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The Complete Book of Home Remedies for Your Dog
By Deborah Mitchell
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Lynn Sonberg Book Associates
All rights reserved.
Basic Nutrition: What Your Dog Needs
Providing a safe, nutritionally complete diet is the most important thing you can do for your dog's health. Sound nutrition is the foundation of your dog's well-being. Before you fill up her bowl, whether it's with kibble, canned food, or homemade dog food, it's your responsibility to know which nutrients she needs for optimal health and how much protein, fat, carbohydrates, and different vitamins and minerals are necessary to safeguard her from illness and disease and keep her happy and functioning at the top of her game.
That's the goal of this chapter: helping you learn what your dog needs in her bowl.
YOU, YOUR DOG, AND DINNER
Dogs have lived alongside humans for at least fifteen thousand years (and some experts say twice as long), and over those millennia, the more domesticated dogs became, the more the food they ate resembled that of their two-legged companions. Although our early ancestors ate meat, at least half of their diet was grains, fruits, vegetables, and seeds. The same is generally true today.
Like humans, dogs need a variety of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins), vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and they can come from a wide assortment of foods — not just from a bag of kibble, from which there's a good chance your dog is not getting the nutrients she needs.
Before I talk about the foods your dog can enjoy in her diet for optimal health, energy, and quality of life, let's look at the specific nutrients that are important for your dog's health.
NUTRIENTS EVERY DOG NEEDS
When you want to know how much vitamin C you should get each day or what the recommended amount of protein is for you or your child, you can turn to the guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You can also look at the nutritional information available on every package of food you buy. But where do you turn when you want to know about your dog's nutritional requirements? Who is the authority?
The National Academy of Sciences has set standards for specific nutritional requirements for dogs. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food, requiring that it be "safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled." Standards for dog food manufacturers have been established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and its Canine Nutrition Expert Subcommittee. Because the area of commercial dog food is a large and complex one, a fuller discussion of this topic is found in chapter 2.
As you may already know from your knowledge of human nutrition, experts have identified the recommended daily allowances for different nutrients based on the minimum amounts necessary to maintain good health, and this same concept applies to dogs as well. However, each dog is unique, and so your dog's nutritional requirements will depend on his age, size, breed, presence of any health problems, amount of exercise he gets, whether he is taking medications, and other factors.
That said, you need a nutritional foundation to help you identify which nutrients your dog needs. That's what is discussed below, along with explanations of what how each of the nutrients can help support and maintain your dog's health.
Dogs need protein, whether that protein is in the form of animal-based foods, plant-based foods, or both. (Yes, dogs can thrive on a well-planned vegetarian diet. More on that later.) Protein is critical for your dog's growth and development, as well as to make sure the immune system functions optimally. Your dog's body burns protein as calories and also converts it to and stores it as fat.
Of the twenty-two amino acids that make up protein and that dogs need, your four-legged companion can make twelve of them. The remaining ten are called essential proteins because it is essential to get them from the diet. They include arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. If your dog does not get enough of any of these essential amino acids, he can become ill. High-quality proteins contain a healthy balance of all ten of the essential amino acids dogs need.
Some sources of protein are better than others, and that's because each one contains different amounts and different kinds of amino acids, plus each protein source differs in how well the body can break it down into amino acids. The ability of the body to use protein and its amino acids is the biological value. At the top of the list of biological value is the egg, with a value of 100. Milk and fish have a value of 92, while beef is around 78 and soybean meal is 67, meat and bone meal and wheat are about 50, and corn is 45. (Note: Corn and corn products are common ingredients in commercial dog food.) Animal parts such as feathers and hair are also used as protein sources, but they are even lower on the biological value scale.
How much protein does your dog need? Although every dog is different, the general consensus is that puppies need more protein (28 percent of calorie intake) than do adult dogs (18 percent), while nursing dogs need the same as puppies. Experts note that dogs are well equipped to digest and utilize diets that contain higher amounts of protein, although there's no agreement on exactly how much protein is considered to be "too much." If you feed your dog a balanced diet (as discussed in chapter 3, "What's for Dinner: Good Food for Your Dog"), then giving him too much protein should not be a concern.
If you were to give Sparky excessive amounts of protein, his body would use some as calories, convert some into fat, and eliminate some in his urine. If Sparky has any kidney problems, a high-protein diet would not be recommended because it would place too much stress on the kidneys. It is a myth that a high-protein diet will cause kidney disease in dogs. However, your veterinarian may recommend you limit Sparky's protein intake if he had a severe kidney problem (see chapter 12, "Kidney Problems").
Carbohydrates are an important energy source for your dog, and they come in the form of starches, cellulose (fiber, which is discussed below), and sugars, and the food sources are primarily vegetables and grains. In commercial dog foods, starchy carbohydrates add form and texture to dry foods, which could not exist without carbohydrates. Canned dog foods can be made without the addition of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates consist of absorbable carbs, which include glucose and fructose. They are absorbed directly by your dog and don't need to be broken down (metabolized) by enzymes. Digestible carbohydrates are easily metabolized by enzymes, and these carbs include starches and dietary fibers that pass through the small intestine into the colon, where they are fermented by organisms into short-chain fatty acids and gases.
Fiber is found in carbohydrates and is available in two forms, although all sources of fiber contain some of each form in varying percentages:
Insoluble, which means it does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber gives plants their structure, and it is especially helpful in helping move food through the intestinal tract. Foods that contain a high percentage of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, root vegetable skins, whole grains, brown rice, and carrots.
Soluble, which means it does dissolve in water. Good sources of soluble fiber include barley, beans, fruits, oats, peas, and vegetables.
Experts have not determined exactly how much fiber dogs need, but a reasonable range for adult dogs appears to be 2.5 to 4.5 percent of their daily dietary intake. Scientists do know, however, that a dog's digestive tract is short, which means it is designed more for a carnivorous diet, which typically does not contain lots of fiber/carbohydrates. That said, there are some situations in which feeding your dog some additional fiber is beneficial. For example, dogs who have diabetes (see chapter 8, "Diabetes") can benefit from extra fiber in their diet to help manage blood sugar levels. If your dog is overweight, some additional healthy fiber in her diet can help her feel full without adding pounds (see chapter 13, "Obesity").
Your dog needs fats in her diet because they provide the most concentrated source of energy from her food. Dogs are able to process and utilize many common fats and oils, including those found naturally in meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, and grains, as well as those added to commercial dog foods, such as poultry fat, cottonseed oil, and tallow. However, not all of these fats are considered to be healthy.
How much fat does your dog need? That depends on factors such as her size, age, level of activity, and breed, but generally puppies need a minimum of 8 percent and a maximum of 17 percent of their total daily calories as fat. Adult dogs who are not doing vigorous exercise (for example, as a sled dog would) need 5 to 15 percent of their daily calories as fat in their diet.
In addition to acting as a fuel source, fats perform other important roles for your dog. For example, they carry fatsoluble vitamins A, D, E, and K throughout the body, make your dog's food taste good and have a desirable texture, and help keep her coat shiny and healthy. The essential fatty acids (such as omega-3 and omega-6) are called essential because they must come from the diet, as your dog cannot make them herself. The essential fatty acids are important for cell structure and function, boosting the immune system, clotting blood after an injury, and keeping your dog's skin and fur healthy.
Among the essential fatty acids, your dog needs omega-3 and omega-6 in his diet. The omega-3s include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaeonic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The omega-6 fatty acids include linoleic acid (LA), gammalinolenic acid (GLA), dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA), and arachidonic acid (AA).
The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids your dog needs is between 10:1 and 5:1. Essential fatty acids can be found primarily in cold-water fish, fish oils, vegetables oils (e.g., sunflower and safflower), and some plants. Commercial dog foods typically contain much more omega-6 than omega-3. If you make your own dog food, you may need to add omega-3s as a supplement, depending on the recipes you use.
Too much fat in the diet, however, can result in an overweight dog. Many commercial dog foods contain more fat than recommended and are of poor quality. When dog foods are stored in high heat and humidity, as they often are when being transported or warehoused, the fats in the food can become rancid and the fatty acids can break down. Rancid fats can destroy vitamins A and E and linoleic acid, which can cause a deficiency in these important nutrients.
Dogs need many of the same vitamins you do. Here's what you need to know about vitamins for your dog:
Vitamin A. This vitamin is found in the yellow pigment of plants. Unlike cats, dogs have the ability to make their own vitamin A from carotene, which is found in vegetables, so veggies high in carotene (e.g., carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash) should be a part of your dog's diet.
Vitamin A is a critical nutrient for the proper growth and development of puppies, but the need for vitamin A doesn't stop there, as it is also essential throughout a dog's life for healthy skin and fur, night vision, and strong muscles. As an antioxidant, vitamin A may help protect against cancer in dogs.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient, which means the fat cells hold on to it and stores it so your dog doesn't need to get the vitamin in every meal. The recommended minimum dose of vitamin A for dogs is about 2,225 IU per pound of food eaten daily or 50 IU/lb of body weight. Although excessive amounts of vitamin A can cause abnormal bones and muscle weakness, you would have to give your dog extremely high doses of vitamin A for a long time before these complications occurred.
Vitamin B complex. The B family of vitamins is found in meat and vegetables and is important for growth and for nerve support, function, and regeneration. Dogs who are deficient in B vitamins can experience reflex problems, diarrhea, hair loss, eye problems, heart failure, and loss of appetite.
Because the B vitamins work synergistically, they should be taken as a complex if you use a supplement, unless your veterinarian instructs you otherwise. Typically, a multivitamin/ mineral supplement for dogs contains the B vitamins. (See "Supplements for Dogs".) The B vitamins are water soluble, so your dog will eliminate any excess B vitamins in her urine.
The minimum requirement for each of the B vitamins is as follows:
[check] Thiamin (B1): 0.01 mg/lb
[check] Riboflavin (B2): 0.05 mg/lb
[check] Niacin (B3): 0.12 mg/lb
[check] Pantothenic acid (B5): 0.1 mg/lb
[check] B6: 0.01 mg/lb
[check] Folic acid: 0.002 mg/lb
[check] Biotin: 0.001 mg/lb
[check] B12: 0.00025 mg/lb
Vitamin C. Under normal conditions, dogs can produce their own vitamin C, so there is no recommended daily dose. However, dogs who are under stress (e.g., as a result of pregnancy, being in a kennel, illness, or emotional trauma such as separation anxiety) may need additional vitamin C to make up for what their body cannot produce. Since vitamin C is water soluble, your dog will eliminate any excess vitamin C in her pee if you give her too much, so don't worry about a vitamin C overdose (although diarrhea may occur).
Vitamin D. Like humans, dogs produce their own vitamin D from the sun, but they also get it from their diet in foods such as liver and fish oils. Vitamin D is essential for dogs to help the body retain calcium for strong bones and teeth, and it also plays a critical role in muscle and nerve control. Veterinarians often recommend puppies be given a vitamin D supplement to support their growth and development. If your dog is on a vegetarian diet, you should give him a vitamin D supplement. The minimum recommended amount of vitamin D dogs need is approximately 225 IU per pound of food consumed, or 3.4 micrograms daily for an adult dog weighing 33 pounds and eating 1,000 calories.
Vitamin E. This vitamin has an important role in the formation of cell membranes and in cell respiration. It is also a potent antioxidant that can help prevent the development of muscle disorders and cataracts. Dogs who get enough vitamin E usually have a glossy coat and healthy skin, but if there's a deficiency, problems with the fur and skin are among the first indicators. The recommended minimum daily intake of vitamin E is 2 to 20 IU.
Vitamin K. Dogs make their own vitamin K, so there is no recommended daily dose. Normal blood function is synonymous with vitamin K: Without sufficient vitamin K, the blood does not clot properly. The main sources of vitamin K are egg yolk and green, leafy vegetables. Dogs rarely experience a vitamin K deficiency.
A total of twelve minerals are essential for dogs, according to the AAFCO. They include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, iron, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, and zinc. Your dog's diet should provide all of these essential minerals in the right amounts and proper ratios, although it's not necessary that every meal meet these requirements. (A list of the minimum amounts of minerals required by the AAFCO in commercial dog food is provided in chapter 2, "Is Dog Food Fit for Your Dog?" where commercial dog food is discussed.) It's possible for dogs to get too much as well as too little of any number of minerals in their diet, so it's important to know what the recommended daily amounts should be. However, if you feed your dog a balanced diet using quality ingredients, you should not encounter any problems with minerals.
Calcium is critical for strong bones and teeth, nerve impulse transmission, muscle contractions, and blood coagulation. Calcium deficiency can cause a condition called secondary hyperparathyroidism, which can occur in dogs whose diet consists primarily of meat. Signs include bone loss, bone abnormalities, and fractures. Too much calcium also can cause skeletal problems, especially in developing large-breed puppies. The calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is an important relationship to know when it comes to feeding your dog. For adult dogs, the ratio is about 1.2 parts of calcium for each 1 part of phosphorus (1.2:1), while the ratio is closer to 1:1 for puppies.
Calcium can be challenging to provide for your dog because it is not always easily digested and all dogs don't absorb it well. That's why it's common to see calcium as a supplement in homemade dog food recipes and why it is recommended for dogs who eat commercial dog foods. The amount of calcium for males and nonreproducing females is about 0.75 grams for a 33-pound adult eating 1,000 calories per day.
Excerpted from The Complete Book of Home Remedies for Your Dog by Deborah Mitchell. Copyright © 2013 Lynn Sonberg Book Associates. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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