If you thought human nutrition was a minefield of conflicting information, it's no easier if you're a pooch. At one extreme of the dog diet spectrum is the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (or BARF diet) - this is the canine equivalent of the human Paleolithic diet which recommends a raw food diet that's as close as possible to what wild dogs evolved to eat - at the other are those who argue dogs do just fine on a vegetarian diet; and somewhere in the middle are the vets who recommend a healthy mixed diet.
If research into the effects of dog ownership on human health is to be believed, dogs deserve the right diet - whatever that might be. Owning a dog appears to be good for human health, helping lower blood pressure and cholesterol. But while they're busy protecting us from heart disease, living with a human is no guarantee for good canine health - otherwise why would vets be running weight-loss programs, or a canine anti-obesity drug be poised for release in the US? So what should - and shouldn't - go into a dog's dinner?
Off the menu for all dogs are foods known to be toxic to them. These include grapes, raisins, chocolate, macadamia nuts, tomatoes, onion and garlic (there goes garlic's reputation as a natural flea repellant). Cooked bones can splinter and injure the dog.
Raw bones are fine and don't feed salty foods to dogs who are overweight or have problems with their heart or blood pressure.
Like overweight humans, overweight dogs are prone to diseases like diabetes, arthritis and cancer - to keep them around longer, keep them active and don't overfeed.
I suggest a mixed diet that includes a good quality dried food, together with raw beef or lamb and vegetables. Dried food is a more concentrated source of nutrients (compared with canned food which can contain as much as 60 per cent water) - but provide lots of water.
Vegetables like raw broccoli and carrots are good to add extra nutrients and fibre. Raw chicken wings mimic a wild diet and provide calcium and other nutrients. As for fruit, not much is known about fruit and dog nutrition, though some dogs enjoy it. I know mine certainly does! She collects dropped apricots from the tree (they're too high to reach) and she actually picks peaches from the tree!
If beagles are anything to go by, a little fruit might be a good thing - a University of Toronto study found older dogs whose diet was supplemented with fruit and vegetables did better at learning new tasks.
Not everyone agrees with feeding dogs commercial dog food. The BARF diet, developed by Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst, recommends a diet based on raw muscle and organ meat and vegetables - and no grains. Meanwhile, many vegetarian organisations, including the Vegetarian Network Victoria, believe dogs can thrive on a plant-based diet.
So tell us what goes into your dog's bowl to keep them in good shape? Have you tried BARF or even a vegetarian diet?
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