Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Feeding Time!

When you bring a new dog home, one of the first obstacles you have to overcome is feeding time. What to feed? How much to feed? When to feed? There's a million options to consider. All dogs are individuals, and so are their diets.

As a general rule, you should use the best dog food that you can afford, feed at least twice a day, and avoid giving your dog treats as "snacks." That latter part is probably the hardest. Treats seem to be the best thing since sliced bread - you can use them to reward good behavior, to encourage learning, and to just keep them out of your hair for a few minutes.

Dog Food

Dog food can be wet, dry, or raw. Raw food can be bought prepackaged in frozen form or can be prepared fresh at home. For a lot of people, me included, a total raw diet is out of the question. I use www.dogfoodadvisor.com to compare dog foods for quality and ingredients. If at all possible, avoid dog foods with wheat, corn, or soy in them, as these are products your dog's digestive system was not created to process.

When it comes to how much to feed, it's usually a good idea to follow the directions on the packaging. Big hint here, if you are comparing dog foods and one says to feed your dog 4 cups a day and the other says only 2 cups, 9 times out of 10 the one that says only 2 is a higher quality dog food. Lower quality dog foods are lacking in essential nutrients and contain a lot of fillers, meaning your dog has to eat more to get the base levels of nutrients and to be full.

Our Regimen
Axle, 2 months old

A lot of people are surprised when they learn that I feed using the free-feed method. I keep a 5 gallon free-feeding container full of dog food 24/7, 365 days of the year. Axle has been on free-feed since he was a puppy. At no point in his life has Axle ever been fat. I chose this method based on the theory that, given the choice, a dog will only eat what he/she is hungry for - no more, no less. While I'm sure this method would not work for every dog, it's worked great for us.

We feed Axle Taste of the Wild, a grain-free food made with quality ingredients. The feeding guide for Axle is around 2, 2 1/2 cups per day. I did the math: Each bag weighs 30 lbs. We go through about 2 bags per month with 2 dogs (we usually have two days worth of food left at the end of the month). That's 30 lbs per dog, per month, or roughly 1 lb of food per day, per dog. 1 cup = 8 oz, 2 cups = 16 oz or 1 lb. They have the option to eat as much as they want, yet they continue to eat the recommended portion for their body weight. Pretty cool, huh?

Axle, 11 months
Even Spudet, who we've only had for about 7 weeks, is on free feed. Granted, the first couple days we had her, I didn't think she'd ever leave the food bowl. In the shelter, they are only fed once a day. They are lucky if the person preparing the food bowls gives them a full scoop. It's no surprise that she gorged herself for the first couple of days on the new, better food that was in endless supply. Once she learned that the food wasn't going anywhere, she cut back. According to the math, both dogs are eating the appropriate amount of food. This math can be flawed, depending on your dog's body type and energy level. Both Axle and Spudet are lean, athletic, and moderately active. If they were less athletic or less active, they would require less food.
Axle, 5 months

Axle, 1 year

Healthy and Proportioned Dogs
One thing to keep an eye on is your dog's body proportions. You should be able to easily feel his/her ribs and he/she should have a waistline - that little dip right before their hips. If you start to notice either of these features disappearing, you should cut back on the amount of food you are feeding. If this does not help, you may want to check into switching to a diet formula. Dogs are similar to people in that there is such a thing as too much fat and too much protein. Consuming extra protein and increasing caloric intake while maintaining the same level of activity will build an equal amount of fat and muscle mass. That extra protein will also put stress on your body systems, such as your liver. 
Obese Dog
Remember the rule that states "what goes up must come down?" It's the same thing for calorie intake - what goes in must come out. A 40 lb dog only needs about 1,000 calories a day...and that's assuming that dog is NOT a couch potato. The calorie intake is one of the things that makes treats tricky. By law, treat producers do not have to put calorie amounts and serving sizes on dog treats, and they usually don't. 

Instead of using treats to keep your dogs occupied for a bit, save high-value toys for moments of desperation. I promise, your dog will still love you just as much, and he/she will appreciate you caring about his/her health! 

If you came to my house, you would find (besides a mess) a basket full of toys - tennis balls, Kongs, JollyBalls, BusyBuddy Bones, and stuffed animals waiting to be shredded. If you checked the treat box, you would find it (currently) empty. Processed treats are a rare thing around here. I keep a few bags of treats for training purposes, but as far as pig ears and whatnot, they're nowhere to be found. Instead of processed treats, we give Axle and Spuds samplings of our dinner...before it's cooked. For example, if it's a steak night, we'll give them bits of fat and meat (before seasoning, of course!) before we cook it. They LOVE steak night!

As stated before, all dogs are individuals, and so are their diet needs. Have any of you had any experience with raw diets? What about other foods? Treats? What's your dog's favorite treat or toy? We'd love to hear from you!

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