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NUTRITION

The saying ‘You are what you eat’ is as true of dogs for dogs as it is for people. Eating healthily is something that many of us aim for (even if we don’t always manage to avoid the cake and Big Mac!), and we do it because we know that a nutritious, balanced diet helps us to stay healthy in both body and mind.

 

Big Macs are a good example of how putting the wrong thing in our bodies can create health problems. Eating Big Macs most days is likely to result in more than just weight gain. Anyone who eats a lot of junk food soon starts to look and feel unhealthy. Their bodies start to show that the additives, colourants and preservatives in junk food can have a profound effect on both bodies and brains. Eating food that is heavy with chemicals can result in quite a list of problems:

  • poor skin and hair

  • digestive problems

  • food intolerances

  • itchy skin

  • mood swings

  • An extreme response can be the kind of behaviour problems that can be seen in some children who can’t tolerate additives 

 

HEALTH AND DIET
Dog food is exactly the same. Vets see thousands of dogs every year who have skin conditions, digestive problems and behaviour issues. For many of these dogs, the solution is simple: they need a change of diet because their bodies are unable to process the ingredients in the food they’re eating.

Greasy, flaky and itchy skin is generally a reaction to diet. Dogs who are prone to stomach upsets frequently get better after a change in their diet. Impacted anal glands are often a result of a diet that doesn’t suit a dog. A lot of dogs are over-excitable because of the ingredients in their food, and some dogs with behaviour issues can find it difficult to regulate their emotions because of the food they are eating.

 

OVER EXCITEMENT and STRESS

A happy, calm and healthy dog should sleep on average 17 to 20 hours a day, as well as sleeping through the night without disturbing their owners. Many families find they’re living with excitable dogs who sleep in short bursts, then wake-up on full-alert and can’t settle down. Changing their diet to a grain-free option often goes a long way to calming down hyperactive or anxious dogs.

 

CHEAPER IS POORER

Many dogs are fed on cheap food from supermarkets because it looks like a bargain. Unfortunately, it isn’t the bargain it might seem to be. Cheap food is full of ‘fillers’, which are waste products such as: wheat, maize and other cereals that dogs’ stomachs aren’t designed to cope with. Cheap food is made using these fillers because it’s an inexpensive way of bulking out ingredients, but it means that a dog/puppy who is fed on this sort of food is more likely to have digestive or skin intolerances because low quality food isn’t easily processed.

And it’s true that you get out what you put in: 

THRIVING OR SURVIVING?

Many dogs and puppies will seem to ‘do ok’ on feed with cereals and grains – but they won’t do the best they can. They may well survive on a grain-based, highly processed biscuit diet, but they are unlikely to thrive. Their diet isn’t allowing them to be the healthiest, happiest dogs they can be.

This is because dogs’ systems aren’t equipped to deal very effectively with carbohydrates. Wild dogs rarely eat grains, in fact they will only eat anything of vegetable or grain origin from the stomachs of very small prey animals they have caught. Most wild dogs just eat the stomach sacs of larger prey animals and discard the stomach content.

Other than eating certain fresh herbs and grasses for medicinal purposes, their vegetable intake is fairly fermented by the time it reaches their stomachs, after sitting in the stomach of their prey for several hours. Not only is it fermented, and therefore easier to digest, it’s a tiny proportion of their dietary intake compared to meat and bone. And yet, despite the fact that cereals aren’t particularly good for dogs  most regular dog food brands have a higher grain and vegetable content than meat content in their recipes.

 

 

HOW CARBOHYDRATES AFFECT DOGS
Carbohydrates, such as grains, break down into sugars and are stored as insulin. Dogs find it very difficult to break down these sugars, which means that a dog who is fed on a diet heavy in carbohydrates finds it difficult to regulate their energy, hormone and stress levels. This is why so many grain-fed dogs have problems with over-excitement, anxiety and reactivity: they find it really hard to control themselves because the food they eat can make them feel on edge, over-excited or anxious a lot of the time.

Healthy food means that a dog is healthy in both her body and her brain:

Good food = energy, concentration and healthiness

Bad food = hyperactivity, inability to concentrate and poor health

 Many carbohydrates can act as allergens for many dogs – in other words, eating carbs provokes intolerances and result in itchy skin, ear infections, irritability and uncomfortable stomachs.

 

ULTRA-PROCESSED FOOD

 Kibble is highly processed and doesn’t have the nutritional value of fresh, home-cooked, raw or wet steamed manufactured food. All kibble is an ultra-processed food and research on human ultra processed-foods show that they lead to an increase in chronic illness. There is increasing research showing the same effects in dogs. Food that has been highly processed has an inflammatory effect on the system which often results in joint inflammation, skin inflammation and gut instability. Some dogs react to this with high levels of excitability and lack of emotional regulation. Others result to it with low frustration tolerance. Some are fine on kibble, but all dogs would do better if they were fed whole foods, in the same way that people do better on whole foods.

 

WHAT COMES OUT

We can get a daily picture of the quality of the food we’re giving our dogs by what they produce at the end of the digestive process. The poo that our dogs produce is a very clear indicator of the quality of what goes in.

If a dog is pooing more than twice a day, producing large, soft, smelly poos that range from light brown to almost orange in colour, then her food isn’t agreeing with her. The quality of the food isn’t good enough to produce a healthy digestive tract, which is where nutrients are absorbed and waste products expelled. Good food produces healthy, small poos. In fact, most of the money spent on cheap food gets poohed out as waste material!

 

Good quality food produces smaller, less smelly, and harder poos. Many owners who have dogs that need their anal glands emptying regularly find the condition clears up when they feed grain-free wet, home-cooked or raw food, because the hardness of the poos empties the anal sacs as the poo is excreted.

 

HEALTH BENEFITS OF GRAIN-FREE FOOD

There are other health benefits to feeding your dog a grain-free, largely fresh-food diet. Grain-free-fed, fresh fed dogs are healthier, meaning that they have fewer vet visits. My dogs very rarely visit the vet because they don’t need to – they don’t have problems with teeth, skin, or food-related behaviour issues. All of them are rescues, and all of them came to me with allergies, intolerances and sensitivities, but a good diet sorted out their health issues within months.

Dogs fed an appropriate diet rarely get digestive issues, ear or eye infections, or skin conditions. They smell good, too! Their coats are incredibly shiny, the hair texture is softer and their breath smells better. They don’t have that sort of ‘doggy’ smell which many dogs get. Dogs who smell bad smell because of the food they’re eating!

RAW

Wild dogs eat raw meat and bone – it’s what the canine system is designed for. A raw meat and fish based diet is the healthiest food we can give our dogs. Raw meat and bones gives dogs everything they need nutritionally. And gnawing on a raw bone is the best kind of toothbrush there is! 

A raw diet should be based on minced meat, including added ground bone and raw, meaty bones. Only ever feed raw meat – cooked meat adds-on calories, changes the nutritional value, and is more difficult to digest. Cooked bones should NEVER be fed to dogs, including the roast bones that can be bought in pet stores. They can be a choke hazard, or can perforate the gullet or gut. Raw bones are softer and will simply pass through the dog’s digestive system.

There are many books available on raw feeding, and some raw food websites have useful advice on how to transition to raw. Honey’s and Prodog Raw are particularly good at advising customers about how to ease your dog into a raw diet. Several online companies produce complete raw foods in easy manageable portions.

Even these can be variable, though, so always ensure that you buy raw food with a minimum of 80% meat, offal and bone. If the food has vegetables and fruit, check that they are present in tiny pieces so that they are easily digested by your dog/puppy’s system. They are easiest to digest if they’ve been blitzed or gently steamed so that the outer cellular walls have been broken down.

The ideal raw food comes in packages marked: 80/10/10. This means that the ratio of ingredients is 80% muscle meat; 10% offal; 10% bone, which gives a dog everything she needs for a nutritionally balanced diet and avoids gut discomfort.

Fruit and veg can provide fibre and can be an effective way of adding antioxidants to the diet, but some dogs find high levels of fibre difficult to digest. Most dogs can tolerate an 80/10/10 mix well as a start to a raw diet, and you may want to gradually add 5% to 10% blitzed or steamed veg/fruit once your dog’s system has adapted to eating raw.

Please contact Fern if you are interested in feeding a raw diet and she will advise you.

 

The companies we recommend are:

Honeys – an ethical, small company who produce high quality food with animal welfare and human welfare at the heart of everything they do. Their meat is either organic, free-range or wild. They offer a tailored range and give personal support to all their customers.

    https://honeysrealdogfood.com/

ProDog Raw – a small company that sources free range meat.

https://www.prodograw.com/shop/raw-dog-food/raw-pure/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwpompBhDZARIsAFD_Fp-KZ0K6JcBR-36X86zE_PUwE3_LmLh70avktOgP0jQlGXiwPN2mV7IaAi-pEALw_wcB

HOME COOKED FRESH FOOD

Some dogs are unable to tolerate raw food, especially if they are elderly or have ill health. A fresh, lightly cooked diet can be ideal for them. Honey’s, one of our recommended suppliers, offer a bespoke, tailored diet for dogs who would prefer a cooked fresh diet. There are also a range of books available to help with home fresh cooking for dogs – as long as there are no recipes including grains/cereals and as long as the veg/fruit content is no more than 20%, you should be able to cook a healthy diet for your dog.

 

COMPLETE FOODS

Sometimes it may be difficult to give your dog a raw or home-cooked diet and, while other products are less healthy, there is an option of wet, grain-free food.

 

This should be cold-pressed and/or lightly steamed and have whole, complete meat listed as the first ingredient at a minimum of 65% for puppies and 74% for adult dogs

.

Steamed food can either come in a can or a tray.

 

The following are the best wet grain-free foods on the UK market.

 

Eden Gourmet goose/rabbit, duck/herring, salmon/pheasant

https://www.edenpetfoods.com/shop/for-dogs/food-for-dogs?sub-category=wet-food

Purely by Naturediet Chicken, Lamb, salmon and white fish. https://www.naturediet.co.uk/product/naturediet-purely-chicken/

Happy Dog Sensitive Range https://www.happydoguk.com/collections/wet-dog-food

Lamb, duck, buffalo, turkey, kangaroo, beef, ostrich, goat

 

Animonda Best Cuts Single Protein https://animondapet.co.uk/search?q=single+protein+dog

Beef, turkey, chicken.

There are other wet foods available but many of them have a very high pea, legume or carrot content (which isn’t very digestible or bio-available for most dogs and can cause intolerances or sensitivities over time).

Aim to buy individual items rather than ‘puppy or adult packs’, which often contain a selection that includes rice in the ingredients.

THINGS TO AVOID

  • Kibble! Even ‘high end’ kibble!

  • Any food that contains molasses or sugar – these are inflammatories and can result in irritability and over-excitement

  • Any food with chemical additives and colourants, which are very likely to result in hyperactivity, intolerances and sensitivities.

  • Any food that contains ‘meat meal’. This is a dried, concentrated meat product which may come from bone, claws, beaks and other low-grade parts of the animal.

  • Food that contains maize. Many dogs are very intolerant to maize, resulting in itchy skin.

  • Avoid any grains and cereals, such as wheat, maize, rice or oats. Some dogs can’t tolerate potato, either, but may tolerate small amounts of sweet potato.

You may need to experiment for a while until you get the best food that suits your dog. All dogs are individuals, and some can seem to be fussy about what they like. If a dog isn’t liking a particular food, it’s likely that the food has allergens that are likely to provoke stomach or skin sensitivities.

 

THE MYTH OF PUPPY FOOD, ‘SENIOR’ and ‘LIGHT

Food manufacturers want to sell as much food as they can for the greatest profit. There is no need to feed a puppy on specific Puppy Food – it frequently has far too high protein content and results in hyper-active, over excitable puppies who put on rapid growth spurts. It’s sold because it appeals to owners, rather than because puppies need a different diet from adult dogs – the same with Senior foods and Light foods. If your dog gets the right amount of exercise and the right amount of food, then she will be the right energy and weight. 

TRANSITIONING TO A NEW FOOD

The best way to transition a dog onto a new food is to do it gradually because some tummies can be sensitive and can react to a new food (even if that food is better than what she is currently eating!)

Replace 1/8th of the old food with 1/8th of the new food every 4 to 6 days. If your dog/puppy has itchy skin or a sensitive stomach, aim to transition over 2 to 3 weeks. If you are transitioning to raw, try to feed raw food separately from processed food, allowing 2 hours between each type of food.

This may mean giving your dog her usual food at breakfast reduced by 1/8th of her usual amount. You can then give her 1/8th of her new food 2 hours later. You could then give her a further 1/8th of her new food 2 hours before tea-time. It may work for you to feed her the new food 2 hours after her tea-time, but be aware that this may change the last time she needs to poo/wee in the evening.

Once fully transitioned, you can then start to gradually change the new meal-time back to the original meal time. It can feel like a bit of a kerfuffle, but it’s easier on your pup’s gut to do it this way.

Occasionally, some dogs/puppies may respond with diarrhoea or vomiting or may start to drink and urinate more. Sometimes a dog/puppy may start to smell strongly. This is what happens when a body eliminates toxins – it’s known as a detoxifying process and takes place when good food is replacing a food that had allergens. The body is responding by excreting a build-up in toxins. This process can generally be avoided if you transition your dog/puppy slowly onto their new diet. 

 

WHEN TO FEED

You can either feed twice a day, morning and evening, or you can take some of your dog’s daily ration and use it as treats and in Sniff Games to keep her brain mentally active once a day, around lunchtime if someone is home.

Some people worry that giving a dog the opportunity to eat like this during the day means that her stomach is never at rest, but 1 or 2 Sniff Games a day won’t tax her digestive system. There is occasionally a concern that the dog may become really ‘foodie’ and expect food all the time. This sort of begging and apparent hunger rarely happens in dogs who are given sniff trails, and when it does happen it has far more to do with dogs getting given attention or food on-demand, rather than because they are hungry.

If a dog is given the tail ends of carrots, or any left-overs in the kitchen while you’re preparing food, she is likely to beg and seem hungry. If she is allowed to beg at the table for tid-bits, she will seem hungry. If she is given a biscuit for looking cute (!), or asking for a treat, then she will beg and sometimes this can be interpreted as “being hungry”. In reality, none of these dogs are hungry, they have simply learned that hanging around in food areas means that they will get fed if they ask for it!

 

Food needs to be given either as meals, sniff games or part of a training routine and never because a dog is asking to be fed. When you feed, leave the bowl down for 10 minutes, and if she doesn’t finish her food, remove it. If your dog often doesn’t finish her food and is prone to ‘grazing’, then it’s worth thinking about changing her diet because she probably doesn’t really like her food. Saying that, if she is moving from a cheap food to a better quality one, you may find you need to add a quarter of a tin of sardines in oil  (or even just the oil) for a while to make it more tempting, because her taste buds may take a while to adjust from the high sugar content in her previous food.

Leaving bowls down all day to allow your dog to ‘free feed’ doesn’t give the digestive tract a chance to rest. Dogs are like children, they’re not very good at self-regulating but their systems aren’t designed to ‘graze’ continuously. 

If you feed twice a day, with a couple of Sniff Games in between, food becomes more important to your dog, which is less likely to happen if it’s always available. If you have a dog that has any behaviour issues, you will probably be working with a trainer and using treats. Some dogs can seem to be uninterested in treats, but this is most often because they’re allowed to graze on a bowl that is left down all day. Removing the bowl within 10 minutes of feeding can quite quickly produce a dog who is interested in food, especially tasty training treats!

CHEWS

Daily chews are an important part of a healthy dog’s diet. They act as a natural toothbrush and can have a soothing, calming effect. Chews need to be natural products, with no colours or cereals. The following are a good range of chewy boredom busters!

  • Lamb tails

  • Tripe sticks

  • Paddy wack (some dogs can find this to rich, so avoid if yours has a sensitive tummy) 

  • Stag bar (deer horn) 

  • Dried cow ears (less likely to upset tummies than pig ears)

  • Dried rabbit ears for puppies

  • Dried goat ears

  • Dried lamb ears.

  • Dried venison, chicken, liver (liver can be too rich for some dogs)

  • Dried lamb lung

  • Fish skin sticks, cubes and ‘flatties’

 

TRAINING TREATS

These need to be small, soft, tasty and smelly. Commercial treats are often full of nasties. They’re rarely worth working for and many dogs need something really high value when training.

The following are ‘high value’ treats (really yummy). Take a pouch of these with you when you go out on a walk with your dog or when you’re training - it’s the difference between working for dry bread or chocolate! 

Cooked and cooled chicken, turkey, liver, liver cake, or pilchard cake. In fact, you can use any unprocessed meat that you eat, if you eat meat. Cheese can be good, but be aware of the salt content. JR Products, Nourish, Bunch and Nature’s Menu do a good range of 100% meat training treats.

HEALTHY HAPPY HOUNDS

Feeding our dogs fresh, whole foods creates happy, healthy hounds!  

Reviews.com have assessed the safety of common ingredients in dog foods available in the UK and USA.
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