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 fat-soluble 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), gamma-linolenic 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:
Thiamin (B1): 0.01 mg/lb
Riboflavin (B2): 0.05 mg/lb
Niacin (B3): 0.12 mg/lb
Pantothenic acid (B5): 0.1 mg/lb
B6: 0.01 mg/lb
Folic acid: 0.002 mg/lb
Biotin: 0.001 mg/lb
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.
• Phosphorus works with calcium to support strong bones and teeth. It also plays a role in DNA and RNA structure, energy metabolism, maintaining the acid-base balance, and skeletal structure. The amount of phosphorus for males and nonreproducing females is about 0.70 grams for a 33-pound adult eating 1,000 calories per day.
• Magnesium has a role in bones and teeth as well, but is also essential to the integrity of muscle and nerve cell membrane health, the secretion and function of hormones, and the functioning of enzymes.
• Potassium is important for the proper function of nerves, muscles, and enzymes, and in keeping the fluid in your dog’s body in balance. Potassium is found in many foods, so it’s unusual for dogs to have a deficiency of this mineral. However, dogs who experience chronic diarrhea and/or vomiting or who have kidney disease or other conditions that deplete the potassium from their body may have a potassium deficiency. Symptoms of potassium deficiency include nervous disorders, loss of appetite, poor growth, weakness, and cardiac arrest. Excessive amounts of potassium are seen in dogs who have Addison’s disease or hypoadrenocorticism, in which the adrenal glands fail to make enough of the hormone that regulates the amount of potassium in the blood.
• Sodium is necessary to help maintain proper fluid balance throughout the body, to transfer nutrients, and to facilitate the elimination of waste from cells. Generally, sodium and chloride work together and are considered a pair, because they combine to make up table salt. Sodium is available in nearly every food to some degree, and therefore a deficiency of sodium is extremely rare.
• Chloride performs a variety of functions for dogs, including the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which aids in digestion. Mostly chloride works with sodium to form table salt. A chloride deficiency is extremely rare because it is found in most foods, although dogs that experience severe diarrhea and/or chronic vomiting may have low levels of chloride.
• Iron is found in most meats, so an iron deficiency is uncommon unless you feed your dog a diet that consists mostly of vegetables and don’t provide an iron supplement. Red blood cells require iron to transport oxygen throughout the body.
• Copper is necessary in very small amounts in dogs, but it is still critical for proper formation of cells, normal hair pigmentation, and the development of connective tissue. This mineral is commonly found in meats, so dogs fed a vegetarian diet may experience a copper deficiency unless they are given a supplement that contains the mineral and/or they are given grains that are high in copper. The copper in supplements should be in the form of copper lysine or cuprous oxide.
• Iodine is an important mineral because it is a major component of the thyroid hormone, and so most of the iodine in your dog is in his thyroid. The role of iodine in dogs is to assist with growth in puppies and with metabolism in adult dogs. Iodine is added to commercial dog foods, and it should be in the form of potassium iodide or calcium iodate.
• Manganese has a critical role in nerve function and bone development, and it also is involved in the overall health of the gums, teeth, and digestive system. Your dog can get manganese in her poultry, cereal grains, and seafood. Manganese as a supplement should be in the form of manganese carbonate.
• Selenium in your dog is found mainly in her muscles. Among the most important functions of selenium are as an antioxidant to fight infections and to support the immune system. Selenium is typically added to dog foods, and as a supplement, look for sodium selenate decahydrate or sodium selenite.
• Zinc is good for your dog because it is necessary for metabolism of protein and to help wounds heal, among other functions. The best food sources of zinc include red meat, whole grains, and peas. Zinc provided in supplements should be in the form of zinc sulfate, zinc oxide, or zinc carbonate.
Zinc deficiencies are not common, but when they occur they affect the skin and fur. Certain dogs, including Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, may have a genetic inability to absorb enough zinc, which means these dogs may need a zinc supplement to prevent a zinc deficiency and associated skin problems. In addition, if you feed your dog a diet high in fiber and/or plant foods or high calcium, your dog may develop a zinc deficiency. The recommended daily minimum for puppies and adult dogs is 120 mg/kg of food consumed.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR DOGS
It’s been estimated that as many as one-third of dogs and cats in the United States are given vitamins or other supplements. Leading the list are multivitamins, supplements for arthritis, and fatty acids. There is also a growing trend to give dogs supplements such as antioxidants that can fight aging, as well as probiotics (beneficial bacteria) to help manage gastrointestinal symptoms.
Why Dogs Need Supplements
There are several reasons dogs need supplements. If you feed your dog commercial dog food that says it is “nutritionally complete,” your dog is getting all the essential nutrients she needs, right? More than likely, no. Even if you feed your dog a very high-quality commercial dog food, there is still a chance it is not providing everything your dog needs to stay healthy. The truth is, many people feed their dogs food that is of lower quality because it is less expensive and because they’ve been led to believe it contains all the right nutrients. And as you will learn in chapter 3, “What’s for Dinner? Good Food for Your Dog,” it is typically necessary to add one or more supplements to homemade dog food as well. After all, people take supplements, too, so why shouldn’t your dog?
Many veterinarians recommend vitamin supplements for puppies to make sure they receive everything they need during their critical growth and development stage. Puppies are especially susceptible to getting worms (see chapter 17, “Worms [Intestinal Parasites]”), and a worm infestation can take a nutritional toll on young dogs, so supplementation can even be lifesaving for some puppies.
Aging dogs are more likely than their younger peers to experience health problems that impact the immune system, making it less able to fight off free radicals and toxins that cause disease. Older dogs are also less able to absorb nutrients from their food, and some of them tend to eat less. Therefore supplementation with various nutrients can be especially beneficial for senior dogs.
Finally, supplements—whether they are vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes, or other natural substances—can be helpful in managing a wide range of health challenges that your dog can face. You’ll learn more about supplements used as home remedies in the chapters on dog conditions.
Do Supplements for Dogs Work?
Although there has been much research into the use of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements for people, the same can’t be said about supplements for dogs. However, some supplements often given to dogs, such as glucosamine and/or chondroitin (for arthritis; see chapter 5, “Atopic Dermatitis”), some antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids have received attention from the scientific community. Unfortunately, when it comes to a popular doggie supplement—multivitamins and/or multiminerals—studies of effectiveness and long-term safety are in short supply.
As with supplements for people, there is always the question of whether the product actually contains what is advertised on the label. The Food and Drug Administration oversees supplements for pets, but another organization, the National Animal Supplement Council, has the task of establishing labeling guidelines and testing supplements for pets to make sure they contain what they claim on their labels. This nonprofit trade organization is made up of companies “committed to providing health supplements and nutritional supplements of the highest quality for companion animals, primarily dogs, cats and horses,” according to their Web site.
You may ask, “Aren’t nutritional supplements for my dog the same as the ones I’d take for myself?” and the answer is no. (However, herbal remedies for people are often used for dogs; see the introductory section to part II, “Canine Conditions and Home Remedies”) Nutritional supplements for pets are typically formulated in ways that are specific for the animal, so it is best to use supplements that have been formulated for dogs. When they are not available, talk to your veterinarian about which human supplement is best.
How to Buy Dog Supplements
As your dog’s health advocate and a consumer, you also have a way to check on the ingredients in some pet supplements: ConsumerLab.com, an independent group that tests nutritional products and issues reports for the public. ConsumerLab.com has a Web site you can access for further information. Generally, however, here are some guidelines for choosing quality supplements for your dog.
• Look for products made by companies that have commissioned clinical studies of their supplements. One way to discover if such studies exist is to visit the company’s Web site and look for articles and research on their Web pages. Another way is to search PubMed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/) and type in the search box the name of the supplement and/or the company to discover if any studies have been published.
• Be familiar with the ingredients you want for your dog. For example, there are many types of calcium; which one is the best for your dog? (Hint: Check out the section on “Calcium.”)
• If a supplement says it will prevent disease, steer clear. Such promises are too good to be true
• Select well-respected supplement makers. These can include those offered by your veterinarian as well as others that have gotten good reports by ConsumerLab.com.
• Look for products that list a lot number (which indicates the company has quality control standards) and contact information. Call the company and ask about their product, including whether any studies have been done on the product and are available. Look at their Web site.
• Look on the label for certification from an independent organization that has verified the contents of the supplement.
Some dog foods, especially those formulated as therapeutic or prescription canine foods, contain specific supplements for particular conditions. For example, there are dog foods that contain glucosamine and chondroitin for dogs who are suffering with symptoms of osteoarthritis. Others may contain the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) to help with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (see chapter 6, “Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome [Doggie Dementia]”).
Here are some common nutritional supplements pet parents buy for their dogs to supplement their dogs’ food. These supplements may be used as ingredients in homemade dog recipes or given as supplements at other times either in food or alone. Several of these supplements also can be used to manage certain health conditions, and in those cases they are discussed in their appropriate individual chapters.
A multivitamin/mineral supplement may be recommended if you are making homemade dog food (many recipes include this supplement as an ingredient) and especially if you are feeding your dog commercial dog foods. If you are feeding your dog a high-quality dog food that has extra vitamins and minerals or a food that has been prescribed by your veterinarian, check with your vet before giving your dog a multivitamin/mineral supplement.
A good-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement should contain at least the essential vitamins, including vitamin A, D, E, and the B-complex vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B5, B6, folic acid, biotin, B12). All the nutrients should be in ratios and amounts that will support your dog’s health.
The individual ingredients also should come from natural, quality sources. If the sources are not revealed on the label, you may want to contact the company by phone or e-mail, or check their Web site to get the information. Examples of quality sources include cod liver oil, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, and liver.
Follow the dosing instructions on the supplement bottle, which typically are given according to your dog’s weight. For example, the instructions may ask you to give your dog ½ tablet per 10 pounds of body weight, or one tablet per 25 pounds of body weight.
According to Claudia Kirk, DVM, PhD, DACVN, DACVIM, a professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, “Calcium is probably the most common deficiency in a homemade diet that isn’t professionally balanced.” “Professionally balanced” means you have consulted with your veterinarian or canine nutritionist to be sure your homemade doggie recipes are providing all the nutrition your dog needs.
Dogs who don’t get enough calcium are at risk of developing nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, a condition characterized by abnormal bone growth, soft bones, and even fractures in severe cases. The risk of such bone damage is especially critical in young dogs who eat an unbalanced homemade diet. However, if you improve the diet, you can avoid or correct the problem, so talk to your vet.
Commercial dog food makers add powdered bonemeal or calcium carbonate to their products to help make sure dogs get enough of this critical nutrient. Dogs who regularly eat raw bones likely get enough calcium. And if you choose, you can give your dog raw bones on a regular basis to up her calcium intake.
But the meat and fish in homemade dog food, while great sources of protein, are also high in phosphorus, which inhibits the absorption of the calcium in the total diet when the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is not optimal, which is about 1.2:1. The amount of calcium added to commercial dog food is 1 percent to 1.2 percent on a dry-matter basis, and you can achieve a similar amount using 750 mg of calcium carbonate tablets (crushed) per 10 to 15 pounds of your dog’s body weight per day. Calcium citrate and bone meal are other options.
If you decide to use calcium supplements, choose those that do not contain vitamin D, because chances are your dog is already getting enough of this vitamin, and supplementing with the vitamin may be toxic, as too much vitamin D can cause bone and muscle damage.
MAKE YOUR OWN CALCIUM SUPPLEMENT
Don’t throw away those eggshells! Finely ground eggshells can be used as a calcium supplement.
• Rinse eggshells and dry them on a flat baking sheet, either in a low oven for 1–2 hours or in direct sunlight.
• Grind the eggshells in a clean blender, food processor, or coffee grinder.
• Sift through a very fine sieve and regrind any pieces left behind.
• One-half teaspoon of finely ground eggshells provides approximately 1,000 mg of elemental calcium.
The B family of vitamins are typically found in a multivitamin supplement and include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), vitamin B6, folic acid, biotin, and vitamin B12. However, if your veterinarian has suggested giving your dog a B-complex supplement, the typical dose for dogs is as follows, twice daily: small dogs, regular potency; medium dogs, high potency; and large dogs, high-potency stress formula.
If you give your dog a multivitamin/mineral supplement, then vitamin D is likely already in the product. Whether the vitamin D is in the multivitamin supplement or you are giving your dog extra vitamin D in a separate supplement, you want to make sure it’s the right kind. Although people can transform calciferol (D2) into active vitamin D3, dogs cannot. When choosing a vitamin D supplement for your dog, look for ones that contain cholecalciferol (D3) and not calciferol (D2). The minimum recommended dose of vitamin D is 5 IU per pound of body weight or 225 IU per pound of food fed.
Omega-3 Fatty Acid/Fish Oil Supplements
An omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil supplement (omega-3 fatty acids are mainly found in fish oil) is recommended for dogs regardless of whether they are eating a commercial dog food diet or one that is homemade. That’s because omega-3 fatty acids are known as essential fatty acids, which means the body cannot manufacture them and so they must be obtained from the diet.
The two main omega-3 fatty acids that can benefit your dog are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and both are found in cold-water fish such as tuna, herring, salmon, and mackerel. EPA and DHA work together to reduce inflammation, maintain brain health, and various other health-related benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements for dogs are available as regular fish oil, salmon oil, or cod liver oil supplements. It is best to use fish oil or salmon oil supplements, because cod liver oil supplements are typically high in vitamins A and D, which often are not necessary to provide as a supplement and can be toxic at high amounts.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also available in flaxseed oil, but the omega-3 in this form is called ALA, which dogs must first convert to EPA before the body can use it. Since only about 15 percent of ALA is converted to EPA, the best way for your dog to get her omega-3s is from fish oil.
The suggested dose of fish oil for dogs is 1,000 mg (containing a combination of 300 mg of EPA and DHA) per 30 pounds of body weight. Another way to figure dosage is to supplement around 1.75 grams of EPA per kilogram of food and 2.2 grams of DHA per kilogram of food. As an alternative, you can give your dog sardines instead of fish oil supplement: One small sardine provides 100 mg EPA/DHA. Amounts of omega-3 fatty acids given for specific health conditions differ from these maintenance levels and are explained in their appropriate chapters.
Fish oil is available as a liquid and in capsules: Pierce the end of a capsule with a pin and squeeze out the oil into your dog’s food. If you give your dog an omega-3 supplement, you should also add a vitamin E supplement as a complement. A recommended dosage is 1 to 2 IUs per pound of body weight per day.
HOW MUCH FOOD DOES MY DOG NEED?
A common question from dog parents is: How much food should I give to my dog? You can follow the guidelines on the bag of kibble you just bought, but if the nutritional value of that food is questionable—and it could well be—then you can use another gauge to help determine how much food your dog needs. Besides, the recommendations by a dog food manufacturer are questionable, because it does not know your dog. How much food your dog needs depends on your dog’s age, breed, metabolism, activity level, environmental conditions, and whether she is overweight, underweight, pregnant, or trying to maintain weight. Dog food makers may overstate or understate how much food to feed dogs depending on whether they want to sell more dog food or try to make their products look like a better deal than their competitors.
In addition, if you decide to try homemade foods—and we hope you do—then some general guidelines for how much to feed your dog can be helpful.
The guidelines are presented using two different calculation methods, weight of food and calories, so you can choose the one that works best for you. Keep in mind that the amount of food/calories your dog needs is highly individual and depends on her activity level, her stage of life, her age, her environment, and even her breed. If you keep a close eye on your dog’s weight, energy level, and health, you can better gauge how much food she needs.
For most dogs, the amount of food they receive each day should equal 2 percent to 3 percent of the dog’s total body weight. Growing puppies need more, and elderly or very inactive dogs require less. To calculate how much food you should feed your dog using this method, follow this example:
• A 35-pound dog × 16 ounces = 560 ounces, which is the dog’s total body weight in ounces
• 560 ounces × 0.02 (2 percent) = 11.2 ounces, which is the total daily minimum weight of food to feed to your dog
• 560 ounces × 0.03 (3 percent) = 16.8 oz, or the total daily maximum weight of food to feed to your dog
• This translates into about ¾ to 1 pound of food daily.
On average, dogs need about 25 calories per pound of body weight per day to maintain health. Keep in mind this is the average only, and there is a range from 15 to 40 calories per day.
For example, dogs who weigh less than 20 pounds usually need 40 calories per pound per day. So if your long-haired dachshund, Limo, weighs 15 pounds, then he needs 600 calories per day.
For dogs at the other end of the scale, those who weigh more than 100 pounds, the number of calories needed per day is about 15 per pound. Therefore, if Tiny the bullmastiff weighs in at 125 pounds, he needs about 1,875 calories per day.
Copyright © 2013 by Lynn Sonberg Book Associates