What should you feed your dog? In what quantities? What impact will their diet have on their health? Greg Paternoster, community manager and dog nutrition specialist at Atavik answers our questions.
What are the dogs’ nutritional needs ?
Dogs are carnivores. So, their only nutritional imperative need is to eat fresh meat. All the rest is superfluous. If you have a fruit tree at the bottom of the garden, or if you have tried somehow to have a vegetable garden, you know that dogs sometimes enjoy a fresh fruit or vegetable. This is mainly for transit purposes; your dog alone adds fiber to his diet when his intestines feel the need. But that’s all. It’s enough to observe a dog returned to the wild state or a wolf to be convinced of it.
This is due to the functioning of the carnivore’ digestive system . Short intestines, short digestion: food must be quick to digest and assimilate. This is the case of fresh meat, which has an ideal percentage of moisture, non-degraded proteins and slightly oxidized lipids. The carnivore’s liver is designed to assimilate these proteins and lipids, and directly transform them into carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential to all living things because they are fuel cells. But since the liver makes and stores its own protein and fat carbohydrates, the dog doesn’t need to consume additional carbohydrates. Finally, apart from those found naturally in the liver of its prey!
How do these needs vary according to their age?
They do not vary. Of course, with the decline in activity that sometimes accompanies aging, the number of calories to be eaten can decrease. But this is only true for dogs that decrease their activity, which is not the case! There is frankly no physiological reason that an aging dog loses tone. The senior ranges for dogs, it’s as if it was said for humans that at age 70, it’s mandatory to no longer play sports, stop the fish and switch to compotes! It is the level of energy expended and the need for muscle renewal (much or little physical activity) that determines nutritional needs, not age.
Starting from there, the only parameter to vary according to the activity of the dog is the quantity of the daily ration.
How many meals should they take per day?
For us, and it’s only our experience of big dogs, breeding and competitions that speaks here, 3 meals a day. You can go down to two meals a day, but less, it starts to be uncomfortable for the dog. Imagine having to eat 1kg of food at once: you’ll be dead for the rest of the day!
There are two big benefits to giving your dog 3 meals a day. The first is to prevent twisting of the stomach. The torsion of the stomach in the dog comes from a simple physiological fact: the dog is a quadruped. In its abdomen, the stomach is suspended and has a relatively high mobility, especially around its major axis. The more the stomach bag is weighed down, by giving a single meal or by giving non-rehydrated dry food, for example, the greater the risk of turning the stomach. And it’s fatal for half of the doggies.
The second benefit is behavioral. When we used his dog to 3 meals a day since very small, we synchronized meal and excrement. As, in addition, swallowing triggers the excretion reflexes in the dog, your dog will stay clean all his life using this rhythm. The light meal is followed by the walk of cleanliness which takes only 2 minutes, and you’ll have only rarely bad surprises when returning home at night or when you get up in the morning!
Are cereals good for dogs’ health?
Cereals have nothing to do in the carnivore’s diet. As long as the pack of wolves continues to attack the herds of sheep and not the wheat fields, we can be certain of what’s going on! We now have dogs that have never seen a piece of fresh meat, and that we have convinced, by chemical aromas, that the popcorn tastes like chicken. The consequences of these actions in terms of health have been studied by many laboratories for several decades. All independent scientific studies in veterinary nutrition over the last 20 years link the starch of cereals, the lack of fresh food in the carnivore’s bolus of food, and health problems such as obesity, diabetes, liver diseases, cancers, etc. Why then replace the fresh meat with corn starch and animal meal that can be stored for years in the open air? Simply because croquettes made from these ingredients cost 5 times less to produce than croquettes made from fresh meat. For us who are pet owners, between these two options, the choice was quickly made.
These aren’t the only risks of cereals. Improperly stored grains, such as those for animal feed, develop mycotoxins, such as wheat ergot, for example. And ergotism remains a devastating disease in the veterinary field.
What impact does diet have on a dog? What health problems can a poor diet lead to?
For a dog as for a human, we are what we eat. Nutrients are the small bricks of life. If the nutrients are of poor quality, health inevitably deteriorates.
It’s important from birth. A dog whose mother does not eat good nutrients drinks a poor milk. This can affect colostrum and make it more susceptible to infection between 2 and 3 months. During growth, without bone meat, the bones may develop poorly, resulting in joint problems in adulthood. Then, a dog eating nutrients unsuited to the carnivorous diet such as cereals can see its general state affected: dry skin for lack of Omega 3, so dull and rough hair, food allergies causing digestive problems and scraping, food rich in polysaccharides resulting in overweight and development of tartar and therefore bad breath, sometimes even periodontal disease, exclusively dry food creating a permanent and long-term dehydration of kidney problems, essential nutrients in insufficient quantity at the origin of the lack of tone, etc.
When overweight, what can we feed him?
As for the older dog: strictly the same as a dog with a suitable weight, but in less quantity. And above all, don’ reduce fat with light food! Lipids are replaced in light kibbles by carbohydrates, which can make the obese dog much more easily than fat. Remember that a dog is designed to digest animal fat but not complex plant sugars.
If your dog is a foodie and he claims because of the decrease in quantities, a good thing is to chop fruits or vegetables low in calories in the ration, like zucchini or watermelon. And of course, always rehydrate the croquettes to weigh down the ration and protect the kidneys!
How do you choose what to eat?
In the same way that you choose what you eat: according to your tastes and needs. There are 3 principles to follow, according to all the animal health professionals who come with us: meat that is declared fit for human consumption, as little processing as possible and no chemicals. For that, read the labels. Do they contain the exact name of the animal whose meat was used, or even the part of the animal in the bowl (turkey necks, chicken hearts and livers, etc …)? Are the ingredients fresh or not? Do you understand the industrial processes behind words like animal meal or hydrolysates?
How much should you give per day?
It depends first of all on the size of your dog: a Saint-Bernard can swallow the weight of several chihuahuas a day! It then depends on the density and nutritional value of the food you give it. Croquettes are undoubtedly the most concentrated food in calories, which is why their quantity can vary to the nearest gram. For other foods such as pâtés or BARF [Ed : raw meat diet], the quantities are more variable according to the parts of the animal used, say between 2 and 5% of the weight of your dog. Just watch your dog’s line: for the majority of breeds you must be able to feel his ribs without seeing them.
Does the quantity have to vary according to the seasons?
The seasons undoubtedly have a role in your dog’s diet. Just observe how much weight varies in a dog or cat between mid-winter and late spring. In a cat, it reaches the 20% of variation of weight more or less: transposed to the human, it’s as if I passed from 80 kgs to 120 kgs in 7 months! So yes, the amount of food varies between summer and winter. Likewise, my Maine Coon only eats Turkey-Chicken-Duck croquettes from November to April while sulking the mash, but will not eat any more croquettes during the spring and summer. The animal is self-regulating when it eats quality nutrients.
Can they have a vegan diet?
Feeding a carnivore with only plant-based nutrients can be equated with abuse, as we have seen recently. The digestive tract of the carnivore is not able to digest any plant nutrients: neither vegetable proteins such as gluten, nor vegetable carbohydrates such as fiber, nor vegetable fatty acids (except for very rare exceptions such as linseed oil) . So sometimes it’s not a problem: fibers, for example, help with transit. But for this, it requires a food bolus that contains at least 65% animal protein and fatty acids of animal origin elsewhere.