Importance of a Balanced and Varied Diet for Dogs
We have all heard the expression, “you are what you eat” (paraphrased from the original quote by Frenchman Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who said “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”) This simple idea holds true for both humans and dogs. Eating a lot of junk foods will result in poor nutrition, increased disease risk, and an overall reduction of energy levels.
Another great although perhaps not as well-known food related quote is “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This quote by Hippocrates, the so called father of western medicine, is over 2,000 years old and is as relevant (or more so) now as it was way back then. Food can and should be the first line of defense when it comes to the prevention or the treatment of disease – for humans and our dogs.
Is it somewhat ironic that the father of western medicine, an individual in some ways who is responsible for helping to launch the concept of the modern doctor as a specialized discipline, would consider food to be medicine? After all, it sure seems that a many of today’s doctors are very quick to pull out the prescription pad to prescribe a drug to treat whatever ails us. Same with many veterinarians, who, at least in my experience, are quick to suggest a drug treatment without considering diet as a cause or a solution to a health problem. In fact, Hippocrates might be rolling over in his grave at the rapidity and frequency at which prescription and over the counter drugs are used to treat common health problems of humans and our dogs.
Why Diet Matters
No matter how you look at it, the truth is that food and proper exercise are the two biggest things we can do to influence our health and the health of our dogs. Striving for a balanced and varied diet of natural ingredients can do wonders to not only help eliminate various health ailments, but can reduce the odds that they occur in the first place. Furthermore, proper diet (and exercise) can extend our lives. The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity reports that 1/3 of premature deaths in the US are due to poor diet and inactivity!
So before you reach for that bottle of NSAIDs or other medications(for yourself or your dog), consider that proper diet and some exercise might be the only thing you and your dog really need.
What’s Important in a Dog’s Diet
To really achieve a balanced and varied diet, we need to look at two primary issues: 1) how much our dog’s eat and 2) what our dog eats. The same holds true for humans as well.
How Much to Feed Your Dog. Feeding an appropriate amount of calories each day is essential to ensure that our dogs maintain a healthy weight and don’t succumb to the devastating weight related ailments that plague our pets. The landmark Purina study showed that lean dogs will live almost 2 years longer than fatter dogs. So don’t underestimate the importance of proper servings. Figuring out how much to feed our dog is not that hard – we wrote a fairly detailed post on this which you can read here. The amount of food your pet requires to maintain a healthy weight is mostly dependent on their desired weight and activity level. Smaller, less active dogs need less than larger more active dogs.
What to Feed Your Dog. The second important aspect of proper diet is the “what” you feed. Most healthy dogs need a species appropriate diet that is high in protein, moderate in fat, and moderate to low in carbs (together, the macronutrient profile.) A balanced and varied diet is also a key to long term heath. Just because your dog’s food is “complete and balanced” (according to the AAFCO standards) does not mean that it is perfect for them. Small nutritional “misses”, that can occur when serving a single food to a specific pet over a long period of time, can result in nutritional imbalances that can lead to disease. Consider changing your pet’s food every 3 months or so, which will minimize the chances of the pet developing adverse food reactions and also minimizing the chances for long term nutritional deficiencies. Make sure to review your dog’s food ingredients and macronutrient profile and when possible, avoid foods that contain unnatural ingredients, unspecified protein sources, and high carb foods.
Putting it All Together
Feeding your pet (or yourself) the right amount of the right types of foods will have a very positive impact on your pet’s overall health and well-being. I think it is appropriate for all pet owners to start to think of their pet food choices as a crucial part of their pet’s overall health care. Using food to prevent disease, by serving proper portions of high quality and varied foods, is a far superior way to keep disease at bay when compared to relying on drugs.
In upcoming posts, we will explore some of the ways that foods can “be thy medicine” and help to prevent disease or treat symptoms of common ailments.
We're joining the Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop sponsored by Sugar, the Golden Retriever and Kolchak from Kol's Notes: