Q: Does my dog need to eat meat? A: Because dogs are descended from omnivores, they are not strict meat eaters. They are remarkably adaptable to a wide range of ingredients, texture, and form in terms of what they will eat. Though many dogs may prefer animal-based protein, they can thrive on a vegetarian diet. Regardless of whether the protein comes from plant or animal sources, normal adult dogs should get at least 10% of their total calories from protein. Older dogs appear to require somewhat more protein to maintain their protein reserves, perhaps as much as 50% more.
Q: How much fiber is good for my dog? A: Fiber in the diet is probably good for overall gastrointestinal health and may help some dogs keep their weight down. The typical diet of normal adult dogs contains between 2.5 and 4.5% fiber. However, the fiber content of some “diet” dog foods may be higher. This may allow the dog to feel full without consuming too many calories for effective weight control. Diets high in fiber also may help in the management of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and may improve large intestine function.
On the other hand, too much fiber in the diet can decrease the digestibility of other important nutrients and result in loose stools, frequent defecation, and reduced palatability of the dog food. Wheat bran and barley products are high in fiber. Conversely, dog food ingredients high in starch, including rice and dried potatoes, have less fiber.
Q: How often should I feed my dog? A: Dogs eat larger, less frequent meals than do cats. It is fine to feed an adult dog one or two times per day. Puppies, however, need two to three daily meals.
Q: How can I help my overweight dog trim down? A: The most obvious answer is to feed your dog smaller amounts on the same feeding schedule. Some dog owners offer less tasty food or allow less time to eat. Another option is to feed your dog one of the low-calorie dog foods on the market. It’s also important to remember to keep your dog from sampling the dog-next-door’s food and to refrain from giving your dog table scraps.
Q: How do heat and exercise affect the amount of water my dog needs? A: Fresh water should be available to your dog at all times to reduce the risk of becoming overheated. A dog’s need for water increases in keeping with the amount of energy he expends during exercise, and this need may more than double in warm conditions. Ideally, you should actively offer your dog water during exercise.
This information is based on recommendations from the 2006 release of Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. The report contains useful information for companion animal nutritionists, veterinarians, scientists in industry and academe, regulators, pet owners and anyone with an interest in the health and welfare of these important animals. To order the report, contact the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street NW, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or http://www.nap.edu.