Much as it is with humans, there is no one ‘healthy diet’ that works for every dog. Since there is a dizzying array of choices in the pet food world, it can be challenging to know how to balance your dog’s nutritional needs, your budget, and your family’s lifestyle.
What are the building blocks of a healthy diet for a dog?
Whether you feed your dog raw food, kibble, canned food, dehydrated food, or home-cooked food, a healthy diet made up of any of these food types will have the same core features:
- Whole meat source (not a by-product) as the first and primary ingredient. Dogs are carnivores with sharp teeth made for ripping and shredding meat along with a short, and highly acidic digestive tract. They are designed to eat a primarily meat and organ diet.
High moisture content. It is extremely important that your dog consumes enough moisture with his food everyday. Dry food (kibble or dehydrated) is not easy for your dog to digest, leads to dehydration, and it causes the dogs kidneys to work much harder than they were ever meant to – which can cause renal failure if this goes on for years.
It’s ok to feed kibble or dehydrated foods, but it is ideal to soak the food with some bone broth (or even just water) prior to feeding for about 15mins. This way, it has a chance to absorb the water and become mushy and much more bioavailable!
- No (or at least very little) grains. Since dogs have a short digestive tract and grains take a long time to digest, dogs cannot effectively absorb most of the nutrients in grains. If you have to feed grains, choose low GI ones that are also high in fiber for fullness and regular stools (oatmeal and brown rice are decent choices).
- Variety. Give your pet a variety of different meats, at least 3 different ones, ideally one red, one white, and one fish - if allergies are not a problem. Since dogs can barely digest grains and they digest vegetables less effectively than humans, they biologically require a variety of meats and organs to get all the vitamins and minerals they need (or supplements instead if allergies are an issue).
- Avoid artificial preservatives, flavours, and colours – all of these things have been linked to various cancers and other diseases and simply should not be a part of any healthy dog (or human!) diet.
An Omega 3 source. Unless you are regularly feeding your dog raw fish, its unlikely that they are getting enough of this crucial nutrient. Omega 3’s are essential for skin and coat health, reducing inflammation (and thus muscle and joint pain), and in developing and maintaining a healthy brain (memory and learning depend largely on enough Omega 3s!). There are a few good options of what can be added to your dog’s bowl to boost his intake
of Omega 3s everyday. These options include a high-quality fish oil (store it in the fridge), small whole fish such as sardines, or fish skins, especially salmon. Most dog’s love the fishy taste of these products and they will be extra excited to eat their dinner if they’re added to it!
Whole raw eggs. Eggs are one of nature’s most perfect foods! Eggs should be fed raw or very lightly cooked as they are much more bioavailable in that state. Eggs are a great source of vitamin A, Riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12, Iron, Selenium, and much more! Eggs are tasty, easy to digest, and are something every dog should get as part of their dinner a couple of times a week. Larger dogs 50lbs and up that eat naturally moist diets
(canned, raw, re-hydrated food, home-cooked) can be given a raw egg everyday.
- Canned fish in water or fresh (unseasoned + lean) meat. Unless an owner is feeding a raw diet or a homecooked diet that is already 75% or more in meat content, most dogs would be healthier with more meat in their diet. If adding meat to a canned or dry diet, ensure that only cooked meat is added. Additionally, if you want to feed more than 50% of your dog’s total diet as meat, a multi-vitamin (such as a kelp powder) and a calcium supplement (such as raw, ground eggshell) will need to be added to balance the diet.
Plain yogurt or kefir. Most people and dogs need more healthy, gut-building probiotics . in their diet. If we don’t have a healthy microbiome (the bacteria that naturally live in your stomach), we cannot effectively break down the food we eat or absorb the nutrients in it properly. If you only want to try implementing one thing on this list, giving your dog a regular source of probiotics would have the biggest impact on their overall health. If
your dog has a healthy microbiome, they then have an enhanced ability to absorb all the beneficial nutrients in everything else on this list much more effectively!
Now you know the components of a healthy diet, what to add and what to avoid, you’re well on your way to crafting a larger variety of more nutritious and tasty dinners for your canine buddy. – Carly Piatocha, Only One Treats Contributor