Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Niche and Special Needs Diets

Perusing your pet food store can be a daunting venture if you enter unsure of what you want to leave with. The shelves seem overloaded lately, with niche and specialty diets for various ailments, specific breeds, activity levels and more. There seems to be something for everyone with diets tailored to the finest detail. A juvenile Chihuahua with diabetes and an exceptionally small mouth can now find something just for her, it seems!
Are these niche diets all they're cracked up to be? Probably not. When you take a closer look at the ingredients in each, there really aren't even too many differences between each of them within a given manufacturer's line. Oftentimes, it's all in a name.
Some breeds certainly are prone to specific health concerns and some illnesses to respond well to dietary adjustments, but for the most part, a few basic food buying guidelines can set the majority of animals on the path to good health.
Here's a quick checklist for things to consider when choosing a sound canine diet:
Quality not quantity (don't be too penned in by numbers) Just because your vet suggests a certain percentage of protein, doesn't mean that a food 1% outside the recommendation is unworthy of consideration. A diet with 18% protein might contain by-products and fillers. Broaden your range and you might find something with a meat-based protein source that will maintain healthy kidney function, just as well!
Expense doesn't always equal quality. Don't just assume that buying the costliest food will assure you of its suitability.
Look for more than just a pretty label - As with lots of things in life, marketing tactics abound in pet food products. Beautiful illustrations and clever names might lead you to think a food is better than it really is!
Choose to buy from a company who offers sound, thoughtful customer service and product recommendations specific to your pet.
The dangers of relying on a diet that's marketed just for your breed can lead to a false sense of security, too. The food you feed must be selected according to your individual animal's unique requirements, not the breed that's pictured on the label. No two bulldogs are exactly alike and one single diet shouldn't be expected to meet the needs of every bulldog under the sun.
That said, there are many great quality, broad reaching diets that the vast majority of dogs will thrive on. Avoiding by-products, fillers, chemicals, colors, and flavor enhancers, is a must for everyone. Grains should often be avoided in those prone to chronic GI upset, ear infections and skin irritation, all of which are frequently caused by a dietary gluten overload. But some dogs actually need grain in their food to maintain a healthy bodyweight.
For the most part, a diet with a moderate nutritional profile and a good quality spectrum of ingredients will serve the task well. Don't automatically shy away from higher protein foods just because your pup is over age six. Healthy Seniors can actually benefit from a substantial protein percentage, it helps maintain collagen, which provides amino acids that are essential for tissue growth and repair. Celebrating his seventh birthday shouldn't automatically warrant a change in food!
Try to encompass variety wherever possible. Good quality, whole food, people ingredients are not bad for dogs when offered in moderation, as an accompaniment to a good quality basic diet. Don't be duped by the big guys, into thinking that all you should feed is the product they make. They are thinking about their bottom line, if you don't share your food with your pup, the more you'll need to buy of their product.
If your dog has special requirements, try keeping a notebook with comments about which foods seem to trigger reactions. Was it high carbohydrates or increased fat that leads to a gain of those few extra pounds? Does more protein really set off her urinary tract problems? Do all grains make his ears flare up or just the high gluten ones?
Sure, a large breed puppy does have somewhat different nutritional requirements than a senior small breed but they are both Canis Major with the same basic organ systems and their needs might not be quite as diverse as some companies would have you believe.
Contributed by Lucy Postins, The Honest Kitchen

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