Pet health and nutrition

We don't cover your furry family members under your Private Health Insurance policy, but it doesn't mean we don't value and love them just as much you do! We've brought together a few health and nutrition tips for your favourite pooch to ensure they too are living healthier and better lives.

What should I feed my dog?

As pet owners we know that pets are great for our own health – they encourage us to be physically active, offer companionship and science even tells us that staring into our dog’s eyes activates production of the ‘cuddle hormone’ oxytocin, the very same hormone that bonds humans to their human babies. (Is it any wonder we refer to our dogs as ‘fur babies’?!)

It’s also no surprise that as pet owners we want what’s best for our dogs. The key health tips for a healthy, happy dog are exercise, healthy diet (including portion control), regular vet checks and good dental hygiene. Simple enough, yes? But as pet dogs have moved from our backyards into our bedrooms, the pet product industry has exploded. Today you can find pet food options ranging from vegetarian to gluten-free, high-fibre, holistic, natural, raw, grain-free, low-fat and for weight-loss. (Sounds like a regular human supermarket, right?!)

The options are overwhelming; so, we asked Byron Bay-based Animal Nutritionist and Founder at Hunde.com.au Clare Kearney for some advice on feeding our dogs.

Is pet nutrition as complex as human nutrition?

“Understanding pet nutrition is much like our own nutrition; with a bit of education and a similar level of common sense it’s easily achievable. It’s mostly eating fresh foods that reflect our bodies' nutrient requirements. We [as humans] do of course have the added benefit of being able to use our intuition and feel when we need nutrients through cravings and desires. Once you understand your pet’s general physiology and the foods that best nourish them, it is not overly difficult to provide them appropriate nutrition.”

Is commercial dog food enough for dogs?

“The most common issue with pet nutrition is that the vast majority of commercial pet foods contain extremely large amounts of ingredients that dogs (and cats) are not designed to digest, like carbohydrates and starches, and almost no fresh ingredients,” says Clare. “They are extremely processed and then supplemented with synthetic nutrients to meet the mandated minimums for vitamins and minerals.

“Through the work I do, I see a lot of symptoms – varying from bad breath and itchiness, to IBS, cancer and severe periodontal disease – that can be prevented, managed and in some cases completely resolved with a robust fresh diet. I think that says a lot about whether we are experiencing nutritional deficiencies in our pets.”

To ensure you are providing everything your dog needs at their stage in life (puppy, adolescent, adult, pregnant, senior, etc.) Clare recommends designing a homemade diet with the help of an animal nutritionist, or buying high-quality, fresh commercial products and rotating them.

Do dogs experience food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies?

“Animals do experience sensitivities and intolerances like us, as well as genuine allergies (although these are quite rare). Common causes include being fed pet foods that do not suit their digestive capabilities and place stress on the body, as well as being fed the same food over and over for long periods of time.

“Symptoms most often present as digestive or skin conditions. Yeast overgrowth due to excess starch is very common too, which presents as itchiness, red or brown skin and fur and a cheesy smell.”

Other signs to look out for are vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence, weight loss or poor weight gain, seizures and hives.

What human food can I feed my dog?

“Some fresh fruit and veggies offer nutritional benefits and I think are an important addition to your dog's diet, but they need to be finely processed and/or cooked so they can be properly digested and the nutrients obtained,” says Clare.

“Other than this, a diet consisting of lots of variety of different proteins, fish, offal and raw bones is a great idea. Cooked fresh diets may also be better suited to some dogs, but these should never include cooked bones.”

My dog loves avocado, should I be concerned?

Some foods like bread and avocados appear on ‘toxic’ lists for dogs, but many dogs enjoy the odd smashed avo on toast alongside their owners. Should we be concerned?

“Avocado does give some dogs an upset stomach and if this is the case for your dog then by all mean steer clear,” offers Clare. “The reason it ends up on toxic food lists is because it contains persin, but a dog would need to eat the skin, stone or actual tree to experience toxicity. I had a family Akita that ate avocado on toast for breakfast every day and she lived to a ripe old age.”

What foods are ‘toxic’ to dogs?

According to the RSPCA, these are the foods you should and shouldn’t feed your dog.

Yes

  • Fresh drinking water
  • High-quality balanced premium commercial dog food, appropriate to the dog’s life stage (puppy, adolescent, adult, pregnant, senior) and health status
  • Natural foods including, fresh, human-grade raw meat, raw meaty bones (check with your vet first), finely cut vegetables
  • Occasional cooked meat, fish (boneless, and tinned tuna, sardines or salmon in spring water not oil or brine), and pasta or rice

No

  • Pet-grade meats as these can contain sulphite preservatives which can lead to thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency
  • Human-grade sausages, sausage meat and manufactured meats as these can contain sulphite preservatives
  • Cooked bones
  • Alcohol, coffee or caffeine products
  • Onion, onion powder or garlic
  • Chocolate
  • Mouldy or spoiled foods or compost
  • Bread dough or yeast dough
  • Grapes, raisins, sultanas, currants
  • Nuts (including macadamia nuts)
  • Fruit seeds, stones or ‘pits’
  • Corncobs
  • Green unripe tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Persin
  • Cooked bones
  • Small pieces of raw bone (choking/obstruction hazard)
  • Fatty trimmings, fatty foods and salt
  • Roughly-cut vegetables (choking/obstruction hazard)

*Source: RSPCA Australia knowledgebase


The information provided or views expressed in this article by third party contributors are not necessarily those held by Queensland Country Health Fund Ltd.