Intelligent Choice of the Right Pet Dog (A Case Study)
THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF NUTRITIOUS FOOD IS ESSENTIAL TO EVERY DOG’S health. Food provides the fuel to grow, maintain a healthy body, fight infection, and reproduce. Plenty of fresh water is equally important.
The right food contains balanced proportions of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. High-quality dog foods offered by reputable companies can meet these needs, or a diet can be prepared at home, with help from a veterinarian. The correct proportion of each key ingredient and the amount to be fed depends on the individual. Is the dog young or old? Thin or fat? Active or sedentary? Does the dog spend most of its time indoors or outdoors, in a hot climate or a cold one? Is the dog a working dog? A pregnant bitch? Each of these cases presents its own nutritional needs.
Every dog in the household should have a separate food dish and access to fresh, clean water. The dishes and the utensils used to prepare food should be kept clean at all times. For best results, a regular feeding schedule should be maintained.
Puppies need more calories and essential nutrients than do adult dogs. Food quality is as important as quantity, especially just after weaning—usually at five to seven weeks old. Eggs, milk, meat, and cottage cheese are appropriate puppy foods because they are palatable, digestible, and contain plenty of high-quality protein. Foods with a very high fiber content are less desirable during the period of rapid growth. If a commercial dog food is offered, it should be formulated for puppies, or an adult food can be supplemented with the high-protein foods just mentioned. Be careful to consult your veterinarian on this issue to ensure the diet remains balanced.
Most young puppies are fed three times a day, although some breeders prefer four times daily for the first month and three thereafter. When a puppy reaches four to six months of age, two meals a day will be enough.
Perfectly healthy dogs occasionally skip a meal or eat less than normal. Unless the dog is showing signs of illness or its appetite doesn’t pick up again soon, there is no cause for alarm. Be careful to avoid overfeeding young dogs because it can lead to a variety of medical problems. A puppy should be weighed weekly, and the growth rate should be compared with published charts for that breed. An average growth rate is preferable to a maximum one. Exercise is also important at this time. Small breeds often approach maturity at seven to ten months, at which time their total nutrient requirements gradually decrease. Larger dogs mature at a slower pace.
Always remember to provide fresh drinking water, even if your dog’s food seems very wet. Between-meal snacks should be avoided, except for occasional treats used as rewards for good behavior.
The following chart is a general guide to the caloric requirements for an average adult dog. Your dog may need more or less food, depending on size, activity level, temperament, and metabolism. For example, a dog that works hard or spends a lot of time outside in a cold climate requires more energy from food than one that is basically sedentary or spends most of the time in a temperature-controlled apartment.
(Caloric requirements for an adult maintenance diet. These are recommended daily food intakes of average adult dogs. Individuals may require one-quarter more or less than these averages.)
There are three types of commercial dog foods: dry, semimoist, and canned. Assuming they are manufactured by reputable companies, all contain adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, protein, minerals, and vitamins. The selection of any diet, therefore, should depend on the nature of the dog, the performance desired by its owner, and the overall care of the dog. The adequacy of a particular diet may be judged by observing the dog. First, are the dog’s stools very watery? Are they foamy, pale, or colored like the food? These indicate poor digestion. On the other hand, stools that are small, dark, and dense suggest good digestion. Next, look at the dog’s coat. The proper diet helps it stay pliant, glossy, and clean-looking. Physical fitness is another important assessment, especially when deciding how much to feed. Reach over and run your hands along the dog’s sides. If your dog is overweight (not an uncommon occurrence), you will not be able to feel the ribs.
PREGNANT AND LACTATING BITCHES
A bitch should be in prime condition before she is bred. Pregnancy is not the right time to start rebuilding depleted body reserves, which may result in whelping complications. Any bitch that is part of a breeding program should be fed a complete, balanced diet slightly above her usual maintenance intake.
After the breeding has taken place, return to her usual amount and type of food. A bitch in good condition should continue into pregnancy with the same caloric intake that she had during adult maintenance. Her food intake should be increased only as her body weight increases, beginning about the last five weeks before whelping. Daily food intake should be increased gradually, so that at the time of whelping she may be eating 35 to 50 percent more than usual.
If you have been feeding your bitch a well-balanced, high-quality diet, you should not need to add anything during her pregnancy. However, some breeders advocate supplementation with a protein source such as evaporated milk, eggs, meat, or liver. These supplements should never represent more than 10 percent of the bitch’s daily food intake. As her weight and food intake increase, begin offering small, frequent meals to spare her the discomfort that larger meals can cause, especially in a small dog.
Some bitches eat very little for the first day or two after whelping. Then their appetite and need for all nutrients rises sharply and peaks in about three weeks. During this entire period, adequate calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D must be fed to avoid the onset of eclampsia. Optimal amounts of these nutrients are already present in a high-quality diet, so further supplementation should be unnecessary. Eclampsia causes nervousness, whimpering, unsteady gait, and spasms. Although very serious, it is readily cured by prompt veterinary treatment.
After whelping, the bitch ideally should be about the same weight as when she was bred, but not more than 5 to 10 percent heavier. For three weeks after whelping she will need two or three times more food than her normal maintenance diet, to help her provide nourishing milk to her puppies. This food should be divided into three or four meals. The composition of the food should be the same as it was during the last third of her pregnancy; only the amount per day should change.
Nursing puppies should be allowed to eat a little of their mother’s food, as long as it has been well soaked or moistened, soon after they have normal sight and locomotion. As weaning progresses, begin limiting the bitch’s food intake so that she will have fewer problems at time of complete weaning. On the first day of complete weaning do not offer the bitch any food at all, although plenty of water should always be available. On the second day, feed one-fourth of her normal maintenance diet; on the third day one-half; on the fourth day three-quarters, and then return completely to the diet she was fed before breeding. This will help decrease milk production and help prevent mammary gland problems.
Finally, even if you have followed the recommended feeding practices during pregnancy and lactation, the body reserves of many bitches become depleted during lactation. Therefore, carefully observe the bitch and be sure she is fed a high-quality diet, one that is easily digested and contains essential nutrients, until she has reached the same body condition and nutritional status that she enjoyed before breeding.
HAND FEEDING NEWBORN PUPPIES
Newborn puppies must be hand fed if their mother is either unable or unwilling to nurse them. Cow’s milk is a poor substitute for bitch’s milk, which is more concentrated and has twice the level of protein, almost double the calories, and more than twice the calcium and phosphorus content. For feeding puppies, a commercial puppy formula is recommended; carefully follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for feeding.
On the average, the following guidelines will help you decide how many calories a newborn puppy requires each day. A puppy may require one-quarter more or less than these guidelines, depending upon its individual needs.
As an example, let’s consider an average-sized, seven-day-old, ten-ounce puppy. This pup would need sixty calories times two-thirds of a pound, which is forty calories a day. If the commercial puppy formula supplies thirty calories per ounce, the puppy would need approximately one and a half ounces of formula per day. Remember that puppies grow very rapidly, so make sure you weigh them every day before you calculate how much to feed them.
You may need to start with slightly less formula at each feeding and gradually increase the amount as the puppy responds favorably to hand feeding. Steady weight gain and well-formed feces are the best evidence of satisfactory progress. If diarrhea develops, immediately reduce the puppy’s intake to half the amount previously fed, then gradually increase it again to the recommended level. Diarrhea in newborns can be very dangerous, so consult a veterinarian for advice.
Never prepare more formula than is required for any one day—milk is a natural breeding ground for bacteria. Furthermore, maintain clean and sanitary conditions at all times. Divide the formula into the correct portions for each feeding and keep it refrigerated. Before feeding, warm the formula to about a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, or near body temperature. Using a bottle and nipple, hold the bottle at an angle to prevent air bubbles. The hole in the nipple can be enlarged slightly with a hot needle to let the milk ooze out slowly when the bottle is inverted. The puppy should suck vigorously, but should not nurse too rapidly. Consult a veterinarian if the puppies are not nursing well. You may need to resort to tube feeding, which is best taught by a health professional.
Activity level and metabolism rate slow down in older dogs, diminishing the amount of calories required for maintenance. To avoid obesity, the dog must therefore eat one-quarter to one-third less food. Older dogs still have the usual demands for essential nutrients, however, so a more nutritious diet may be required. Also, since the digestive process and food absorption take longer, you may need to feed smaller, more frequent meals.
Many older dogs suffer from kidney disease or other medical problems that respond to specialized diets. Check with your veterinarian to learn more about diets tailored to meet the needs of older dogs.
Thanks to the availability of many palatable and nutritionally sound commercial dog foods, nutritional deficiencies are unusual in dogs today. Those rare instances of nutritional deficiency often result from misconceptions about feeding (offering an all-meat diet, for example) or oversupplementing a diet that is already well balanced. A common mistake is to add extra fats to increase the energy intake or to improve palatability. Too much fat will mean caloric needs are met before a dog has eaten enough protein, minerals, and vitamins necessary for good health.
Another common source of difficulty is oversupplementation with additional vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin D, during periods of growth and reproduction. An excess of minerals and vitamins, or imbalances among them, may cause problems that are more complex and difficult to diagnose or treat than simple deficiencies.
Most dogs love to chew on bones, but some bones can be hazardous to their health. Turkey, chicken, pork, or any bones liable to splinter should not be given to dogs because of the risk they pose. Their sharp, needle-like pieces can penetrate the mouth, stomach, or intestines, causing injury or even death. Large, hard bones such as knuckle or marrowbones are preferable, but be sure to boil them. Then make sure your dog only chews—not swallows—the bone.
THE OVERWEIGHT DOG
Too much food and not enough exercise equals fat, an unhealthy situation in any animal. The first step in reducing your dog’s weight is to check with a veterinarian to rule out a physical or metabolic problem. The next step is to put the dog on a strict diet. This means feeding slightly less than the number of calories it needs for daily maintenance (and no treats or table scraps) and increasing exercise. Special foods are available for this purpose; check with your veterinarian for more guidance. Weight loss should proceed slowly but steadily. To keep track of your dog’s weight, stand on the bathroom scale with the dog in your arms, then weigh yourself alone and calculate the difference.