The Importance of Variety in the Canine Diet
While this article primarily addresses fresh food diets, the need to add a variety of animal proteins pertains to commercial diets as well. Dogs and cats are carnivores and the foods that are important in their diets are animal fats and animal proteins. Animal fats help give dogs energy, aids in digestion and helps keep their coat and skin healthy. Fats also keep dogs well hydrated and keep them warm in the cold. Animal proteins are necessary for heart, kidney and liver health and are important for tissue and cell renewal. Protein keeps their muscles strong and provides the vitamins and minerals needed for proper growth and a healthy immune system.
When the diet does not provide adequate animal based fats and proteins, dogs can suffer many long-term health effects. Some of these can include:
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- Anemia (dogs can only obtain iron from animal based food sources)
- B vitamin deficiencies
- Lack of omega 3 fatty acids (dogs cannot convert ALA found in plant oil or seed sources to a usable form of omega 3 fatty acids). Omega 3 fatty acids are very important in fighting inflammation, supporting the immune system and healthy skin and coat.
- Animal proteins contain amino acids. The lack of animal based amino acids (taurine and carnitine) in the diet can affect heart, live, kidney and other organ health. Amino acids are needed for proper organ function and to maintain longevity. Animal based amino acids are NOT found in plant based food sources.
While some people may have ethical or moral reasons for not to consuming meat, it is not fair or humane to feed dogs and cats a vegetarian or vegan diet. Dogs and cats are carnivores and have specific nutritional requirements to maintain health. They can only thrive from nutrients found in animal based proteins and fats. It is their physiology and biological make up that determines this requirement.
So why do we place emphasis on the importance of variety in the diet? Why not feed your dog or cat just chicken or just beef? Offering a variety of animal proteins is important because not all proteins are created equal in the amounts of l-taurine, l-carnitine and other amino acids that are necessary for good health. Not all animal proteins contain the same amount of minerals, such as iron. Not all animal fats contain omega 3 fatty acids. Feeding several different types of animal proteins helps ensure a more balanced diet. Offering a varied diet with as many protein sources as possible helps ensure your dogs and cats are obtaining all the vital nutrients they need to maintain good health. Feeding a single protein or limiting variety in the diet can cause deficiencies over time.
Another important reason for offering variety in the diet is to keep food interesting and palatable. Offering a wide variety of different foods help stimulate the appetite and increases their interest in a wide variety of ingredients. This is helpful when certain foods may become less available, like when you are traveling. It is also helpful if you need to limit food choices because of an illness. The wider the range of options your dog will eat, the easier it becomes to find and select food for your dog.
Additionally, limiting a dog's protein choices can result in food allergies. Feeding a dog one or two protein sources over long periods of time, whether you feed a fresh food diet or commercial pet food, increases the likelihood that your dog may develop food intolerances to those proteins. Additionally, when dogs are offered only one or two proteins for an extended time, other foods can become 'foreign' to them and they may refuse to eat new food choices. For dog owners who feed commercial foods, this can become a serious issue if your particular brand of food in no longer available, is recalled, or the dog develops allergies to that food.
While offering 5 to 6 different proteins is optimum, I recommend a fresh food diets consisting of AT LEAST 4 protein sources. Good protein sources include chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb and fish (either fresh or canned salmon, sardines or mackerel in water. NOT tuna, which is high in mercury). Bison, rabbit and duck are also good choices, as well as wild game such as venison and elk. However, if you feed wild boar, remember, it MUST be cooked. DO NOT feed it raw due to trichinosis. Additionally, NEVER feed Pacific salmon raw due to liver flukes. These are lethal to dogs.
Additional protein sources to add into the diet for additional variety include eggs, which are high in iron and folic acid, yogurt and cottage cheese.
For those feeding commercial diets, it is important to change brands and protein sources with each new bag or can you purchase. This not only adds the needed variety of proteins, but also offers protection in the event a particular brand of food is recalled. If you feed a commercial dog food, please add fresh food to the diet. The process used to make commercial foods subjects the protein sources to high heats which harms the amino acid properties and reduces the quality of the protein. Commercial foods are also high in carbohydrates, fiber sources and fillers. Therefore, it is important to also add fresh protein to any commercial diet.
With fresh food diets, you can mix protein sources daily or you feed various proteins over several days, but you MUST remember that when you are feeding a raw diet, 50% of the diet must be at least 50% raw meaty bones with the other 50% being mostly muscle meat, with some organ meat (kidney or liver) added. Organ meats are rich in minerals and vitamins, but we feed them sparingly as they are very rich and can cause diarrhea in large amounts.
For more information and instructions on fresh food diets and variety, "Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs" is a wonderful and easy to follow book to keep on hand!
Fireworks and Noise Phobia
Please remember your dogs during the upcoming 4th of July Celebration. It is important to keep dogs and cats INDOORS during fireworks. Turning up the TV or radio can help block some of the firework noise. Other helpful remedies include:
- Melatonin, which is an amino acid found at most health food stores and can help calm dogs. This is given at 1mg to 3mg about 1 hour before the expected stressful event.
- DAP collars or infusers made from the hormones of lactating dogs can help calm dogs during fireworks. These need to be used 3 days before the expected event for the best results.
- Tasha's Easy Does It for dogs (editor’s note: Use Azmira Rescue & Relief) is an herbal tincture that helps relax and calm your dog during stressful events. This includes traveling, fireworks and anxiety.
- Thunder jackets are also helpful. Thunder jackets are a tight fitting garment made for dogs that help calm and soothe them when they are frightened. These can be found online and come in a variety of sizes for both small and large dogs.
Please keep your dogs and cats safe and protected, and have a
Very wonderful 4th of July Weekend!