Providing pets with vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional components is important to pet health and well-being, and the best way to do this is to feed a high-quality, complete, and balanced diet. Supplementing dog food often upsets the balance and might cause health problems.
Reasons to Supplement a Dog's Diet
People supplement their dog's diet for different reasons:
- To increase palatability or add variety
- To feel assured that the dog is receiving complete nutrition
- To enjoy a larger role in "preparing" the dog's meal
Supplementing Can Unbalance the Diet
It is important to know that a quality dog food is carefully formulated to meet the caloric needs of the animal. The food provides essential amino acids, vitamin-rich fish oils, and minerals specific to the nutritional requirements of the dog.
Quality foods are complete and balanced for a specific life stage or lifestyle. Adding table scraps or other supplements can disrupt the delicate nutrient balance.
What We Know About Minerals and Supplements
The interaction between minerals is very complex. Fortunately, this area of nutrition has been the focus of extensive research for many years. Research has shown that not only are the individual levels of minerals in a diet important but the proper balance is also. An excess of one mineral might affect the absorption of a second, and lead to a deficiency in that second mineral.
Supplementing with Meat as an Example of Mineral Interaction
One common way of supplementing is to feed extra meat. However, because meat contains 20 to 40 times more phosphorus than calcium, adding meat to a balanced diet will upset the calcium to phosphorus (or Ca:P) ratio, which is important for proper bone development and maintenance.
This might prompt your pet's body to absorb calcium from the bones in order to reach the right balance. This is often the case in older animals that experience tooth loss due to the reabsorption of bone from the lower jaw. Ca:P ratio should range between 1.1 to 1.4 parts of calcium for each part of phosphorus.
More Calcium Is Not Always Good
Excess amounts of calcium have been associated with several bone diseases affecting growing puppies. Owners of large-breed puppies, in particular, believe that their puppies require extra calcium for proper development of large bones. Adding yogurt, cottage cheese, or calcium tablets to the puppy's diet will only upset the body's delicate mineral balance.
Remember: Large-breed puppies consume more food and get the calcium their bodies need by eating the recommended portions. The best way to support a normal growth rate is to feed growing dogs a balanced diet using a portion-controlled regimen.
Make Sure the Dog Food Is Complete and Balanced
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulates the pet food industry and has established certain nutritional requirements for dogs. These requirements are published annually in the AAFCO Manual. Only pet foods that have met the strict criteria established by AAFCO can carry the "complete and balanced" statement on the label.
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Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy and Active
It depends on the breed of dog, but your pet's senior years generally begin at age 7. Louise Murray, DVM, director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), tells you what you need to know to keep your older dog spry and happy.
Senior Dog Health: Preventive Health
At this stage, Murray recommends taking your dog to the vet twice a year. "So much can happen to an elderly dog," she says. Your veterinarian can take blood annually to test liver and kidney functions. "Discovering problems early is extremely important," she says. Your vet can be on the lookout for conditions that often affect older dogs, such as anemia and arthritis.
Senior Dog Health: Urination, Bowel Movements, and Appetite
Pay attention to what might be subtle changes in your dog's habits: Is she drinking more water or urinating larger amounts? These behaviors might indicate a liver or kidney problem. Have your dog's bowel movements shifted? This could indicate a digestive issue. Diabetes or digestive problems might cause your dog to eat more but still lose weight. Knowing the dog's patterns can help the veterinarian determine a course of treatment.
Senior Dog Health: Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicines
Continue to use preventive medicines.
Senior Dog Health: Dental Health
Clean your dog's teeth daily. If she has tartar buildup, you might need to have her teeth professionally cleaned at your vet's office, which requires sedating your pet.
Senior Dog Health: Exercise
Your dog is probably less active, so steady, moderate exercise is best for her now. Don't turn her into a "weekend warrior" who, after lying around on weekdays, accompanies you on a 10-mile hike on Saturdays. This is especially hard on an older dog's joints.
Senior Dog Health: Diet
Your veterinarian might wish to put your dog on a senior diet, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Senior Plus. These formulations contain nutrients specifically geared toward older-dog health.
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