We’ve consulted with Petbarn’s expert nutritionist, Kylie Day, to put together a guide to simplify the process of finding the right food for your pooch.
Grain-free, low-fat, senior-specific, all-natural, breed-specific. If you’ve stared at the myriad of seemingly identical packages of pet food options, and have scratched your head in confusion, you’re not alone.
With the wealth of options on the market right know, knowing what to feed your pooch isn’t easy. And given that a well-balanced diet is the key to overall health and wellbeing – as well as helping to avoid the risk of obesity and the related diseases that accompany overfeeding – it’s really important to get your dog’s diet right.
Turns out, dog’s have specific nutritional needs at every stage of their lives, and on top of that, different dog breeds have different needs.
Confused? Rest easy, we’ve consulted with Petbarn’s expert nutritionist, Kylie Day, to put together a guide to simplify the process of finding the right food for your pooch.
Because puppies grow so rapidly they need a food specifically formulated for their demanding nutritional requirements
“The needs of a puppy are very different to the needs of an adult dog,” Kylie said. “Puppy food is formulated for higher energy levels, which comes from higher amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates in the food.
“Also, the food will should have high quality nutrients (including Omega 3s) to ensure healthy bone and brain development.
Because of their rapid growth, feeding a puppy the correct diet that will nourish them is super-important as mistakes made during puppyhood can have severe health ramifications later in life.
“I recommend looking for foods that don’t have chickpeas, beans and peas high in the ingredients list,” Kylie said. “If they’re in the first five ingredients, then look for another food – you want the protein to be animal-based as plant-based proteins are difficult for dogs to break down and metabolise.”
The average puppy can be switched to adult dog food at about 12 months, and as dogs get older, their nutritional needs will change again.
“What you want to look for with foods are the words ‘complete and balanced’,” Kylie said. “So if you feed your dog nothing else, your dog will be able to survive and maintain growth and development. There are a number of products on the market that are meant only for supplementary feeding but often look very similar to wholefood brands.
“This is the number one potential pitfall. A lot of people mix feed, which is a good way of making your dog’s diet interesting – a portion of commercial dog food with a bit of fresh meat or some egg, for example, but it’s not something your need to do if you’re purchasing good quality food.”
Current estimates say that around 40 per cent of Australian dogs are overweight, partly as a result of us “humanising” our pets, Kylie said, by giving them table scraps and treats. “Overfeeding is the biggest area of concern,” she said. “Obesity puts a lot of strain on the joints and dogs can also develop diabetes, which many people aren’t aware of, so controlling weight very important.”
Dogs begin to show age-related changes at about seven to 12 years of age and this means that – given the metabolic and body composition changes that occur internally – they will benefit from a diet geared to their needs.
“This age is where you get into more of your special requirements and fortifications,” Kylie said. “As dogs slow down they don’t need as much energy, so their calories should be reduced and – just as there are specific puppy formulations – you should be looking for a senior low-calorie formulation that’s also fortified with glucosamine and the like, to help fortify joints. Look for any products that call out ‘joint health’ or ‘joint care.’”
Another consideration is the increased likelihood of age-related dental issues – dental decade is another prevalent issue with older dogs.
“You may need to introduce more wet or softer foods such as wet meat or eggs,” Kylie said. “Remember, a lot of these health issues can be controlled through diet, which is better than the alternative – veterinary care isn’t cheap!”
While age is a hugely important factor in terms of working out a nutrition plan, certain breeds have their own specific dietary needs too. Large breed dogs – such as Great Danes and German Shepherds – will have different requirements to smaller breeds, such as Pugs and Chihuahuas.
“It sounds counterintuitive but small breeds often need to eat more than larger breeds because they have a high metabolic energy, so they burn through food quickly,” Kylie said. “They need more energy-dense food than large breed dogs, so a small breed formulation is useful because that’s taken into account.”
And just as these larger and smaller breeds have different needs as adults, they also require speciality food as puppies.
“A Labrador puppy, for example, needs to be fed a different diet to a regular puppy,” Kylie said. “Because larger breed puppies need to grow a lot more slowly (if they grow too quickly their joints don’t form properly which will lead to a lot of issues later in life) you want to make sure that the growth is slow enough for the joints to keep up.
“For this reason their food needs a lower amount of calories to help keep their weight down.”