The recalls on pet food contaminated with melamine in 2007 changed forever how we look at feeding our furry friends. Many people switched to making homemade food for their pets and many decided organic commercial food was the best choice. Others stuck by their kibble but paid closer attention to the quality of the ingredients used and the manufacturing process. However, the principles behind how we feed our dogs have not changed since the recalls, only our awareness as consumers and guardians of our pets.
Feeding the Pregnant Dog
Prior to breeding, both the bitch and dog should be checked to make sure they are at the ideal weight for their size as excess fat can not only hinder the mating process but also lower sperm the count in males and ability to conceive in the female. For the bitch, excess weight can also spell trouble during whelping so it vitally important that she be in her best physical condition before the breeding takes place.
Good quality food with a balanced nutritional level is important at this point. Ideally the food should be calorie dense, easy to digest and have a minimum of 21% protein. Many breeders feed the expectant mother puppy kibble as it fits the criteria for growing puppies when they are both inside, and outside, of mom.
Throughout the pregnancy her food intake will fluctuate so the general rule of thumb is let her eat as much as she likes unless she is gaining body fat then decrease the quantity by ten percent. If she refuses to eat for more then 24 hours and it is not in the last few days of her pregnancy, get her to the vet immediately - more then likely something is wrong with her, the pups or both.
Feeding the Lactating Dog
Just like before the pups were whelped, the need for good quality, balanced nutrients is high for a bitch when she has a litter of pups on the ground. At the peak of lactation (around week four), her food intake can be as high as four times her pre-pregnancy ingestion. Continuing to feed her puppy kibble is ideal although watch her weight – as the puppies start eating solid food and relying less on her milk, her weight could skyrocket on puppy kibble.
When the puppies are between six and eight weeks old and have already been eating solid food (served lukewarm and softened with water or milk) for a couple of weeks, it is time to wean them completely from their mother if she has not already done it herself. Separate her from the litter and for 24 hours do not feed her anything making sure she has ample fresh clean water to drink. The following day put her in with the pups so they can nurse her dry and feed her a quarter of the amount she was fed prior to the pregnancy. On the third day, she can have ½ of her regular food intake and the fourth day ¾ of her normal amount. On the fifth day, she can have her normal meal size or a bit more if she is on the thin side, common after producing a large or demanding litter.
Feeding the Puppy
Growing puppies constantly have growing appetites! For most breeds, a good quality puppy food is all that is required for a healthy nutritional intake. However, for large or giant breeds, there is now large breed puppy kibble. The larger the dog, the slower the growth process should be as fast growth or uneven growth spurts raises the risk of skeletal malformations and defects. Large breed puppy kibble is formulated at a lower percent of protein and fat to allow a steady and slow rate of growth.
If a pup is not interested in food, moistening the kibble with water or a small amount of milk will encourage him to eat while increasing his fluid intake. Watch the amount of milk however as it can act as a laxative and cause abdominal upset in both pups and adults. If available, goat milk is easier for dogs (and humans) to digest as it is lactose-free.
Puppies should be fed at least three times a day if not four. This allows for constant nutrition and even blood sugar levels and keeps them from gorging as soon as the dish hits the floor. To aid in housetraining, feed them at the same times each day and as soon as they eat, take them outside for a bathroom break. With consistency and routine, housetraining is a natural process for dogs as they are normally extremely clean animals.
A skinny puppy is a healthy puppy! Excess body fat on a pup can lead to bone abnormalities and although it can be cute, it is not healthy. The actual amount of food required for a pup depends on size, environment, growth rate, breed and energy levels so some trial and error is necessary to figure out how much food is required for a healthy balance of growth without the ‘pudge’.
How long a pup is fed puppy good depends on breed and body condition. On average, one year is sufficient or when the pup has reached their full height – six to seven months for small dogs and as much as twelve to fourteen months for giant breeds. Ask your breeder what they suggest.
Feeding the Adult Dog
How much you feed an adult dog depends on many factors – size, breed, energy level, health considerations and whether the dog is intact (spayed or neutered). Follow the instructions on the package for a general idea of portion size and then watch your dog’s waist line for expansion or shrinkage – adjust accordingly by no more then ten percent.
What you feed your adult dog is a much more difficult question. Some of the choice is personal – whether you feed kibble or whole food/raw diet for example. The best person to help you with your decision is your veterinarian, not necessarily the breeder. Nutrition is a large part of their education and they also have all the medical records for your dog as so many foods on the market today are considered ‘prescription diets’. Cardiac diet, gastro diet, cancer diet, hypoallergenic diet, diabetic diet, urinary/kidney diet and so on – no major medical concern has been overlooked in the dog food manufacturers attempt to cater to your dog’s special needs.
If you choose to go with a raw or BARF (Bones And Raw Food) diet, again, talk it over with your veterinarian. Many of the naysayer’s of the commercial dog food industry do not know all the facts nor have they ever seen what raw bones can do to a young, healthy dog. Their argument that kibble kills is rather heavy-handed and broad – low quality kibble is harmful but good quality, vet recommended commercial food is a safe, convenient and consistent way to feed your dog.
Most importantly, do not switch foods constantly and stay on a regular routine in regards to the time of day and quantity. Switching foods too frequently can make a finicky eater and not following a routine can lead to difficulty regulating their weight and bathroom breaks.
Feeding the Senior Dog
What age does a dog become a senior citizen? Depends mostly on the size of the dog:
- Small dogs - 12 years of age
- Medium dogs - 10 years of age
- Large dogs - 9 years of age
- Giant breed dogs - 7 years of age
Once they have reached this lofty rank, it is good to switch their food gradually to a senior diet. Senior diets are formulated with less protein, fat and sodium then adult maintenance diets and are more easily digested. The quantity of food will have gradually decreased as your dog has aged so watch their weight. Many older dogs are either underweight or overweight – rarely do you see an old dog at the perfect body weight and condition for their age. If you see a radical change in body weight or condition, visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Note: if your dog is on a prescription diet, do not switch to a seniors blend.
Small things will change as your dog ages – his ability to chew hard kibble, as his sense of smell lessens he may become picky about his food as he can no longer smell it and his ability to handle any change to his diet without suffering from an upset stomach may decrease as well. Life when he was a pup, it may be necessary to pre-soften his food with warm water. This not only makes it easier to chew but it will smell stronger attracting his attention.
For more information on feeding your dog, talk to your veterinarian.