COOKING FOR CANINES - Entry #3 (The Balanced Diet)

March 4, 2010

The evolutionary diet of wolves and wild dogs historically consisted of almost all protein. This was when the main concern was procreation. Since the canine evolved into more of a domesticated companion, the concern became longevity. Science has taught us that there is a myriad of benefits in feeding fruits and vegetables to your dog, not the least of which is a long and healthy life.

Even so, when preparing a meal for Rover, you'll want to make sure it contains no less than 45% - 50% protein, as protein is still a very important part of the canine diet.

A simple formula to follow is this:

- 50% protein (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, etc.)
- 25% fresh or frozen vegetables/fruits (carrots, broccoli, green peas, celery, zucchini, melons, apples, bananas, pears, etc.)
- 25% starch (oatmeal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta, rice, etc.)
- calcium - 1/2 teaspoon per pound of fresh food (ground egg shells, seaweed, bone meal, oyster shells, etc.)

Japanese Spitz can have sensitive stomachs at times. Our dogs, for example, get an upset stomach if they eat certain rich meats like lamb and buffalo. If your dog has an overly sensitive stomach, poultry may be the best option for you. Eggs are a great healthy alternative as well. Fish has beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, however, it is better to stay away from albacore tuna due to its high mercury content.

Always feed a variety of different vegetables to keep the meals interesting and to ensure your dog is benefiting from the different nutrients various vegetables provide.

Non-starchy vegetables will need to be cooked or pureed to be digested by your dog. Whole and/or raw vegetables won't hurt your dog, but they don't provide the needed nutritional benefit. A vegetable's cell wall is made of a "protectant" called cellulose, and has to be broken down to reach the nutrients on the inside. We, as humans, do this by chewing. We have flat molars, which are made for exactly this. Dogs, however, have sharp, scissor-like teeth, made for tearing through raw meat. They use the "Bite and Swallow" method of eating, rather than chewing their food. This is why it is necessary to cook or puree the non-starchy vegetables you feed. Doing this will break down those cell walls, freeing the nutrients for absorption into your dog's body. The best way to cook non-starchy vegetables is by steaming because fewer nutrients are lost this way.

Starchy vegetables should always be cooked before feeding them to your dog. The best way to cook these vegetables is by baking or microwaving.

Fruits can be fed raw. Overripe fruits are the easiest for your dog to digest. In the summer time, our dogs like when I blend various fruits in my blender and freeze them in muffin tins. Please remember that you should NEVER FEED GRAPES OR RAISINS TO YOUR DOG, as they are known to cause kidney failure, which can be fatal.

It is very unfortunate that calcium is often overlooked in the homemade canine diet, because no diet is complete and balanced without it. High-protein foods, which make up the majority of your dogs homemade diet, contain large amounts of phosphorus. Balancing the calcium-phosphorus combination is vital. If calcium and phosphorus are not properly balanced in the diet, the body pulls calcium from the dog's bones to make up for the deficiency, leaving them weakened. There should always be more calcium then phosphorus. The recommended ratios for dogs range from 1-to-1 to 2-to-1 calcium to phosphorus.

I have found the easiest way to add calcium to our dogs' food is by grinding clean, dry eggshells in a clean coffee grinder. The shells are ground into a fine, easy-to-absorb powder. If the shells are kept dry, they will last indefinitely and there is no need to refrigerate them. 1/2 teaspoon of ground eggshell provides approx. 1,000 milligrams of calcium. This is the amount you should add to every pound of fresh food. If you feed a combination diet, add only enough calcium to match the fresh food portion of the diet.

If you choose to use oyster shells or bone meal to add calcium to your dog's diet, look for brands that state they have been tested for lead and found to be safe. Lead is a harmful contamination that is often found in these items.

IMPORTANT: Do not add more calcium than necessary. Even though adult dogs typically excrete excess calcium, calcium can bind many other minerals, which decreases the nutritional value of what you feed. Also, puppies less than 6 months old have less of an ability to control how much calcium their bodies absorb. A calcium excess in puppies can lead to skeletal problems such as hip dysplasia, hypertrophic osteodystrophy, and osteochondrosis. Lastly, pregnant females who are given an excess of calcium can develop a life-threatening condition called eclampsia when they begin nursing. It's fine to increase the calcium after the puppies are born, just don't increase calcium prior to whelping.

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