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Boning up on dog nutrition.

My local newspaper recently requested recipes for dog biscuits from readers. The response was tremendous: More than 100 people sent in recipes for doggie treats.

That dog owners prepare such canine delicacies is quite understandable; for many of us, the preparation of food is an act of love. Yet frequently we mistakenly correlate our dietary needs and wants with those of our dogs, and in spite of good intentions, the result can be bad for the health of the pet.

I am not against feeding a dog homemade or "people" food; however, providing a nutritionally balanced diet by this method is time consuming and difficult. Consider the following points:

* Meat is inadequate in calcium, phosphorus, sodium, iron, copper, iodine, vitamins A, D and E; it has excess protein. Fish, pork, rabbit or wild animal meat should not be served raw--parasites could be transmitted.

* Eggs are one of the best sources of protein, but they should be cooked, because raw whites destroy the essential vitamin biotin. Eggs provide linoleic acid, a fatty acid that can improve the hair coat and supplement low-fat dry foods.

* Milk is an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, vitamins and protein. However, cow's milk, because of its high sugar content, often causes diarrhea in puppies.

* Liver contains high-quality protein, fat, carbohydrates, trace minerals and vitamins. Additions of small amounts of raw liver to the diet of a weak, anemic dog or puppy may be helpful, but diets composed exclusively of liver result in calcium deficiency and vitamin-A toxicity.

* Bones help prevent tartar build-up on the teeth but should be of the large, hard variety that doesn't splinter.

* Candy consumption, particularly of chocolate, which can be toxic, leads to obesity.

* Normal dogs fed a quality pet food do not need vitamin mineral supplements, but supplements in the correct amounts should be given routinely if homemade diets are fed.

Although it is difficult to provide adequate nutrition with homemade pet food, it can also be difficult to choose the right commercially prepared food. The three major types are dry, soft-moist and canned. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

* Dry foods are the least expensive and may be fed "free choice" (see below). Their abrasive effect helps decrease dental tartar. They may not supply adequate energy to the nursing mother, and they tend to increase fecal excretion. Nevertheless, they are the most popular form of commercial pet food.

* Canned foods are generally more palatable and digestible but more expensive per pound: They contain more fat and calories, a desirable trait when caloric needs are high (e.g., an outdoor dog in winter). Gourmet canned foods are high in protein and fat content and in palatability. They are good choices when food intake is decreased because of disease, except in cases of kidney and liver failure or when high protein is required for wound repair.

* Soft-moist foods do not require refrigeration and may be fed "free choice." Most are palatable and cost about the same as canned foods.

Free-choice feeding is simply ensuring that reasonably fresh food is always available. Of course, regardless of the feeding method, cool, fresh water should be available at all times. The obvious disadvantage of free-choice feeding is that some dogs overeat. Such animals should be fed meals only in the caloric amount necessary to maintain optimum body weight (maintenance feeding).

Although this maintenance feeding once a day is sufficient for the average adult dog, it is inadequate during growth, lactation, the last month of pregnancy and physical exertion. Dogs weighing less than ten pounds may also find maintenance feeding inadequate. Frequent, small meals throughout the day are often beneficial for dogs that are ill.

Individual requirements for maintaining weight and condition vary from dog to dog. The dog's ribs should not be visible, nor should they be covered by excessive fat. Weighing your dog frequently may help you to determine weight gain or loss. Changes of more than 5 to 10 percent from ideal should be accompanied by changes in the amount or type of food fed. Moderate work increases a dog's requirement for food by about 40 percent. Dogs decrease food intake when the temperature rises above 77[deg.]F. and increase food intake when it drops below 50[deg.]F.

The dietary needs of the growing puppy or the older dog are quite different from those of the average adult dog. Time-limited (20 minutes) feeding of a quality, highly digestible food is recommended for growing puppies. From weaning to 6 months of age (12 months for giant breeds) feed them three times a day, and from 6 to 12 months of age (12 to 18 for giant breeds) feed them twice a day. Overfeeding or supplementing the growing dog with additional calcium or phosphorus may result in skeletal problems.

Older dogs require fewer calories, because of reduced activity. Their food should be highly palatable and digestible. Reduced protein, phosphorus and sodium intakes are extremely important for the older animal because of kidney and heart changes. Increased dietary intake of unsaturated fatty acids, zinc, lysine, calcium and vitamins A, B-1, B-6 and E may be helpful.

Remember that more is not always better; underfeeding is preferable to overfeeding. Consult your veterinarian before supplementing your dog's diet with vitamin mineral preparations. Dogs do not need variety; avoid snacks and table scraps. The average life span of the dog is 12 years, and longevity can be increased with good care and good nutrition.

Questions for the Vet Dear Dr. White:

Recently I purchased a basset hound from the humane society in Indianapolis. His age is between eight months and one year. My question is in regard to the type of dog food I should be feeding him. The humane society suggested a puppy chow, but he is the size of a full-grown dog and this doesn't seem to satisfy him. What about generic dog food? Does it have all the nutrients and vitamins that the brand-name dog foods have? Thanks for your advice. Dear Ms. Sandhage,

Generic dog foods are usually produced and marketed in a local area and contain the least-expensive ingredients available in that area. Although there are certain to be exceptions, generic-brand dog foods are usually of lower quality than those produced by major national companies that can afford to spend time and money on research and more expensive ingredients.

I suggest that twice a day you feed your puppy all of a good-quality puppy food that it can eat in 20 minutes. Also, if your puppy has not recently been checked by a veterinarian, please make an appointment. Internal parasites or disease might be the cause of your dog's large appetite. Dear Dr. White:

Our cat will bleach out in spots--like a brush burn--and blood will spurt out like a broken capillary. She gets these all over. We've had her to vets, and one said she was infecting herself by scratching. Another said it could be food allergy. We had her on a chicken-and-rice mixture along with steroids and ointment. She cleared up some--never entirely. Another suggested cause was hormone deficiency to be treated twice a week for the rest of her life. I'm a retired senior citizen and can't afford that. I hesitate having to have her put to sleep, but the blood spots on the walls and floor are very annoying, and she does look like she's neglected.

Can you possibly tell us what is wrong with her and suggest a treatment for her? Dear Mrs. Berda,

It does appear that your veterinarians are actively pursuing the causes of your cat's skin problems. Often, in the case of allergies, the cat must remain on steroids for the rest of its life if the cause of allergy cannot be determined and removed. This isn't ideal, because steroids are not a cure and can cause side effects.

Hormone deficiencies can cause skin problems. You might give the hormone treatment a trial period. If it elicits improvement over a specified period, it's worth the expense.

Skin problems can be difficult to diagnose and treat, and I realize that veterinary medicine is often limited by economic considerations. I hope that through mutual patience and understanding, you and your veterinarian will find a solution that will offer relief to the cat. I am sure that the bond between you and your cat is quite strong.
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Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1984
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