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Feeding Fido | Summer 2005 Out Here Magazine

A healthy coat is one sign of a healthy dog, says Dr. Ted Horner, and a good diet is key to achieving that for your pet.

Nourish your dog with the right food

By Vicki Brown

Photography by Donnie Beauchamp

Is your dog getting the correct nutrition? You can judge by three ways — the condition of his coat, his behavior, and whether he has digestive problems, a veterinarian says.

"As long as the coat is good and the gastrointestinal tract is functioning … and the dog's activity level is good, that's usually a food that they'll be okay with," says Dr. Ted Horner, who operates Hoof and Paw Animal Clinic in White House, TN.

Horner does not recommend a specific dog food, but he does believe puppies and older dogs should eat food designed for their particular stage in life. Such specialized foods contain extra vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients necessary to maintain optimum health.

"I think it's most important for puppies because they are growing so fast," Horner says.

Even then, it's vital to feed the correct puppy food. Research indicates large-breed puppies such as Labradors or golden retrievers are less prone to hip dysplasia or arthritis as they age if they are raised on puppy food designed for large dogs — food with a different balance of phosphorus and calcium.

Match the food to your dog. For example, active sporting dogs probably need more calories; a dog with kidney problems should eat low-protein food; and inside, non-active dogs probably should eat leaner food to avoid weight gain.

Dog foods also should have a seal from the Association of American Feed Control Officials indicating it meets minimum nutritional guidelines, Horner says.

Talk to your vet before introducing supplements such as glucosamine, a natural supplement added to dog biscuits or food, which lubricates the joints and can relieve arthritis.

"I think it helps some dogs, but some I can't tell any difference," he says.

Horner discourages table scraps. When he sees a dog with vomiting or diarrhea the reason usually is a drastic change in food.

On the other hand, pet owners who want their dog to have home-cooked meals can get nutrition guidelines from their vet.

In any event, Horner discourages giving dogs bones. "They can crack open the pork chop bones and a piece gets stuck in their throat," he says.

Your dog's feeding schedule depends on what is most convenient for you. A normal, healthy adult dog can be fed once or twice a day, although three times is fine, too. "What you do is figure out how much food they need (see the feeding guide on the dog food) and then divide it up by how many times you want to feed the dog each day," Horner says.

Leaving food out all day is not the best idea, Horner says, because dogs, like people, tend to graze if food is in front of them.

"If you leave them free choice," he says, "they'll eat more than they should."

Vicki Brown is a freelance writer in Nashville, TN.