What's a balanced diet for a dog?
Choosing a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of looking after your dog. But what should you put in his dinner bowl? Two routes can be followed…
A Complete Diet
Dr Monica Lundervold MRCVS, of Iams External Relations, explains the benefits of a complete diet:
"A complete food provides all the nutrients your dog needs without any supplementary or complementary products. This can take the form of flaked dry food which is a mix of separately cooked meat and cereals mixed together, or an extruded mix, where a balanced combination of meats, cereals, minerals and vitamins are steamed together, cut into pieces and dried.
"I believe that eating a balanced diet made of good quality ingredients is hugely important for the health and well-being of both people and pets. I try to eat a balanced diet myself but I'm never quite sure when I have it right. Fortunately I don't have to worry about getting it right when it comes to my dogs - I feed them a super premium complete food and am confident it contains everything they need."
Possible dangers of 'DIY feeding'
- Although it is possible to make a complete and balanced food for your dog at home, it is easy to make mistakes if you have not had expert help.
- Doing it correctly requires considerable time, effort and expertise. Don't forget that dogs have very different nutritional needs to humans.
- Even if you know what the daily calcium requirement for a dog is, it is difficult to know exactly what the calcium content of your homemade diet is if you can't measure it, and few people can do this at home.
- I know of several cases where dogs, especially puppies, have been fed an unbalanced homemade diet which has led to the development of diseases such as brittle bones that fracture very easily, caused by calcium deficiency.
- Some people advocate feeding only raw meat and bones to dogs. Apart from constituting an unbalanced diet, bones can splinter when fed to dogs, potentially causing painful and sometimes fatal injuries if they get stuck in the throat or digestive tract.
- The Pet Health Council advises owners not to feed bones. Another potential risk of feeding raw foods to both the dog and your family is the possibility of picking up infections such as salmonella or E. coli from uncooked meat.
The Natural Diet
Chris Day MRCVS, vet and founder of The Alternative Veterinary Medicine Centre advocates the benefits of a natural diet:
"A natural diet is one where the diet is based on fresh meat, scraps, left-overs and bones, where the emphasis is placed on variety.
"Wouldn't it make life easy if we had freeze-dried food for our own diet? The bag would have a smiling, sun-bronzed face on the front, looking annoyingly fit and healthy. Imagine that shopping trip; just put a bag of dry food into the car, go home and put it on your shelf. Coming home from a hard day at the office would be a treat. What's for supper? Just put a mugful in a saucepan of boiling water and it's done!
"The technology is in place to do this but we are not prepared to go there for ourselves, yet. Rest assured, if we were, the manufacturers would be on to it in a flash. Why then do we feed our dogs in this way? Firstly, I believe we've been made fearful of our own ability to feed a dog, and overly respectful of manufacturers' abilities to create a ‘balanced diet'. Secondly, we are hit with the convenience and a dog who doesn't complain. Your child soon would!
"It is not likely that any manufacturer could create the ‘perfect diet' which would satisfy all your dog's nutritional needs, for every day, every week and every year of his life. One tiny error becomes multiplied by constant use. We tend to trust the notion that manufactured foods are perfectly balanced. If they were, why do ‘improved' versions constantly appear, as new nutritional facts emerge?
"It is not likely that any manufacturing process will improve food quality. In fact, vitamins have to be put back in. It is not likely that manufacturers will source their ingredients with the same standards as you.
"Dogs used to survive very well on food left over from human meals. They are, by nature, scavengers. As long as the rules of ‘moderation in all things' and ‘variety is the spice of life' are observed, giving species suitable, healthy ingredients, a dog's body is well suited to balancing the nutrients he derives from his diet.
"Fresh is best and provides the healthiest nutrition, without the need for expensive supplements. A natural dog is a meat and carrion eater, an omnivorous fruit and root eater, a herbivore-dung eater and a bone cruncher. Feeding from our own larder is very easy and practical.