Dog Food and Treats

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zoe-picYour dog is an important part of your family. When you buy food for your family, you consider many things, including nutritional value and taste. Likewise, when you think about how to buy dog food and treats, you should consider several factors before you shop. Determine which dog food and treats are right for your dog with help from

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We all love shopping for toys, dog food and treats for our pets. But we also know how completely overwhelming it can be to choose between all the different brands and formulations of dog food and treats out there. We’re going to cover a few points to help you balance the endless options of dry food, canned food, and treats for your pet.

The first step is to figure out how many calories your dog should be eating each day to either lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight, based on his breed and other factors. That’s because keeping him slim and healthy is the single best way to help prevent disease and extend his life. Consult your veterinarian for this “magic” calorie count. He or she can determine your dog’s typical body characteristics and make a scientific recommendation based on these results.

Most dog food and treats manufacturers will provide the number of calories on their websites. But the chart of recommended feeding guidelines found on the back of the dog food and treats packaging is just a guideline and may not accurately account for your dog’s unique calorie and other nutritional needs. Your veterinarian is much better equipped at making a caloric intake recommendation.

A good healthy diet will keep your dog looking and feeling his best. It provides him with the right amounts of essential nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. Your dog must have all of these in the correct proportions in order to stay healthy. Pet food companies make a variety of dog food and treats for all life stages – from puppyhood to senior citizenship.

But with so many dog food and treats options on the market, it’s tough to know what may be best for your dog. Sure, you can ask a breeder or your veterinarian for advice, but it’s ultimately up to you to see how these food items affect your dog. If your dog’s energy level is right for his breed and age, if his skin and coat are healthy, if his stools are firm and brown, and if he seems to be in overall good health, then the dog food and treats you have chosen are doing their job.

But keep in mind that while tasty, most treats are not balanced for the nutritional requirements your pet needs in order to stay healthy. Therefore, treats such as rawhides, biscuits, table scraps and other “people food” should never account for more than 10% of your pet’s daily caloric intake. Calorie counts are not required to be placed on the treat packaging, so you may need to contact the treat manufacturer to calculate how much of the treat your pet can safely eat. In addition, feeding too many treats can lead to a deficiency or excess of certain nutrients – and can also cause illness.

Many owners prefer to feed kibble (dry), rather than soft or wet dog food for a number of reasons. Sure, crunching the hard kibbles keeps your dog’s teeth clean, while exercising his jaw muscles. But it also helps keep his stools compact and firm, resulting in easier cleanup. If your dog prefers soft food, you can mix some in with the kibble (try three-quarters dry with one-quarter wet). And keep in mind that semi-moist foods, while convenient, still don’t offer the nutritional benefits of premium kibble or canned foods.

But dogs do just fine on a dry food only diet, which is great because it is much more economical than canned food, especially for a larger dog. That said, sometimes it’s nice to mix in a bit of wet or canned food, just to give them some variety.

Puppies need more calories and essential nutrients than do most adult dogs. For this reason, you should choose a food specially formulated for puppies. Puppies under six months should get three or four meals a day. They are growing rapidly, and their stomachs have limited capacity. But after about six months, they should be able to handle just two to three meals a day.

Adult dogs should be fed according to their size and energy needs. Most adults should get one to two meals a day.

Be on the watch for special health restrictions. Always keep in mind your pet’s individual health needs and dietary restrictions. For example, pets with kidney disease need specially formulated therapeutic diets to help maintain kidney function. Adding new types of dog food and treats without first consulting with your veterinarian may inadvertently negate the benefit of their special diet. The same may be said when handling other specific dietary restrictions. Save yourself the trouble and talk it over with your vet first – he or she knows your pet’s needs the best!

All dogs, regardless their age, need separate food and water dishes. The bowls should be cleaned daily, and cool, fresh water should be available at all times. Here are a few other basic feeding tips:

  • Dogs should be fed at the same time every day. Feeding at the same time will keep your dog on a regular potty schedule.
  • Feed your dog the same type and brand of food every day. Unlike humans, a dog’s digestive system cannot handle numerous changes in food. It can cause upset stomach and diarrhea.
  • When switching to a new food, gradually transition him to the new food by mixing portions of both foods until you slowly phase out the old food. Your dog may experience diarrhea if his food is suddenly changed.
  • If you are mixing water into dry food, you should mix 4 parts dry food to no more than 1 part water.
  • If your dog has a loose stool, feeding him sweet potatoes is a natural stool hardener. Unlike some medicines, giving too many sweet potatoes will NOT make him constipated. Many pet supply stores sell sweet potato chips for dogs that may work well for you.
  • Don’t overfeed your dog. Obesity in dogs is the number #1 cause of illness, health problems and death.
  • Follow the basic guidelines on dog food and treats packaging for recommended feeding amounts.
  • Monitor your dog’s weight and activity level, and make feeding adjustments as necessary.

Avoid harmful foods. While it’s nearly impossible to ensure that your pet will never come in contact with tainted dog food and treats, you can reduce your pet’s risk by being mindful of what he is being fed. Even more serious, grapes, raisins, tea, alcohol, garlic, onions, avocados, salt, and chocolate, among other things, are toxic to your dog. Protect your dog’s health and well-being by reviewing the Dangerous Food Items for Your Dog section of this site!

Act Quickly After Exposure to Toxins

As with any toxic exposure – every minute counts! Knowing what to do can save a life – in this case, your best friend’s life! Most importantly, you should have the phone number of Poison Control, your regular veterinarian and an after-hours animal hospital posted in your home. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached at (888) 426-4435 in the US.

It is usually best to wait until you reach Poison Control before you do anything, but you will usually be told to make your pet vomit to get rid of the bulk of the dangerous food items. Vomiting can be induced with a teaspoon of peroxide if you don’t have ipecac. Give the peroxide or ipecac by mouth every few minutes, giving your pet a chance to relax in between doses, since many dogs will refuse to vomit when held. Using a small syringe to administer the peroxide or ipecac can make the process a little less stressful for everyone concerned.

Once vomiting occurs, or if you are unsuccessful within a few minutes, you should then seek professional help from a qualified veterinarian to find out what more to do about the ingestion of any of these dangerous food items. Be sure to have an idea of how much of the substance your pet ingested and how long ago it happened.

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