Whether you own a picky Pug or a ravenous Rottweiler, you’re not alone in worrying whether your dog is too greedy, too fussy, underweight or overweight. Whatever the breed, you need to be in the know about your dog’s nutritional needs and eating habits to ensure maximum health and fitness, and a sleek body shape that’s not carrying excess weight. Veterinary surgeon Daniel Chan, senior lecturer and head of nutritional support service at the Royal Veterinary College, answers some common questions on canine diet and weight.
1. My dog gobbles up his dinner in a matter of seconds and always wants more. How can we encourage him to eat more slowly so he doesn’t put on so much weight?
This is a common challenge with larger breed dogs because they often eat very rapidly. There are no failsafe ways to encourage dogs to eat more slowly, but the important thing is to not feed more! Just because your dog eats very fast doesn’t mean he needs more food or calories. Stick to giving your dog the appropriate amount to maintain a healthy weight, and avoid ‘topping up’ his meals or giving extra treats. You could try adding water to the dry food, which can slow down eating.
2. My dog is getting increasingly messy when he eats, and doesn’t seem to be chewing properly. What can I do to help him?
There could be a problem with his teeth or with the muscles involved with chewing, so it would be good to have your dog checked by your vet. Watch for any problems drinking water or frequent episodes of gagging or coughing soon after eating or drinking. The type of food may also affect how well a dog can chew. Some kibble just crumbles, so dogs don’t really have to chew it. There are specific diets made for dogs with dental disease, designed to make them chew the food properly and providing some abrasive action to help clean teeth. Look for products endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
3. Some of my dog-owning friends feed their dogs raw diets. I’d like to try this, but I’m worried that if I feed my dog raw chicken he could get ill. Are there certain raw foods that are ok to feed dogs? Are there any benefits to a raw diet?
There’s a lot of interest in raw foods for dogs and cats, but at the moment there are no studies showing these diets to be appropriate or safe, so I would be very cautious about giving your dog raw food. While many dogs don’t have problems when fed raw diets, several studies have shown that raw foods can be deficient in many key nutrients. Dogs can also develop some serious illnesses related to eating raw food, due to bacterial contamination. Giving a dog bones is a bad idea, too – they can cause gastrointestinal and oesophageal foreign bodies, perforation of the bowel, teeth fractures, bacterial pneumonia and serious infection in the bloodstream. Dogs fed raw meat diets may also shed bacteria like listeria, E. coli and salmonella in the home environment, which can be a health hazard to humans. There are no studies to show whether there are some safer raw foods, only claims made by certain pet food companies.
4. I’ve noticed that even though my dog is eating, she seems to be losing weight. Should I be concerned?
Any unintentional weight loss, especially without changes in eating, should be a cause of concern. Unless there is an increase in exercise, a dog that appears to be eating normally but losing weight should be checked by a vet. It would also be good to keep an eye on whether drinking or urination have changed and whether there are any gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting or diarrhoea, so you can give the vet the full picture.