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The Price of Poor Nutrition for Dogs

21/06/2016 12:11 | Updated 21 June 2016

As a canine nutritionist, my job is to provide nutritional information for dog owners. I don't promote any specific method of feeding although I do prefer home-prepared, raw or cooked, diets. There are many advantages to preparing your dog's food yourself not least because you know exactly what your dog is eating and can be assured of the foods provenance and quality. Making sure your dog is not eating too many additives and preservatives may also be important to you but not all home-prepared dog food is equal. I can't stress enough the importance of nutritional balance - if your home-prepared food does not include all the nutrients that your dog needs for his age, breed and activity level then even lovingly prepared homemade dog food can cause serious health issues for your pooch.

Ironically those most likely to investigate a home-prepared diet are those most concerned about their dog's well being. Often these owners have the very best intentions for their four legged friend and want to give their dog the very best they can afford. Unfortunately what most don't know is that many home-prepared dog food recipes found in books or online are lacking in vital nutrients and are not safe for long term use. Often the recipes are for when a dog is ill and needs a bland diet. Such a diet may indeed help your dog settle his or her digestive system over a few days but it will lack essential nutrients over the long term. Plus so many recipes share the same deficiencies so rotating between different homemade diets will usually not make up for the nutritional deficiencies. Nutrition has many potentially significant impacts on health and wellbeing. Your dog might seem OK at first but he may not stay that way if you are feeding him a home-prepared diet without professional consultation. This is one of the big reasons why so many vets are against home-prepared dog food - they are the ones who see the problems caused by an unbalanced diet.

For example I know of one sad case involving an eight-month old St Bernard puppy that became seriously ill after consuming an unbalanced homemade diet over a five-month period. The diet consisted of cooked meat and rice, raw apple, cooked broccoli, raw egg and a vitamin and mineral supplement. The owners believed they were doing what was best for their much loved pup. Despite their well intentioned efforts the puppy began to experience painful shoulder joints and lameness in both front legs. A visit to their local vet diagnosed the puppy with osteochondritis dissecans, a disease that affects the cartilage surrounding various joints in a dog's body.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were prescribed and the puppy was referred to the Foster Hospital at Tufts in the United States. The vets at Tufts noted generalized mild muscle wasting along with the shoulder pain and lameness. Following the physical examination, the puppy developed partial seizures (later attributed to low calcium levels), a rapid heartbeat, and his body temperature rose to 39.4 degrees C. A biochemical analysis revealed low levels of calcium, blood sodium, chloride ion, vitamin D and taurine as well as abnormally high blood phosphate levels. X-rays revealed widespread bone demineralization or loss of bone strength.

The veterinary team investigated the puppy's diet by comparing the nutrients in the homemade diet with the dietary requirements for normal growth and determined that the puppy's diet had, "multiple and substantial deficiencies, 50 percent below the minimum requirements set by the National Research Council (NRC) and American Association of Feed Control Officials. (AAFCO)"

Thankfully, the puppy was treated with medication, supplements and a nutritionally complete diet to resolve the dietary deficiencies and seizures. After three days of hospitalization he was released, his diet was improved at home and his biochemical levels were monitored for several weeks. His lameness was resolved but his early life deficiencies, caused by a well meaning but uneducated home-prepared diet means he may suffer from bone and joint problems for the rest of his life

Of all the home-prepared diets I have analyzed for clients (and I have done A LOT), not one has met NRC recommendations.

So whilst I always advocate a home-prepared diet over most commercial dog food it's absolutely critical that the home-prepared diet is balanced and fully meets the needs of your individual dog. Without proper consultation most home-prepared diets just don't cut it. It is always best to consult a vet or an expert in dog nutrition and take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to your dog's diet.

Kristina is certified in Advanced Canine Nutrition. Her journey into canine nutrition started out of love for an old rescue dog who was not responding to traditional medicine.

She provides consultations on general canine nutrition and home prepared diets working closely with a wide variety of vets. Kristina also write articles on canine nutrition and care for many publications. You can visit her at: Elmoskitchen.com

In 2014 she launched her very first App for all dog lovers called Doglicious which allows users to look up over 220 'human' foods to find out whether they are safe or harmful to their dogs

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