There are several reasons why you might decide to try to improve your dog’s diet. You may be worried about the potentially harmful chemicals found in some processed dog food, or concerned that tinned food isn’t giving your furry friend everything they need. You might want to supplement your dog’s diet with home-cooked foods to up their nutritional intake, help fight or prevent illnesses, or simply to add some variety to Fido’s daily routine (it is the spice of life, after all!)
It is essential to do your research before making any changes to your dog’s diet, as many foods considered healthy for humans are toxic to dogs. General advice leans towards feeding your dog a diet primarily made up of high-quality, specially-formulated dog food – choose a brand that is specifically designed for your dog’s age and health, and follow the guidelines for how much to give them – and supplementing this with natural food. As a general rule, you can replace up to 25% of your dog’s diet with home-cooked foods to safely increase their nutritional intake.
Here are our top 15 tips for improving your dog’s diet and wellbeing in this way. Remember to always check with your veterinarian before making changes to your dog’s diet, especially if they suffer from an illness or have specific dietary requirements.
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Protein is essential for overall health, growth, and energy, and your carnivorous dog’s diet should include plenty of high-quality protein from animal sources. If you want to supplement your dog’s diet with fresh meat, choose human-grade, unprocessed meat such as boneless chicken or lean beef, and make sure it is plain, as many seasonings contain onion and garlic which are toxic to dogs. There are a lot of conflicting opinions about whether meat should be served to your dog cooked or raw. Cooking meat makes it safer,but considerably reduces its nutritional value. Raw meat is advocated by many for being more ‘natural’ and having a much higher nutritional content, but also carries the risk of serious infection due to bacteria such as salmonella. If you decide to include raw meat in your dog’s diet, always make sure it comes from a certified source, and take the same hygiene precautions as you would when preparing meat for humans.
Supplementing your dog’s diet with the occasional helping of oily fish will boost their levels of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for maintaining your furry friend’s, well, fur – as well as skin and joints. Good oily fish options for dogs include tinned tuna and tinned sardines (in water, rather than oil or brine), and de-boned salmon. Always make sure the salmon is cooked, as raw salmon can be fatal to dogs. You should only feed oily fish to your dog as an occasional treat, and not as part of their daily diet.
Certain veggies are both safe for dogs to eat, and provide many essential vitamins and nutrients, especially in their later years. Good vegetables to include in your dog’s diet include carrots (raw or cooked, cut into small pieces), green beans and pumpkin. It is important to note that not all vegetables are safe for dogs – some, such as onions, are toxic. Always thoroughly research any new vegetables before feeding them to your dog, and only ever give them in small amounts.
A controlled amount of dog-safe fruits can be a healthy addition to your best friend’s diet, providing lots of vitamins and nutrients. Fruits that are safe for dogs in small doses include blueberries – which are high in antioxidants and may help prevent exercise-induced oxidative damage – apples, bananas, strawberries and pears. Always make sure to remove cores and seeds as they can be poisonous, and cut fruit into small pieces to limit choking risk. Fruit and vegetables combined should make up a maximum of 10% of your dog’s overall diet.
Green tripe is considered by many to be a superfood for dogs. It’s not pretty – for those who aren’t familiar, tripe is the stomach of a grazing animal, such as a cow, and green tripe is the purest form ie. straight out of the animal. This gross-but-great food is incredibly nutritious for dogs, due to the high chlorophyll content (which has detoxifying properties), high levels of protein, essential fatty acids and a probiotic called lactobacillus acidophilus, which improves digestive health. Green tripe can reduce joint pain in dogs with arthritis, and is also suitable for furry friends suffering from kidney disease, due to the low phosphorus levels. Green tripe is most nutritional in its raw form, however, as previously mentioned, if you decide to feed your dog any type of raw meat, care should be taken when sourcing and preparing to avoid infection.
Coconut oil is another doggy superfood, and is an easy way to improve your dog’s diet. It contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT) which are ‘good fats’ that offer numerous health benefits, including helping your dog’s immune system, reducing allergies, improving cognitive function, and aiding skin and coat health. As with everything on this list, it should only ever be given in moderation. Introduce coconut oil to your dog’s diet slowly, to allow their body time to adjust – a ¼ tsp a day is enough for small dogs, working up to 1 tsp for every 10lb of your dog’s weight per day, providing your dog’s digestive system is coping (no diarrhoea!)
Organ meats such as heart, liver and kidneys are one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can give your dog. It addition to being an incredible source of protein, organs contain high amounts of B vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E and K, minerals including magnesium, iron and iodine, and omega fatty acids – the list goes on. As with green tripe, you should try to source these other organs from grass-fed animals, as opposed to grain, and from a certified supplier, to ensure the meat is free from disease. Organs shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s overall diet – try giving your dog raw organ meats once or twice a week for a nutrient boost.
Plain yoghurt is a great source of calcium and protein, and can be a healthy addition to your dog’s diet. Just make sure to avoid yoghurts with added sugar or artificial sweeteners, and choose one with a ‘live’ bacteria which can act as a probiotic for your furry friend, helping to maintain good gut health.
Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and particularly good for breaking down the fat inside fat cells. This makes it a great addition to the diet of an overweight dog (or one who has been over-indulging recently!) Olive oil is also said to improve immunity, help combat dry skin, and lead to a healthier, shinier coat. Make sure to give it to your dog in moderation – as a rough guide, add ½ tsp of extra-virgin olive oil per 20lbs of your dog’s weight to their food each day.
Raw Meaty Bones
Certain raw meaty bones can be very beneficial to dogs, particularly in helping to keep their teeth and gums healthy. Bones should only ever be given raw, as cooked bones can splinter and cause intestinal problems and even fatality. The ideal bone should be big enough that your dog can’t fit it in his mouth and choke on it. Avoid T-bones, chop bones and marrow bones, as dogs can damage their teeth on these. A raw lamb rib bone is an ideal choice, and you should aim to give your dog a bone only once a week. It’s sure to be a much appreciated treat!
This herbal supplement is a great addition to the diet of dogs with existing liver problems. The silymarin found in milk thistle is a powerful antioxidant, which protects from the effects of toxins, and is linked to repairing and preventing liver damage in dogs. There are also numerous other health conditions that milk thistle is claimed to help with, including kidney disease, cancer and diabetes. It is important to only give milk thistle to dogs that require treatment, not simply as a preventative measure. Medicinal herbs such as this should only be taken for a limited period of time. Exact dosage recommendations vary depending on the concentration of the supplement, and are proportional to the weight of your dog. Always follow the instructions, and consult with your vet before giving your dog milk thistle for advice on how to use it safely.
Rice is safe for dogs in small amounts, and provides a good source of carbohydrates and fibre. It’s not the most exciting addition to Fido’s diet, but its ‘plain-ness’ can make it a good option for when your best friend has an upset stomach or diarrhoea. Choose human-grade, unprocessed cooked rice, avoid seasoning and only give it to your dog occasionally or when they have stomach problems, not every day.
Just as in humans, drinking enough water is vital to your dog’s overall health and wellbeing. Water aids in temperature control, helps digestion and is essential to ensuring that the nutrient-rich food you’re feeding your dog is absorbed into their bloodstream. You should always make sure your furry friend has access to plenty of clean, filtered water, and if they ever lose interest in water, seek veterinary help immediately, as this can be a sign of serious disease.
Just the Right Amount
It’s not just the type and quality of food that matters in your dog’s diet; it’s also the quantity. Making sure your dog is getting the right amount of food is essential to their overall wellbeing, and ensuring they maintain a healthy weight. All dogs need different amounts of food, depending on their breed, size and activity level – this can be particularly important to remember if you have multiple dogs living under the same roof, demanding to be treated as equals! As a general rule, adult dogs should be fed twice a day, to avoid bloating – the old adage ‘little and often’ applies here. Always consult your vet for guidance, and adjust your dog’s diet if they become under or overweight.
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Foods to Avoid
As already mentioned (but this can’t be stressed enough), it is essential to do your research before changing your dog’s diet, as there are many foods which must be avoided completely. It’s pretty common knowledge that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, but did you know grapes and raisins are also toxic and can cause liver failure and even death? Other foods that are poisonous to dogs include, but are not limited to: macadamia nuts, nutmeg, onion, garlic, lemon, lime, avocado and fruit stones, bread dough, caffeine, alcohol and anything containing xylitol (often found in baked goods, chewing gum and other sweet foods). These foods should always be kept well out of your dog’s reach. Dogs account for 70-80% of all animal poisonings, most probably because they are so inquisitive and explore with taste, so make sure to remove the temptation!
Ultimately, we all want our dogs to live long, happy, healthy lives, so it’s understandable and commendable that we would want to give them the best diet possible. However, due to the number of human foods that can be toxic to dogs, you should exercise caution, and always conduct thorough research and consult your vet before introducing any new foods into their diet.
Whilst the above provides some good, general tips for improving and adding nutritional content to your dog’s diet, this list is by no means exhaustive or guaranteed to work for every dog. You should always take into account your dog’s size, age, health, and breed when selecting new foods, as well as their existing diet. It might be that they are already getting enough of a particular nutrient and don’t need to supplement, or perhaps they are an older dog who doesn’t require as much protein as a puppy but could benefit from some more omega-3 oils to help their joints.
It is essential to remember that, just like humans, all dogs are different, and what one enjoys and thrives on, another may turn their nose up at in disgust, or eat but suffer an upset stomach. Always make sure to introduce new foods gradually and in moderation, monitoring your furry friend for any adverse signs, and seeking veterinary assistance if you’re in any doubt.
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