Sunday, December 14, 2008

Food: What difference does it make? Part 1: Foundation, building blocks, life stage requirements

No question, as a dog owner you should have a clear understanding about dog food. If your dog is being fed incorrectly, a variety of problems may occur. This can be anything from spinning and aggression to bad skin. With this 2-part comment and the help of Jeanine Dunn-Harmon and Wendy Volhard, we are trying to answer the question posed in the comment’s title.
In order to live, a dog must eat. How long the dog lives, as well as health, immune system, behavior and temperament, the ability to reproduce successfully and to recover from trauma, all depend on what is eaten. An animal that eats well lives a long life, coping with everyday stresses and strains. One that eats poorly is unhealthy and with age will begin to suffer from chronic diseases. How is it possible that what we feed our dogs can make so much difference to their health? Think of the body as a house. If you build a strong foundation (pregnant mother's diet), the walls of the first story provide the support for the upper stories (puppyhood and adulthood). A roof that is made of the right materials and placed at the correct angels will be a protective covering over the whole house that will withstand even the most violent weather (immune system). Your house will outlast those around you that are built of less solid materials.
In order to build a proper nutritional foundation, you need six building blocks: Protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water. The quality of these building blocks and the ratio of one to another will determine how long your house will last. Every cell in the dog's body needs fuel. Fuel comes from food, which is converted into energy. Energy produces heat, and how much heat is produced determines the ability of your dog to maintain and regulate body temperature. The quality and quantity of energy your dog needs to be able to run, play, work and live a long and healthy life depend on the quality and quantity of the fuel you provide. Nutritionists measure fuel in terms of how much energy it produces. They use the term calories to measure energy produced by individual foods. A dog will eat the quantity of food needed to meet individual caloric needs.If the calories provided in dog food are sufficient, your dog's body will be able to produce energy for growth, maintenance, the production of enzymes and the ability to fight disease. Chemical reactions take place in the body that allows these enzymes to break down the food, making it available as a building block. The chemicals that are needed to trigger enzyme production come from the food the dog eats. If you provide a food with the correct amount of calories coming from quality sources mixed in the right proportions, your puppy will grow well if the correct calories are not provided, you will produce an inferior dog, poor in health and short lived.
A puppy during the first six months of life, increases birth weight anywhere from 15-40 times, depending on the breed. By one year of age birth weight will have increased 60 times. By contrast, humans reach maturity over a 20 year period. A dog, therefore, grows almost 12 times faster than a human, and if fed improperly as a puppy, even for a short while, may quickly exhibit symptoms of improper growth. A puppy needs almost double the amount of food of an adult, at times, even more than that.
As an adult, your dog needs to maintain weight and provide enough energy to do the tasks you expect. A family pet, with no demands other than to play with the children and be a companion, needs a different diet than a dog that is used for hunting, showing or working.With age, your dog's digestive system becomes less efficient, and should make dietary changes that take aging into consideration. Other factors that affect what your dog should eat are temperature and climate. If you live in a cold climate, your dog will require more food to maintain body heat calories than if you lived in a hot climate. Living in a hot climate often reduces hunger, but dogs burn up a lot of energy panting to stay cool. In the hotter climates, your dog needs a small amount of food that contains a lot of calories. Food also has breed specific results. What produces energy or body heat in one breed may not in another. A good example is a Border Collie whose ancestors were raised in Scotland. This breed has developed a digestive system that breaks down oats and lamb very well. A food made from chicken and corn may be digestible and turned into fuel, but the dog will need to eat more of this food in order to get the necessary nutrients.
A dog fed incorrectly will experience stress. That stress will manifest itself in the weakest part of the body. It may be runny eyes, ear infections, skin problems, crooked teeth or diseases of the bones and kidneys. Stress may manifest itself in an inability to breed, conceive, have a full term pregnancy, whelp easily or make enough milk to feed puppies for several weeks. Dogs that are shy or afraid of thunderstorms or who show unprovoked aggression may also be exhibiting stress symptoms. Dogs that are genetically sound, fed properly for the breed and the climate in which they live, and for the purpose they are being used, will be healthy animals.
Stay tuned for part 2 when we address Industry Controls and their function related to pet food.
Food: What difference does it make? Part 2: Ingredients

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