What should I feed my dog is one of the questions most frequently asked of veterinarians. And it’s a great question. There are many types of diets and food brands from which to choose, so how do you know what’s best for your dog?
Definitely consult with your veterinarian about your dog’s nutritional need and diet. The answer will depend on your pet’s stage of life and overall health. Is your pet a puppy or a senior? Does your dog have a medical condition such as heart disease or allergies that might require a special diet? If your dog is healthy and there are no restrictions on foods your pup can eat, then you can feed your dog a variety of foods.
What do you mean by a variety? While you may have heard that you should pick one food brand and stick with it to avoid upsetting your dog’s digestive system, may veterinarians now recommend you offer your dog a well-balanced diet with a variety of tastes and nutrients.
Dogs are omnivores, and can eat both animal and plant-based foods, which mirrors the human diet. In broad terms, when thinking about your dog’s diet, you need to consider both:
- Macro nutrients which include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and
- Micro nutrients which include minerals such as calcium and phosphorous, vitamins such as D, C and E, and essential fatty acids like Omegas 3 and 6, among others.
Dog food manufacturers produce dry kibble, wet foods, dehydrated food and frozen food with ingredients like chicken, beef and various carbohydrates and fats that include industry standard minimum and maximum amounts of macro nutrients with vitamins and minerals added to create a balanced diet. Not all dog food brands are made with the same types and amounts of those basic nutrients—the perfect dog food does not exist!
Now imagine eating the same food—such as grilled chicken and brown rice with green beans and carrots—your entire life. We know that all proteins are not created equal and vegetables and fruits contain different nutrients. A diet of the same ingredients is likely missing key elements our bodies require for sustainable overall health; therefore, humans eat a variety of foods.
Most dogs will benefit from a healthy diet that includes a variety of foods. Dogs are capable of eating many types of foods and, given choices, will develop taste preferences and a strong digestive system that can process foods with ease.
So let’s talk about what it means to feed your dog a variety of foods. Home-cooked whole foods and commercial dog food brands each have distinctive health benefits for your dog, and deciding which type of diet to feed your dog may also depend on your lifestyle. Whether you are choosing to offer your dog a rotation of different commercial wet and dry dog food brands, different ingredients within a particular commercial brand, preparing fresh ingredients from home, or creating a unique combination of these options, the key is introducing safe foods in small portions.
Rotating between commercial brand foods is acceptable, especially since each manufacturer offers different types including special flavor combinations of proteins and carbohydrates like duck and quinoa, or dietary options like organic and low carbohydrates. If you know your dog enjoys the offerings of different brands, then there’s no need to choose just one.
When considering home-cooked options, bites of plain baked potatoes or steamed broccoli will offer different nutrients than rice and carrots. A dab of yogurt or peanut butter with small bites of banana or apple are nutritious and delicious treats that can’t be compared to a hard or soft biscuit. Home-cooked meals are a wonderful option because variety is automatically built in since you prepare different foods for yourself daily. However, it’s important to make sure home-prepared options include the levels of nutrients your dog needs. This can be a time-consuming effort, so feeding your dog commercial dog food and supplementing with home-cooked meals and treats…or vice versa…is perfectly acceptable too.
“From the beginning, we introduced our maremma dogs, Toli and Graciella, to a wide variety of whole and prepared foods… They thrive on a combination of well-balanced meals made from fresh ingredients, lightly cooked or raw. Their diet includes commercial foods when we are short on time, and we assure key nutrients, such as Omega 3 EFAs, calcium and probiotics through supplements and whole foods. Most dogs should be able to eat a varied diet without experiencing diarrhea or other unwanted side effects. The key is to slowly introduce new foods and to maintain a healthy gut microflora that can aid in optimal digestion,” said Dr. Laura Weis, owner of Doylestown Veterinary Hospital and Holiday House Pet Resort who has extensively studied pet nutrition.
The important thing to remember about your pet’s overall nutrition is to make sure your dog gets the necessary basic nutrients it needs. A good diet must contain the proper balance of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for optimal health. Offering a variety of foods will ensure your dog benefits from a range of nutrients and a strong digestive system. Always consult your veterinarian to make sure your dog does not have any medical conditions requiring a special diet. If you have questions about your dog’s nutritional needs or an interest in home cooking or various dietary options, it’s best to talk with a veterinarian who specializes in pet nutrition.