Wild canines are constantly in search of food for survival. Although you will never let your dog go hungry, his instinct to find food remains strong. So while it may be a nuisance when your dog is constantly pawing through garbage, sniffing at the table or trying to scrounge up a snack, keep in mind that he's only following his survival instincts, and work to gently correct this behavior.
Some dogs are allowed to eat all day; that is, food is left in their bowls at all times. This constant availability of food can lead to an overweight dog. Treats and snacks add up in calories, too. To check your dog's body condition, do the "rib test." Run your hands on either side of his body along his rib cage. You should be able to feel the outline of his ribs. With an overweight dog, you might not be able to make them out at all. On the other hand, if the ribs are too prominent, the dog is underweight. In either case, visit the vet to rule out any health problems: Dogs may gain or lose weight with illness. You may see other symptoms; for example, dogs suffering from kidney problems will also urinate and drink more, and may vomit and be depressed.
Your vet can recommend dietary modifications or special foods, and for an overweight dog, probably an exercise program as well. Its vital to get a chubby pup back to a healthy weight, since overweight dogs are at risk of diabetes, heart problems and cancer, among other things. Keep track of all the extra bits of food given outside of mealtimes, and be more stingy in giving out treats, or ask your vet for ideas on healthier alternatives. Underweight dogs, too, are at a higher risk for all types of illness, due to their reduced ability to fight infection, decreased reserves of fat and energy, and poor healing ability. These dogs may need dietary supplements to bring them back into the pink of health. The bottom line on pet foods is simple. We have a rough idea of the essential nutrients necessary for pets. We know some of the toxic levels for nutrients. Other than that, it is hard to be sure about any nutritional claims. Studying nutrient needs is extremely complex.
There are a great number of theories about what constitutes "proper" nutrition. For every good thing you hear about a food, there are likely to be as many bad things. Making sense of this is very difficult. There is no single food that is "best" for all makes and models of dogs. Some things seem to be clear, though. Pets do require certain nutrients. A good way to ensure that the pet foods you feed your pets contain adequate nutrients is to look for a statement that the food meets AAFCO Food Trial testing standards.
This is an organization which sets standards for pet foods. Most good quality foods will have this statement on their label. It is at least a good start in ensuring that your pet's diet is adequate. Some people are currently advocating diets containing raw meat for pets. Before feeding raw meat, please stop to consider the health warnings for humans concerning raw meat. Dogs get the same illnesses from E. coli, Salmonella, Toxoplasmosis and other health hazards associated with raw or under-cooked meat. Is the perceived benefit worth the risk of one of these diseases? Don't let your pet teach you to feed it a poor diet.
It is very easy, especially with small dogs and cats, to fall into the trap of feeding your pet what he or she wants instead of what he or she needs. Dogs are very patient trainers of human beings. If you're not paying attention, you could find that Spot is on an all meat diet in no time. It can be hard to ignore those pleading eyes, but your pet IS better off if you feed a balanced diet!