Dog Nutrition - The Best Nutritional Plan for Dogs

What is the right food to feed my dog?

It can depend on their life stage. So if you have a senior dog, you may want to feed a senior diet. If you have a puppy you should feed puppy chow. Sometimes it is specific to the type of puppy, whether it's a large breed or a toy breed puppy. There are also maintenance and sporting diets. The high-energy and high-drive dogs may need extra protein. There are diets made for those types of dogs. There are a lot of great quality diets out there. Everybody's very opinionated on what's better and what's the best, but you can call your veterinarian and they can give you some specific recommendations. In general a higher premium, good quality diet is really important. It must also be tolerated by your pet, so it can vary.

Some things you can use as guidelines are that they should have a nice glossy hair coat and lots of energy. Highly digestible diets have lower stool volumes. If you're picking up lots of stool in the yard, there's probably more filler and more fiber in those diets, which is not desirable. You could always pick a brand and give us a call and we can talk about it.

Dr. Ashly LaRoche
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How do I wean my puppy and get them on regular food?

Diet changes in all dogs and cats should be made gradually unless we recommend otherwise. There are a few instances where we would not recommend gradual weaning, but rather mixing the old diet and the new diet gradually over the course of 7 to 14 days. Sometimes you may need to soften it with some warm water to make it more palatable for picky dogs and puppies. They may not be used to kibbles, so you can soak those kibbles in warm water. If they're at an age where they are ready to wean, they don't need milk. There are a few instances where we have a stubborn puppy and then we may recommend some milk replacer mixed in with their food. That is, however, very rare. Never use cow milk though, as it will often give them intense diarrhea, so that's not recommended.

Should I feed my dog on a schedule?

Ideally, yes. Thereby you can know how much, when and what they're eating. This can be controlled better. With that being said, some dogs prefer grazing, in which case you need to measure it so you know how much they're eating and leave that out for them for the day and that's all they get. Obesity is quite a problem in dogs as well as puppies. We don't want them to grow too fast by overfeeding them, so we need to control what they're eating. Usually, the time feeding is the easiest.

How do I know if my dog's nutrition is suffering?

We recommend two yearly exams. Most of the time, we will be looking at hair coats. Usually, with one of those visits, we'll recommend blood work. If we've got healthy blood work, a pet in good body condition with a nice glossy hair coat and if the owner's not complaining about picking up an excessive amount of poop in the yard, we'll assume that that animal's nutritional plan is adequate.

How do I know if I'm feeding my dog too much?

You want to feed for a lean body condition. So you need to put your hands on your animal and be able to feel the ribs easily. If you cannot feel the ribs, your pet is probably over-conditioned or overweight. Your pet should have a waist. If they don't have a waist, they may be over-conditioned.

Often, there are feeding recommendations per weight on the back of the dog food bag. You need to feed for the ideal body weight, instead of the body weight that your pet currently has. Sometimes bag recommendations can be excessive and pets may gain weight on those. We can help you with that, but you may need to feed less than the bags recommend. You have to look at the condition of your pet. It depends on how active the dog is. The active, high-energy, high-drive dogs may need more food than the Cocker Spaniel that lays on the couch and looks out the window all day long.

What are the essential nutrients that a dog needs?

Water is very important, along with vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Those are very important for dogs at different levels, depending on their stage in life. Most of those are included in balanced dog food. The commercial rations are all balanced for healthy nutrition. That is extremely difficult to do on your own, so I always tell owners that want to try and cook for their dog that it is very difficult. You can find a veterinary nutritionist on the internet that can balance the rations for you to ensure that you're not causing a nutritional imbalance in your dog, which can be pretty detrimental over time. You've got to have all the different vitamins and all the different nutrients.

How will you be able to assess if my dog is getting the proper nutrition?

You should be able to feel the ribs easily. Also, they should have a glossy hair coat and lots of good energy levels at home. Often, the blood work will be normal. Just a basic physical exam will tell us a lot. We will talk with the owners about how the pet feels at home and we'll ask about brands. If we feel that it's not the best brand, we can recommend some alternatives.

How do I know which brand of dog food is best for my dog?

The common premium brands are usually good. Hill's Science Diet, the Royal Canin line and the Purina line are typically good. They have adequate nutrition and their nutritionists have balanced everything for you and your dog to ensure optimal health. We can also make recommendations if you find a brand that you're not sure about.

Why might my dog need a prescription diet?

We will commonly recommend prescription diets for obesity because they're formulated with protein and fiber contents to encourage weight loss. You will also need a prescription diet for metabolic diseases like diabetes. Various conditions and diseases will require a very specific nutritional profile. Based on physical exams and blood work, we'll make those recommendations.

There are over-the-counter weight loss diets, but prescription foods are more nutritionally fine-tuned for weight loss. You do need a prescription for those. Some of the prescription diets can be harmful to a pet without those conditions over time, that's why they're a prescription. For instance, if you have a dog or a cat with renal failure, you don't want to feed their particular diet to a healthy, younger dog.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Nutrition - FAQs

Dr. Ashly LaRoche
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How many times a day should I be feeding my dog?

There's no right or wrong answer. It depends on lifestyle, and it can be breed-specific. The average is twice daily, but there are dogs that are free fed. I recommend measuring the amount that you leave out. Free-feeding means that you leave food out for them while making sure that they have a finite amount. I recommend that puppies get fed more than twice a day. It gives them more energy in the day for their active lifestyles. Some of the toy puppies, in particular, need to be fed very often. They're more prone to low blood sugar, so more food more often will decrease those incidents. Stay with the recommended daily amount, but break them up into smaller portions throughout the day.

Do I need to feed a diet specific to my dog's breed or size?

There are breed-specific dog foods out there. For instance, the sporting mixes tend to have higher protein content for the high-energy dogs. Will your dog thrive on a non-sporting mix? Yes, sure. But they may do better on the high-protein food. Some toy breed foods have smaller kibbles because little dogs like to crunch the little kibbles or pieces of food. Your large breed foods are formulated for the nutritional needs of large, big-boned dogs, particularly puppies. It optimizes their growth levels to prevent problems later in life. Do all breeds need breed-specific food? No. I recommend feeding for the life stage, but there are foods formulated for specific breeds which focus on palatability and kibble size. Kibble shapes may differ depending on the preference of certain breeds. Labradors, for instance, may chew and crunch their food more given it has a certain kibble size and shape. So that's why they are breed-specific.

What is meant by life-stage nutrition?

If you have a senior dog, your nutritional needs may differ from when you have a puppy. The sporting or the hunting dogs may do better on a diet different from maintenance nutrition meant for dogs that aren't as active. It depends on the breed, but we generally start recommending senior dog food from 7 to 9 years of age and puppy food from 8 to 14 months.

What is the most important information I need to read on a package of dog food?

Make sure it meets all the AFCO requirements, which are the government requirements found on the back of the bag. When the food contains meat and meat by-products, it is an indication of a good diet. Like people's food, the ingredient at the top of the list is the main ingredient. This goes for canned food as well.

Do the ingredients of treats matter when choosing a flavor or brand?

Treats need to constitute less than 10% of the diet, and they should just be of good quality. The main dog food has to be nutritionally balanced. I would say if your dog is eating nothing but treats, the ingredients are very important.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Nutrition - FAQs 2

Dr. Ashly LaRoche
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How do I know what foods are toxic to dogs?

There are lists of things they shouldn't eat. In general, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, and chocolate should be avoided. Never feed them anything that has sweeteners in it, like diabetic peanut butter, as it contains xylitol. Those are some household things you don't want to feed your dog.

How do I know if the food I'm giving my dog is actually making them sick?

You're usually going to see weight loss, a dull hair coat, vomiting and diarrhea, and failure to thrive. We will investigate all aspects of the pet's health with blood work, but their food may be incriminated.

Can changing my dog's diet suddenly cause harm?

It can. Usually, you'll see intestinal upset because the microbes in their intestines don't like quick change. They need time to adapt to new food substrates and levels of carbohydrates. Gradual mixing of foods over 7 to 14 days is recommended. There are a few instances where we'll recommend going straight to other food because of health reasons.

How does an elimination diet work?

Elimination diets are used to diagnose and treat food allergic disease or food intolerance. What that means is we eliminate everything that the dog is currently eating or has eaten and offer what's called a hydrolyzed protein diet, which is food that has been modified at a low molecular weight so the dog's immune system won't pick up the microscopic food particles. Either that or what's called a novel protein and a novel carbohydrate diet like rabbit and pea or duck and potato will be recommended. There's a bunch of them out there. You feed that and only that for one to three months. If the dog's signs, which include vomiting and diarrhea intermittently as well as skin itching, go away, it helps us to form a diagnosis such as a food allergy or food intolerance. We can then refeed items to see which ones trigger the response again. The only way to diagnose food allergies is with an elimination diet trial. There are no accurate blood tests.

It's hard for owners, but they have to stick with that food and nothing else. I'll give a list of certain treat-type items that are acceptable in food trials and won't cause an immune response, but you have to be very diligent. Everybody in the household has to be on board with the plan because if you feed for a month and then somebody offers them a hamburger, you have to start over. So that's important. Once we get the signs under control, those diets are meant for long-term feeding as well. Most owners don't want to re-introduce foods that cause signs again.

How do I know if my dog has eaten something toxic to them?

There will be vomiting, diarrhea, their appetite will start waning, and refusal to eat the food will occur. An easy sign is when you know your dog has been eating food and suddenly they don't want to anymore. Try a new bag of food and see what happens, as long as your dog is acting fine and not showing any other signs.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Nutrition - FAQs 3

Dr. Ashly LaRoche
Animal Hospital of Statesville

Is a dog able to live on a vegan diet?

Technically, yes. Dogs are omnivorous. They're not solely carnivores like cats that are obligate carnivores. They tend to be omnivorous and more on the scavenging side. They do hunt, but they're great opportunists. So they can live off a vegetarian or vegan diet. It is easy to cause imbalances in your dog while attempting this diet because it's hard to offer balanced nutrition, so a professional would have to do that. Palatability for those diets may, in my opinion, be the best for the dog. They prefer to have something with a bit of meat in it as an omnivorous preference. They like meat. You will seldom see them grab a stick of celery and run off with it.

Is wet food more nutritious than dry dog food?

Not necessarily. Wet dog food is 75% water. It tends to be higher in fat than dry dog food, consequently, dogs love it. Is it more nutritious? Not necessarily. It has the same AFCO requirements as dry foods and they are nutritionally balanced. They're more expensive to feed. Because they're higher in fat, some dogs are going to have more intestinal upsets with them. Dogs really like them, so they tend to get more selective and picky about what they eat. Is it wrong? No. But for ease of feeding and cost and general gastrointestinal health, you're better off with dry foods and only feeding canned foods as a treat.

If you feel that your dog needs both, you can mix them. Some dogs become selective for the canned food and they hold out for it, but most dogs are happy with their good quality, dried ration. Often, they're getting other treats for positive reinforcement for good behavior. Canned foods aren't necessary, but it's not harmful to feed it to them unless you have certain breeds that are sensitive to intestinal upset. Diabetic animals shouldn't have canned rations.

Are prescription diets better for my dog?

Not necessarily better in quality, but if your dog is on a prescription diet, it usually has a medical need for that diet. The prescription diets are all of excellent quality. Are they better than the regular commercial diets? Not necessarily, but there's probably a reason we're asking the prescription to be fed. They're formulated differently for diabetes, kidney disease, all kinds of things. So it's maybe not appropriate that they eat an over-the-counter ration because of whatever disease they've been diagnosed with. It's almost like a heart diet. If you've been diagnosed with heart disease, you can't have salt and fat. They'll put you on a prescription diet.

If my dog eats grass, does that mean that they're missing something in their diet?

Not necessarily. They're omnivorous, so they eat grass as part of their scavenging behavior. Some of them crave the fiber, but they're not equipped to deal with that grass as it isn't digestible for the dog, so they throw it up. Sometimes, when they're nauseated, they'll exhibit PICA behavior and eat things that they don't usually eat. Grass is a big one for that. If you're feeding good quality food, they're not missing anything.

Will human food make my dog overweight?

It can. It's all about calories. Four potato chips for them is like a bag for us, especially for smaller dogs. It can also facilitate pickiness, vomiting and diarrhea. I recommend that human food be kept to a minimum. If you do it, some vegetables like carrots and green beans are harmless and make the dog think they're getting some of your food. I won't condemn an occasional treat, but doggie formulated treats and kibble should be 95% of what they eat.

People have difficulty with portion size. They'll give one hamburger, but dogs are really good at beating us down so next time they'll have two hamburgers.

Will free-choice feeding make my dog overweight?

It definitely can. Some dogs will eat and eat. We're sometimes better able to control what they eat than what we eat ourselves. I recommend measuring what they eat, whether you leave it out for them all day or time feed it. As long as you have a good grasp of what they're eating because if you want them to lose weight, for instance, the only way you can do that is by knowing how much they're eating and reducing it.

What are some myths about dog nutrition that you might be able to think of?

The big one is feeding raw food. I don't recommend it. You'll see a lot of stuff on the internet about how it's better and more natural for them. With commercial foods, we see dogs living longer and longer. These commercial pet food companies have worked hard to formulate balanced nutrition, so dogs thrive on it. The raw foods often harbor bacteria like salmonella, and the meats can have parasites and enzymes in them that can be harmful to the dog. So I don't recommend raw food because of diseases and deleterious things that it can transmit. If you're going to insist on feeding non-commercial dog food, I recommend that a nutritionist balance it and that you cook it. You're not hurting the nutritional value by cooking it.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 802-1280, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.