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Posted on 02-09-2017

Answers from an Expert: Four Commonly Searched Questions

About Dogs & What They Eat

Feeding your dog is one of the most basic principles of being a dog owner, but there are so many factors to consider.  To make things easier on pet parents everywhere, I’m sharing my expert answers to four of the most commonly searched questions about dogs and what they eat.

What is the best dog food?

One of the most common questions veterinarians are asked is, “What is the best dog food?”  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question over the past 30+ years, I could probably retire (not that I would ever even consider that, of course).  And, the funny thing is, there is NO right answer.

There are many factors to be considered when deciding what to feed your dog, but here are a few that I feel are important:

  • Food quality and taste: You want a food that will give your dog a nice, shiny coat, energy and healthy digestion.
  • Cost, storage and convenience: Will you primarily purchase the food at a pet store or at the supermarket?
  • Nutritional needs based on your dog’s health status or life stage: Does your dog have allergies? Has your veterinarian recommended any sort of prescriptive diet? Dogs also have different nutritional needs depending on their breed size.

As far as quality, to start, make sure the food meets, or exceeds, the standards set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).  All name brand foods should have the AAFCO certification.  From there, look at the ingredient panel on foods you’re considering and keep an eye out for real proteins, beet pulp and other natural fiber sources for digestion and antioxidants for immunity.

One of the brands I often recommend is IAMS (my dogs eat this as well, and love it) because it’s made with high-quality protein from real chicken and egg, whereas other brands may use a lower quality protein like soy. It’s also a “premium” brand, but it is available at the supermarket and online, which makes it very convenient.

One last thing — when switching food make sure to do it gradually over time to avoid intestinal problems.  If you choose to go with IAMS or another high quality food, then you should see visible differences in your dog – energy, coat quality, digestion health – after you’ve switched.

How much should I feed my dog?

There are many considerations here.  Most dog foods have feeding recommendations on the bag, which provide a good starting point for knowing how much to feed your dog. However, a dog’s caloric needs are based on age, development, health and lifestyle, and every dog has a “resting energy requirement,” (RER) which is basically the amount of calories their bodies require to just maintain bodily functions. You should consult your dog’s veterinarian, as he/she can best advise you on the proper RER for your pet.

By feeding your dog the correct amount of food based on their needs, you’ll help provide them with the nutrition they need to look, feel, and play young throughout life! To that end, another reason that I often recommend IAMS dog food to my patients is because it’s made with premium ingredients that aid in healthy activity, including fats from farm-raised chickens and beef to help provide long-term energy and wholesome grains for healthy short-term energy.

Why does my dog eat poop and grass?

Here it is — the $64,000 question.  The answer?  Who knows??  Over the years I’ve heard countless reasons, yet all conjecture. Nothing has ever been scientifically proven.  All pretty much agree that it is not because of some nutritional deficiency — we think it’s more behavioral. Here are a few common theories: 

  • With puppies, we think they look at stool as something to play with, so we encourage owners to clean up after their puppies and to give them enough real toys to play with instead.
  • Females seem to eat their own stools, I believe that’s because in the wild, a female dog and her pups were at risk because of predators, so the mother would clean up after herself and pups to remove any scent that would attract a predator.
  • Males, on the other hand, continually wanted to “claim” their territory, and would therefore remove the scent of other animals by eating the other animals’ stool, and leave their own behind.
  • Another reason could be that if dogs have been reprimanded in the past for defecating where they aren’t supposed to, they may be eating it to remove the evidence.

What should I do if my dog eats something harmful?

There are two phone numbers you should always have readily available — your veterinarian’s and a Pet Poison Hotline.  There are many items that are even more harmful than most even know about (like the artificial sweetener Xylitol found in many sugarless peanut butters, mints and gums), and others where the dangers are purely dose dependent (like chocolate, certain nuts, raw onions and garlic, avocados and many flowers, such as poinsettias).

When calling your veterinarian or a poison control hotline, have the packaging with you, know the weight of your dog and about how much of the item was ingested.  This will help them determine what treatment might be necessary.

The ASPCA and Pet Poison Helpline websites have great tips on foods, plants and other items that can be harmful to your pets, as well as tips on what to do if your pet does get into something they shouldn’t.

Jeff Werber, D.V.M.

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