When Jerome Kogan’s eight-year-old pug, Grady, begs for her dinner, it’s probably not because she’s concerned about her health. “Grady starts asking for dinner about 3 o’clock every afternoon,” says the 39-year-old resident of New York City. “I try to hold off until 4, though sometimes her incessant whining gets to me, and I feed her earlier. She just really loves to eat.”
Kogan is certainly aware that Grady’s dinner satisfies her, if only for a few hours. He concedes that she is, after all, a pug. What he is less aware of is that Grady’s vittles are the product of years, if not decades, of research on canine nutrition.
“The pet food industry is 150 years old, and it’s come a long way,” says Duane Ekedahl, president of the Washington D.C.-based Pet Food Institute. “In the past -- say forty years ago -- there was no emphasis on nutrition, but that’s changed dramatically. Today’s dogs are living longer, healthier lives partly because of advances in veterinary care but also because of better nutrition.”
Eating Right the Dog Way
Like the average healthy human, the average healthy dog has to eat right to stay that way. According to Ekedahl, it’s easier for dogs to do that now. “Dog foods have evolved into very complex products,” he says. Many of the products he refers to address common canine health maintenance issues, such as immune system functioning and joint maintenance. “A variety of today’s products meet a variety of health needs. Some tackle a host of issues in one fell swoop.”
Simply feeding a dog these days can be a preventative health measure. Today, thanks to nutrition research, you can attempt to stave off the most run-of-the-mill doggie issues. And while you never want to feed a dog a medical diet for conditions it’s not been diagnosed with (e.g., kidney problems or weight issues), a diet based on ideas of health maintenance may be a beneficial option.
Edible Protection for Your Pet
Step No. 1 in preventative health: shoring up your dog’s immune system. “Oxidative stress can have negative impacts on the immune system, so adequate antioxidant defense is important,” says Dr. Sally Perea, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist in Davis, Calif. “Antioxidants, such as vitamin E and vitamin C, help defend the body from free radical, oxidative damage.” Beta carotene, an organic compound in certain foods that enhances your dog’s ability to respond to vaccinations, also makes good immune system sense.
Equally important to your pet’s quality of life are its joints. Arthritis commonly occurs across many breeds as dogs age, changing the structure and function of the connective tissue that covers their bones at their knees and hips. Foods that contain natural sources of the compounds glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate today can help prevent arthritis from developing tomorrow. Studies suggest they decrease the activity of enzymes that can break down cartilage in your dog’s joints. Helping your dog maintain a steady weight, by feeding it quality foods following recommended servings, also supports joint and overall bone health.
Nourish Your Dog’s Coat and Mind
You’re not the only one who can have bad skin and hair days. For canines, as for humans, skin and hair health reflect overall well-being. To grow and maintain healthy skin and fur, dogs need fatty acids. “Dogs have an essential requirement for linolenic [Omega-6] acid. Recent recommendations by the National Research Council also suggest that alpha-linolenic [Omega-3] acids be included in the diet, especially for reproducing dogs and puppies, because they’re important for brain and retinal development,” says Dr. Perea. Look for foods that contain flaxseed and fish oil to ensure your dog gets both types of fat.
Proper Doggie Digestion
Finally, your dog’s entire digestive system could use some protection. This starts with its teeth. Kibble fortified with sodium hexametaphosphate, also found in some toothpastes, fights tartar. And to keep things moving along, Fructooligosaccharides (or FOS) come to the rescue. Says Perea, “FOS is a type of nondigestible carbohydrate, and it produces fatty acids that provide energy to the large intestinal mucosal (dog mucous membrane). Basically, they promote large intestinal health.”
Living in the present, you and your dog can take advantage of what nutritionists and researchers have learned in the past, ensuring your dog’s health and happiness in the future. And that, as Ekedahl says, is the bottom line.
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