If you’ve ever been given the opportunity to witness one of your pets devouring its favorite treat with reckless abandon, then you know how much they enjoy eating. In fact, if your pet is an adult male, chances are he or she has a preferred type of food that they prefer over others. Dogs aren’t picky when it comes to food preferences, but there are certain things they definitely prefer to eat more than others.
All animals have different nutritional needs based on life stage and activity level, so while there are general guidelines for what dogs should be getting, every animal also requires specific nutrients that can only be found in certain foods.
For example, carnivores (like cats) require protein, which means they must consume meat, whereas herbivores (which includes cows, goats and horses) need lots of fresh vegetation because they don’t process cellulose as well as other plant matter. Omnivores, such as humans, fall somewhere between these two categories.
We primarily get our protein from vegetables, but we also need fats and carbs from meats and grains. However, not all animals use all parts of plants to obtain nutrition. Dogs tend to eat more meat than any other animal species, but they still rely heavily on vegetable sources for carbohydrates and essential fatty acids.
It may sound sacrilegious for us to suggest that dogs eat meat, since they’re supposed to be vegetarian creatures that subsist mainly off fruits and veggies. Yet, many experts say that dogs actually need meat to stay healthy. The reason is simple: It provides essential amino acids that dogs cannot produce themselves.
Without this nutrient, our canine friends would become weak and sickly. Meat is also necessary for proper development and maintenance of strong bones, teeth and muscles, plus it helps regulate body temperature by providing energy needed for physical activity.
However, not all “meats” are created equal. It’s important to understand that not all meats are suitable for dogs. If you notice your dog seems lethargic after eating red meat, then it might be time to switch his or her diet altogether.
Red meat contains high levels of iron, and excess amounts can cause severe health problems for your dog. Dog owners are often advised to avoid raw beef, lamb and pork products, as well as organically raised poultry and eggs.
When choosing canned, frozen or dry dog food, look for labels that list meat ingredients first. Also, make sure to read the label carefully before purchasing treats: Some brands will add preservatives to enhance shelf life that could affect digestion. Avoid feeding your dog processed meats like hot dogs, sausages and salami, as these contain nitrites and sodium that can lead to health problems.
Finally, try to limit your dog’s consumption of cholesterol-rich game birds, organs and liver unless you want him or her to develop digestive issues.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the average lifespan of a typical household cat was 13 years in 2006, and the same year saw a record number of cats being euthanized due to poor living conditions. Dogs fared better than cats, though, with a life expectancy of 15 years.
Fruits and Vegetables
Although dogs should stick to a mostly carnivorous diet, they still need a variety of fruits and vegetables to complement their meals. Fruits and vegetables provide fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, and they help satisfy the natural urge to chew. Additionally, fruit and vegetable juices work well as supplements for older dogs who suffer from arthritis pain or heart disease.
While there are plenty of low-carbohydrate diets available for dogs, their basic needs include proteins, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, vitamin A, B12, D3, E, folate, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, pyridoxine, potassium, chloride, iodine, copper, manganese, selenium, fluoride, chlorine, bromide and phosphorus.
As with meat, it’s crucial to choose healthy varieties of fruits and vegetables for your canine friend. Fruits and vegetables are naturally sweet, and they’re healthier alternatives to table sugar. You’ll also want to steer clear of highly colored veggies and fruits like blueberries, cherries and mangoes, which can stain your pet’s mouth.
Most commercial kibble is made with cereal grain like corn, wheat, soybean and rice. While these grains are nutritionally complete, they’re lacking in several key minerals including sulfur, phosphorous, selenium and chromium. To compensate for this deficiency, manufacturers add synthetic versions of these nutrients called fillers. One problem with this practice is that these additives can potentially create additional toxins in the human gut that end up polluting the environment where the feed gets digested.
Like people, dogs also need carbohydrates to keep going throughout the day. And like most of us, they need whole grains to supply them with energy. Whole grains are minimally processed and have intact kernels of bran, which protect the kernel of carbohydrate inside.
When dogs eat refined flours, sugars and starches, they lose this vital protective layer. This leaves dogs vulnerable to developing digestive disorders, obesity, diabetes, allergies and osteoporosis. There are three main types of grains: amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa.
These alternative grains contain less gluten than regular flour and have higher concentrations of phytochemicals, protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are especially beneficial for dogs, as they play a role in preventing cancer, cardiovascular diseases and joint inflammation.
Quinoa is packed with magnesium, phosphorus and sulphur, while buckwheat supplies folic acid and lignans, chemicals that promote hormone balance and reduce the risk of breast cancer. One unique grain that some veterinarians recommend for dogs is barley.
Like quinoa, barley is full of omega 3 fatty acids, phytochemicals and fibre. Barley is also easy to digest and has minimal impact on blood sugar. As long as your dog enjoys chewing on it, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding recipes incorporating this nutritious little seed.
We humans have always baked bread for thousands of years, so why did it take until relatively recently for scientists to figure out how to mass-produce yeast dough without sacrificing quality? Thankfully, now that science has caught up to our baking skills, bread making is easier than ever.
There are dozens of delicious recipes using grains, nuts and seeds, and you can experiment with new flavors and textures by adding herbs or spices. Just remember to buy whole-grain, organic flour, ground flaxseed, walnuts, pecans and almonds, as they’ll supply your dog with healthy oils and fibres. If you’d rather skip the baking part, consider giving your pup some tasty breadcrumbs instead.
Even though bread isn’t technically considered a grain, it falls into the category of starchy foods that serve similar functions to grains. Bread serves as a great source of carbohydrates and dietary fibre for your dog. It can also increase bone density and relieve constipation.
Some veterinarians recommend that dogs follow a strict meatless diet once per week.
This recommendation is based on studies that show dogs that eat a lot of meat are prone to developing intestinal parasites. Many vets believe that this is caused by bacteria that live in the intestines of carnivores that ingest large amounts of meat. Another study shows that dogs that eat too many vegetables are at increased risk of bladder infections.
Since dogs thrive on a varied diet, it’s probably safe to assume that they wouldn’t mind sticking to a few vegetarian meals here and there. Most importantly, try to incorporate a wide range of vegetables and fruits into your pet’s daily routine. Mixing leafy greens with colorful fruits and vegetables gives your dog more nutrients, vitamins and phytonutrients than you’d receive from eating the same amount of meat.
Your dog’s taste buds are pretty sensitive. Although dogs usually won’t turn their noses toward a dish that smells bad, they can sense whether or not something tastes bad. If your dog eats something that makes him or her feel ill later, it could be a sign that the ingredients were contaminated during processing.