Amy Cook
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Don’t underestimate just how crucial a healthy diet will be to your dog and you. What you feed her will help determine how long she lives, the state of her health while she’s alive and how long she will stay well. Remember, this crazy dog-child of yours won’t ever grow up and leave home, and there is no NHS for our pets. So feed them well, keep their immune system strong and enjoy your bouncy, healthy dog for much longer. You’ll save money on vet’s bills into the bargain. I guarantee it.

 

Somewhere along the line, it has become acceptable to feed our dogs the same food, over and over again, day in day out for years. But why? Think about it, your dog lives, on average, to be 12 years old. You feed her twice a day. That’s 8760 meals she’s going to eat during his lifetime. Not including treats.

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That’s a lot of kibbles. Let’s take the average dog (I realise there is no such thing but work with me here). I’m going to get myself an average dog, and I think I’ll name him Charlie after my Auntie Lyn’s Yorkshire Terrier, lovely boy. Charlie weighs 25kg and, let’s say I feed him dry food, needs roughly 375 grams a day. If he lives until he’s 12, he will because he’s, y’know, “average”, that will be nearly 274 sacks of 12kg dog food. That’s either a lot of good or a lot of bad food your dog will eat.

Try a healthy treat: A Healthy Dog Biscuit Recipe

What if you were that dog? Try and envisage your own personal Groundhog Day. Imagine that you mosey on down to the kitchen every day from the comfort of your snuggly dog bed to dining out on… garbage. You love garbage; it’s full of sugars, possibly added colours (which you can’t see well because you’re a dog, so don’t see colours as vividly as a human), it’s crunchy though, and you like crunchy. Next, you move on to the wet stuff. It’s got some nice tasting gravy going on there, but the ‘chunks’ of meat don’t pose much of a challenge, so it’s soon dispatched, and the bowl is licked clean. Yummers! Now, where’s my bed?

For a non-sweet treat: Healthy, No Sugar Easter Egg Recipe for Your Top Dog

 

That’s all well and good when you’re young, and you can eat what you like and still party like it’s 1999, stay out all night (if only you weren’t locked in the kitchen) and get busy giving the other dogs the run around in the park. No one catches the puppy! Having said that, your energy is a bit up and down, your skin itches, and your ears are a bit gunky, but you can live with it.

Give it a few years of eating the same cheap (or even very expensive) dog food with low-quality ingredients, and you start to feel tired more easily. Your waistline has expanded. You don’t smell fabulous either; it could be your gut, could be your plaquey old teeth, no one’s too sure. Your skin’s itching, so you constantly chew your paws, frustrating your human no end, and you could do without your anal glands being blocked up then manually squeezed empty by the vet. Oh, the humiliation! And because you’re middle-aged and rotund, your joints have started growling, now you’re not the fastest dog in the park any longer, but that’s ok because you’re about as energetic as well, an overweight middle-aged dog fed a poor diet all its life.

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Now don’t take this personally. This is just an example of what Charlie could end up like given the food he’s fed. I gave my two cats terrible food until I read the back of the packet one day and threw the whole lot in the bin. I know better. Now.

Do you know what goes into your dog’s food? Find out here: Understanding Pet Food Labels

Dogs get what they’re given. But just like us, because we can eat whatever we like, which let’s face it is too much starchy, fatty, sugary and salty food, they are going on to develop diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, skin rashes, tooth loss, poor mobility, tooth decay, behavioural and allergy problems. And just like us, it’s astonishingly easy to reduce the risk of all these diseases. By eating properly and getting enough exercise. Yawn, I’ve heard it all before too, but this really is the nub of it. You are what you eat. Our beloved dogs are no different.

 

If you already have a dog, you will know that, when it comes to feeding your charges, everyone’s an expert! In the blue corner, we’ve got the supermarkets, and large pet chains, backed up by multinationals, shouting loud and clear that their ready-made kibble is the best, that no one makes wet dog food like them, and the ingredients are second to none.

In the red corner, we’ve got devotees of raw, gushing about the benefits of feeding untouched chicken wings and the size of their dog’s stools (teeny tiny) as a result of the dog’s ability to ‘utilise’ every scrap of said wing.

Like having a child, having a dog is a very emotional thing, and we take other people’s opinions to heart. We want to make sure we’re doing right by our four-legged friends, opening ourselves up to a lifetime of guilt and easy commercial persuasion.

 

I watched a TV programme on life in a zoo recently. I’d never considered what all the different animals ate daily before or what a job that must be for whoever managed the zoo’s kitchen. It turns out the zoo has a full-time nutritionist employed to look after the welfare of their furry, feathery, leathery charges, and they must take everything about their lives into account before working out what to feed them. Species, activity levels, age, boredom etc., are all considered before recipes, methods and timetables for feeding are made up for each animal.

The nutritionist had an exciting point that’s stuck with me. He said, ‘these animals are in such good condition because of what we feed them. If we were in there and they were out here and could eat all they like, we’d be the ones in amazing shape. They (pointing to a honed to perfection group of tigers) would be fat as all get out because they could eat what they want. They’re not programmed any differently to us.’

Wow. This could be the new craze – the ‘Zoo Diet’. Lock me up and hide the key for six months. Feed me what I need, only when I need it, and let me lounge about on a rock the rest of the day picking my feet, only moving occasionally to sidle up to a group of unsuspecting visitors and show them my backside, just like a Chimpanzee, ‘does my bum look big in this? Oh no, I forgot, I’ve lost two stones!’

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It’s different for Charlie Average though. He will eat whatever I put in front of him. So I want to give him the best food I can afford to put in his dish. But how do I know what the best food is, I hear you ask.

Well, read on and I’ll tell you. Basically, when it comes to feeding your dog there are three main schools of thought: commercial dog food; home-cooked dog food and raw dog food. Which one you choose will depend on your particular circumstances, preferences and those of your dog. But by the time I’m done, I assure you, you’ll be able to sniff out great dog food at a hundred yards. You will know the difference between a carrot and derivatives of vegetable origin and you’ll regard most pet food marketing as laughable hype. The staff at PetsPetsPets will know not to try it on with you! Oh yes!

**Excerpt from the book Top Dog by Kate Bendix published on November 6th 2014.

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