. Basil is known to be a good aid for digestive disorders. There is also evidence to suggest that basil might have some anti-cancer effects.
- Arrowroot – arrowroot is an interesting herb. It can be used as a cornstarch substitute in cooking, which also makes it a great addition to rice. If your dog has an upset stomach then rice can help them and arrowroot has beneficial effects of its own on the digestive tract.
- Turmeric – turmeric is another great herb for dogs that are old and arthritic. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic.
Cooking for Your Dog
Cooking for your dog is definitely an economical way of feeding your dog, and it also allows you more control over exactly what your dog eats. However, home cooked food should be supplemented with some of the store bought stuff. The reason for this is that the store bought stuff is specially formulated to provide a good all round diet. Using dog food in the morning and other food later is a good way of maintaining balance. The best dog food for boxers, for example, is probably going to be the specially formulated stuff as boxers are particularly sensitive to certain ingredients.
There are many misconceptions about feeding dogs, and these sometimes hold back people who would otherwise be enthusiastic about the idea. Some people are under the impression that all dogs need is protein, but this is based on a misunderstanding of a dog’s diet in the wild. Now that dogs are domesticated, they are very different animals from those that used to be feral and free. Just as humans have developed stomachs that have adapted to our ability to cook food, so have dogs developed to the diets we have made available to them as we have domesticated them.
As we have stressed throughout, moderation is the key. The other key is balance, ensuring that your dog is getting enough of everything it needs. If a dog’s diet were to only consist of protein, they would soon find themselves lacking in a number of vital vitamins. Vitamin deficiencies are easily solved, but if left untreated, they can develop into something much more serious. Conversely, a protein deficiency can lead to a compromised immune system, deterioration in muscle cohesion and, ultimately, blood disorders. A balanced diet is as essential to your dog’s health as it is to your own.
Things to Avoid
These are the only foods that you should try to avoid entirely, as each one causes negative impacts on a dog’s health. Remember, while we share many of our body’s endogenous systems with other mammals, we are very different to dogs and there are certain foods that we eat regularly that they aren’t capable of processing properly:
- Raw dough
- Spices that are hot
If your dog consumes small amount of any of these it is unlikely to do them any harm, but you shouldn’t make them a routine part of their diet either.
Cooking for your dog can be a great way of saving a bit of cash and can give you a greater degree of control over your dog’s health as they age. If you do decide to cook food for your dog, you should ensure that they are still getting some of the specially formulated food so that they are definitely getting the full range of nutrients that they need.