Adapting feeding habits to fit your dog’s size and need is vital.

No matter what type of dog you have, it is built to be a carnivore. It digests meat and meat products easily, but cereals and cereal-based foods are harder to digest, especially if they are less processed. The digestibility of the dog’s diet determines the availability of the food’s various components and minerals. That is, if a cereal-based food is not easily broken down by the digestive system, the body will not be able to access and use a great proportion of the minerals and vitamins in it.

Keeping these general guides in mind, an enormous range of diets can be fed to adult dogs with good results. However, dogs vary considerably in their requirements for energy, fats, proteins and carbohydrates, depending on age, rate of growth, breed, sex, desired end weight range, environmental factors, genetic variation, and level of activity.

Dogs’ diets should also be adjusted for periods of increased demand, including pregnancy, lactation or growth. At these times, the availability and digestibility of essential components of diets can become critical to the health, growth and future wellbeing of the dog. In these situations, it is therefore vital you tailor your dog’s diet to its particular needs.

Feeding active dogs

Usually, active or hard-working dogs require more frequent feeding of a diet that provides plenty of energy. Sledding dogs, for example, thrive on a highly digestible diet featuring plenty of meat.

Dogs in thin coats also require higher energy levels in the diet during periods of cold weather, as they work harder to maintain their body temperature, whereas in warmer weather requirements for energy in the diet drop. Lower fat levels are required in very hot conditions.

Food sensitivities

When planning your dog’s diet you should also take into account any unusual disorders, such as gastritis, as well as particular breed-specific food intolerances that may affect your dog.

Gastritis

Chronic gastritis can be a result of dietary problems such as allergies and sensitivities. Sudden changes in diet can result in diarrhoea and, while this usually settles down within a few days, some cases can develop into intractable gastritis. Dogs with gastritis can have poor absorption of fats and proteins, or bacterial overgrowth due to the chronic nature of the problem.

A bland diet can help dogs suffering from gastritis, while adding prebiotics (non-digestible fibres that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive system) and gastric bacterial replacers such as Protexin or Acidophilus can can also provide relief.

Once the motions are stable, the diet can usually be slowly returned to a normal mix of dry food and meat. To help your dog avoid gastritis, ensure you are feeding a balanced diet of quality dog foods.

Breed-specific intolerance

Most breeds can eat nearly every type of protein and fat available, but some (including German Shepherd Dogs) are more sensitive to various types of proteins and carbohydrates and can develop allergies, the most common being to beef and wheat gluten.

A few breeds are less tolerant of high levels of carbohydrates in the diet – this is more commonly seen in the arctic breeds (Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies).

Quite a few breeds have higher requirements for certain types of vitamins and minerals, most commonly zinc and amino acids.

Zinc responsive dermatosis is a skin problem caused by zinc deficiency. Beagles, Bull Terriers, Dobermanns, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Pointers, Standard Poodles and Rhodesian Ridgebacks are prone to this condition, especially at times of rapid growth. Zinc responsive dermatosis is not caused by a simple lack of zinc in the diet; these breeds appear to have slightly higher requirements for zinc.

Many dogs of these breeds rarely have problems with the better diets available today, but some individuals may require supplementation. American and English Cocker Spaniels can have a vitamin A responsive dermatosis. Again, a higher requirement for vitamin A may exist in these breeds.

Urinary stones

Owners of Dalmatians generally need to avoid feeding diets high in purine, an amino acid, especially if the dog concerned has a history of forming urate stones.

Dogs that form urinary stones are often very dietary-pH sensitive (so their diet directly affects their urinary pH). A urinary pH that is either too high or too low can often start the process towards stone formation.

Some breeds are more sensitive to this dietary influence than others, which is why some breeds are recognised as predisposed to developing urinary stones, and why various specialised diets can often help prevent urinary stone formation.

Karen Hedberg is a veterinarian at North Richmond Veterinary Hospital.