Vet Check: Dog Nutrition

Dr Abbie Tipler is back for 2013 and since we have been researching dog nutrition here at Puppy Tales, she has kindly given her thoughts on the topic by answering a few questions we had. Dog nutrition is a controversial topic just like human nutrition, so we definitely appreciate a range of views. Dr Abbie works at Mosman Vet in Sydney and once again has taken some time out of her busy schedule to provide us with this information.

1. The link between poor diet and disease is well understood in dogs, just like in humans. What are the fundamentals of a dog’s diet as you see them or what would your ideal dog diet include?
All good quality dry dog foods contain everything your pet will require. Not all dog foods are created equal, however, and pet food labels sometimes only tell part of the nutritional story. Veterinary recommended diets often have a lot more research behind them. These companies often employ many veterinarians who are researching the optimal balance of nutrients for your pet. Unfortunately, the lower quality foods are designed more for palatability than for health, which often means there is added salt and fat! This ensures that ‘Frodo loves it’ and you as pet owner will keep buying it! Your dog loving it, however, is not an indicator of quality and may not give your pet the best chance in life (think of a child choosing between Macdonalds and Salad). Low quality nutrition may increase the risk of cardiac and kidney disease, diabetes and other conditions. It’s not to say your pet shouldn’t receive treats (less than 20% of total intake), but the main portion should be a veterinary recommended dry food (nothing touches my ragdoll cats’ lips unless it is made by Hills, Royal Canin or Eukanuba). The veterinary recommended brands tend to be more expensive, but there is a reason for this (only good quality proteins go in and there are ongoing costs associated with employing the best nutritionally trained team). There are always the stories about the dogs that live for years and they are fed table scraps their whole lives and live to be a ‘good ol age’. One thing I will say for pets, especially dogs, is that with time and inbreeding, they are becoming less ‘hardy’. This makes nutrition even more important.

2. How often should you feed your dog and what are some of the things you should absolutely not include in their diet?
Winnie the spoodleWinnie the Spoodle
Only small breed puppies have a requirement to be fed more than once a day. However, there is no harm in feeding more than once daily so long as the total intake is correct. There are some things that can be toxic to dogs (chocolate, grapes), but if you stick to foods designed for dogs you won’t encounter any problems. Food scraps (no bones) can compose of around 20% of the diet. Being a surgeon, I am NOT a fan of bones. Cooked bones are an absolute no no. Just yesterday I operated on a spoodle named Winnie that had been fed cooked chop bones and they were causing an intestinal obstruction and a nasty gastritis. Many people feed raw bones, and of course with many dogs, there are no problems encountered. However, we do still see problems such as constipation, intestinal obstruction and dental slab fractures with raw bones. Dry food is just as good if not better for dental care, so my gold standard recommendation is to avoid bones. If you must feed bones choose a large raw shin bone or the like.

3. Vet Practices often sell prescription diet foods, can you explain the needs these meet?
Prescription diets are especially recommended for your pet based on a condition they may have. For example, renal diets, are designed such that they are lower in phosphorus and protein which is kidney protective. There are other diets designed scientifically for liver disease, cardiac disease, dental disease, allergies, intestinal disease and others.
Slab fracture on dog toothSome toxic foods for dogs – onions, grapes, sultanas & chocolate

4. Some owners choose to prepare their dog’s food themselves so they know exactly what their dog is eating and the quality of those ingredients. If you decide to do this how do you ensure your dog is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need?
Formulating your pets diet is very risky and we often encounter problems with this. There are two main nutritional disasters we encounter. Firstly, is the ‘All-Meat Diet’. These diets are low in calcium and high in phosphorus and can lead to secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism. Lameness and pathological fractures can result. The second and perhaps more common, is ‘Hypernutrition and Oversupplementation’. No offence to breeders, but often we see this problem based on nutritional advice from breeders (eek!). These mixtures commonly include mixtures of vitamins, bone, high-protein cereals, meat, milk, eggs and other nuteients. This is a highly palatable diet but can lead to nutritional imbalances and accelerated bone growth, sinking of important joints, lateral deviation of forepaws and cow-hocked rear legs. The importance of slow bone growth, especially in larger breeds, cannot be overemphasised. As for every rule, there are exceptions, and some dogs with severe food intolerances (rare), need to be fed a formulated food. This should be formulated by a Veterinary Specialist and to even begin to explain the complexity would be way beyond scope!

If you have any questions for Abbie about your dog’s health please send us an email at [email protected].

Please note: Puppy Tales provides these articles for information purposes only. For any health problems with your pet always seek immediate veterinary advice from your local veterinarian.

Dr Abbie Tipler, BVSc, MACVS (Surgery) Tipler, BVSc, MACVS (Surgery)

Dr Abbie is a Small Animal Veterinarian with 10 years full-time experience. Her passion is Small Animal Surgery and in 2011 she studied towards and obtained her Memberships in Small Animal Surgery from the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists. Although surgery is her special interest, she loves all aspects of General Practice, especially canine medicine. She lives with her family and two Ragdoll cats.