Types of Dog Food

Dogs are carnivores. Their digestive system, from the mouth through their intestines, is designed to cope with a meat diet. The dog's teeth are adapted to tear food into swallowable-sized chunks rather than to grind the food, and their stomachs can digest food in this state.


Dogs have probably evolved from animals that lived on a diet of other animals. However, as with the fox in modern times, meat was not always available to them, and the dog is able also to digest and survive on a diet that is mostly vegetable; but a complete absence of meat is likely to lead to nutritional deficiencies.


Foods, whether for dogs or humans, have to supply energy, from which, as well as being the means of movement, the animal's body derives heat, materials for growth and repair, and substances that support these activities. For dogs, this involves a satisfactory mixture of the major nutrients - carbohydrates, fats and proteins - in proportions similar to those required for a healthy human diet; they must also have a sufficient intake of the minor nutrients - vitamins and minerals - in proportions that do differ significantly from the needs of humans.


Dog foods may be divided into several broad categories. For many years the so-called moist diets held the major part of the market. They are the tinned foods seen on every supermarket shelf.


Over the past few years other types of dog food have infiltrated the market. Complete dry feeds are becoming increasingly popular. They need minimal preparation - if so desired, they can simply be poured into a dog bowl and given to the dog. Only very slightly more demanding is to pour hot water on to moisten the feed.


Semi-moist diets are not intended to provide a balanced diet on their own. They hold a small but significant place in the market, largely, in all probability, because they involve some degree of preparation before feeding. It is still fairly minimal, involving the addition of carbohydrate supplements as a mixer, often some form of biscuit, to balance the nutritional quality of the food. This is a psychologically important exercise for the owner, who likes to think that he or she is doing something for the dog, as previous generations did when they mixed a bowl of table scraps with some meat and gravy. The one thing to remember is that too much mixing of modern foods can result in nutritional problems. What too often happens is that the concerned owner adds, not just a carbohydrate mixer, but high-protein feed as well, resulting in a diet that is unbalanced, with too much protein. There is usually no harm; animals, like man, can deal with an astonishing variety of diet, but too high levels of protein can occasionally exacerbate an existing metabolic problem. There is an old adage: "When all else fails, follow the instructions." It is worth bearing in mind when feeding your dog.


One feature of all modern compound dog foods is that they will contain adequate minor nutrients, which did not always happen in the meat and biscuit days. The outcome is that there is rarely any need for the proprietary feed supplements that are still widely advertised. Calcium, for instance, may have been lacking in some traditional diets, and a bonemeal supplement often used to be recommended. Such a supplement may today do harm in certain circumstances, such as pregnancy in the bitch.


Special diets are a development of the last ten or fifteen years. They are of two types: those that target healthy dos with special requirements - puppies, for instance, with special growth needs, especially active dogs, and older dogs - and those designed as supportive diets for various illnesses. There are kidney diets, for instance, which control the amount and type of protein the dog is given. These latter special diets are dispensed strictly under the control of a veterinarian, many of whom are now trained specifically in the use of such diets.

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