Feeding what’s best for each dog... - Veterinary Practice
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Feeding what’s best for each dog…

discusses what is important in dog food and how an appropriate choice has to take into account the different requirements of animals and the many ingredients available

ANYONE involved with dogs and
who lives in the UK can’t fail to be
aware of Crufts. It’s the world’s
largest dog show, advertised as the
“biggest and best celebration of
dogs”, and takes place this year at
the NEC on the outskirts of
Birmingham from 7th to 10th

This isn’t an article to discuss the
pros and cons of Crufts or indeed the
contentious issue of dog showing and
breed genetics.

It is
instead an article aimed
at cutting
through the
myriad of dog
food options
that anyone
Crufts will be faced with and getting to
the heart of the matter: what’s
important when it comes to dog food
and how do we make an appropriate

Pet food is a huge industry today
and despite the current economic
recession remains fairly robust.

Certain segments will be seeing
changes in consumer preference and
whilst there may be more volume
moving through the budget end of the
market, the majority of dogs are still
being fed a commercial dog food.

What does a commercial dog
food mean?

It must comply with all pertinent
legislation and there are currently over
50 different pieces governing the
manufacture of pet food in the UK.

All the legislation originates from
the EU in the form of Regulations,
Directives and decisions. These are then
implemented into UK national law.1

It should also meet the minimum
nutritional requirements as decreed by
FEDIAF and/or NRC.2

It should also be clearly labelled and
above all safe for consumption and

Nutrients v. ingredients

All commercially produced “complete” dog food products begin with a
nutritionally balanced recipe.

So the first step in the process is to
identify the appropriate raw ingredients.

Ingredients, however, are not the
same as nutrients and for healthy
growth and maintenance dogs need to
obtain varying levels of 37 “essential”
micro-nutrients every day from their

The actual number of raw
ingredients containing these nutrients
can vary hugely from recipe to recipe

and it’s only by combining different
ingredients together that the right
balance of nutrients can be obtained.

Fundamentally, they must also be
obtainable by the dog during the
process of digestion and that’s where
ingredient quality comes in.

Advanced nutrition

Clearly, not all dogs are created equal
and consequently their nutritional requirements

continuing advances in
research are ensuring the
dog food is now tailored
for optimal nutrition
rather than simply
meeting basic minimum

There are numerous
definitions for what
“advanced nutrition”
means, but essentially it
accounts for everything
from lifestage to lifestyle and beyond.

We all know that puppies have very
different nutritional requirements to
senior dogs, but in recent years we’ve
seen the emergence of breed specific
and lifestyle diets.

After all, it makes sense that a
working dog will have higher calorific
requirements to a pet Labrador.
Likewise a Chihuahua has a very
different metabolic rate compared to a
Great Dane, as well as unique breed
attributes that may also be supported

However, are there other specific
nutrients that may prove beneficial to
individual dogs?


Functional ingredients (sometimes
referred to as super-nutrients) are becoming increasingly
common in dog food.

This term
incorporates scientifically proven
beneficial ingredients
such as EFAs, anti-
oxidants, pre- and
probiotics and even
natural antibodies. It
also includes the slightly
greyer area of
nutraceuticals, but what
exactly do any of these
ingredients do?

1. EFAs

Omega 3 and 6 are two
groups of essential fatty
acids (EFAs) found in
either fish or plant-based
ingredients. EPA (eicosapentaenoic
acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid)
are the most well known and have been
scientifically proven to help support
brain and eye development in puppies
(DHA) as well as provide an anti-
inflammatory effect in dogs of all ages

2. Antioxidants

We’ve all heard of the damaging effect
of free radicals and know that the body
produces its own
antioxidants to
combat this effect. Inflammatory,
infectious and neoplastic disease,
pollutants and even
exercise can all
increase oxidant
production. However,
by supplementing
with powerful food
antioxidants we can help to boost the body’s natural defence
mechanism as well as help fight against
many disease processes.

3. Pre- and probiotics

Essentially, prebiotics are a food source
for gut-dwelling bacteria and probiotics
are sources of actual bacteria. Both are scientifically proven to
promote intestinal health by helping
maintain a pH environment that
favours beneficial bacteria, but the
challenge is to get them intact to the
large bowel where they do their work.

4. Antibodies

This is a relatively new area of research
that demonstrates the beneficial effect
of providing natural antibodies (in the
form of colostrum) to help strengthen
puppies’ immature immune systems.

5. Nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals encompass everything
from cartilage to green-lipped mussel,
i.e. foods containing substances such as
glucosamine and chondroitin. However,
most of the beneficial evidence on
nutraceuticals to date is anecdotal rather
than scientific.

1. The Pet Food Manufacturers
Association (PFMA) is a great resource
for information relating to the pet food
industry as well as pet population
2. NRC is the National Research
Council of the National Academy of
Sciences in the USA and FEDIAF is
the European Pet Food Manufacturers
Association. Both have produced
nutritional guidelines, the FEDIAF
version from a comprehensive review
of NRC data and other existing science.
The guidelines are also peer-reviewed
and revised as appropriate by
independent veterinary nutritionists

Key points

  • To be labelled as a “complete” dog food the final
    product must contain 37 specific and essential
    micro-nutrients. It should also be in a form that is
    nutritious, digestible and tasty for a dog.
  • Advanced nutrition means optimal nutrition
    formulated according to lifestage, lifestyle and
    individual requirements.
  • Functional nutrients can provide great added
    beneficial value to a dog when incorporated into a
    commercial dog food.
  • Don’t consider supplementing a complete pet
    food without doing the appropriate research. Some
    supplements can result in toxicities (e.g. certain
    vitamins) or growth deformities (e.g. certain
  • Whichever product is chosen, it should be
    appropriately tailored to each dog’s unique
    requirements as well as to their taste preference.

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