An average dog’s lifespan is 14 years so, if on average we’re talking 2 meals a day, that’s over 10,000 meals during it’s lifetime. That makes food choice for your hound a very important one.
Below are the building blocks of knowledge for you to consider when it comes to keeping your greyhounds happy and healthy through their diet. As always, research widely, but be a critical thinker….
Why is diet so important?
You can’t see them, but like us dogs share their bodies with many unique colonies of microbes eg bacteria, fungi, viruses. The largest colony of these microbes is found in the gut, more correctly known as the Enteric Nervous System. All these separate communities of microbes are collectively known as the microbiome.
A relatively new body of science is emerging which is making it very clear that the microbiome is a ‘forgotten organ’ of sorts however it plays a vital role in overall health. The individual ecosystem of gut microbes shapes your dog’s immune system, influencing digestion, and affecting their risk of developing disease.
Perhaps, most interestingly is the role that gut health plays in mood and behaviour as the microbes living in your dog’s gut communicate directly with their brain through a complex network of neurons. Research has found that, not only do the types of gut microbes change when animals are exposed to stress, health problems related to the gut can be the cause of mood and behavioural shifts.
Additionally, 95% of the serotonin (a chemical responsible for good mood) in the body is found in the gut and the types of microbes found in the gut have been found to strongly influence the levels of serotonin.
Keeping the microbes in the gut happy, stable and healthy is vital to ensure a happy and healthy hound. You can think of these gut microbes as tiny friends who can support and benefit your dog; however, they need the right ingredients to do their job.
So, what should I feed my dog?
When you change your dog’s diet, you also change what you’re feeding the microbes in their gut. Switching diets alters the diversity of the microbiome and if typically, the dog only eats a limited selection of food and this transition occurs quickly, they may get an upset tummy. To avoid discomfort (and diarrhoea) gradually introduce new foods to give the gut time to adjust safely.
Finding the right base food, whether that be raw, biscuits (kibble), or wet food (dog roll, canned) is also tricky. There is one website that can help you make more informed decisions called dog food advisor: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com
Here they have given nutritional information and an unbiased rating system for each of the foods.
The store Raw Essentials in New Zealand can offer advice on raw feeding.
Here are some guidelines:
· Feeding an exclusively fresh and unprocessed diet is not always possible, convenient or affordable. But even replacing 25% of your dog’s base food (even if processed) with fresh food, three times a week will make a huge difference. One study showed that dogs that ate dark leafy green, yellow and orange vegetables 3+ times per week had a 90% decrease in cancer risk.
· When looking at the ingredients in dog biscuits, look for meats and ideally not by-product or meal (which is usually a ground up version of the bits humans refuse to eat). In terms of how much of the product should be meat, look for food which contains 65 - 80% animal content.
· Grains and vegetables are usually a good source of protein and carbohydrates as well. This will include some (but not too much) corn and wheat. Grain-free is a recent gimmick and currently there is no real evidence to support that this is beneficial to our dogs.
· Fresh vegetables are a better source of carbohydrates than grains so watch to ensure your dog’s carbs are coming from a good, ideally fresh, source. You can finely chop or grate veges to mix in with meat to make it more palatable if necessary.
· You can mix raw food with cooked food. There is no research to suggest kibble or cooked food takes longer to digest or that dogs struggle with this.
· Raw meaty bones such as chicken frames and briskets are great for cleaning dog’s teeth.
How should I feed my dog?
Scavenging is a natural behaviour and is what turned our free roaming street dogs into the pets that lay beside us on the sofa. With that in mind it is boring to eat the same thing, out of a bowl, every day. Each meal is an opportunity to enrich your dog’s life. Here are some ideas:
· You can provide an outlet for the dog to scavenge through hide and seek games. Hide a few pieces of food in easy places to begin with e.g. around their usual eating area, then multiple locations around the house or the garden. This is a feast for all the senses and encourages less confident dogs to explore their environment.
· Scatter feeding in long grass, this slows down dogs who like to inhale their food and makes them smell, look and taste a little more.
· Kongs or other durable food dispensing toys (even muffin trays) slow down manic eating behaviour. You can stuff Kongs or cow hooves with raw meat/canned food and then freeze or refrigerate them as a cool treat in warm weather.
· You can also make DIY toys and hide treats in recycling; carboard boxes, egg cartons, or folded over toilet roll tubes for dogs to dissect (another species-specific behaviour).
· Tasting trays allow dogs to try different foods and select the ones they like the best. Place different foods in the muffin tins, so there is a difference in taste, smell, and texture. Experiment with variety and pick out ‘human foods’ you may not usually feed – fruit, vegetables, egg, different kinds of meat. You might be surprised what their preferences are. Remember you can check online if you have concerns about unsafe foods to feed (e.g. chocolate, grapes, avocado, macadamia nuts, stones from fruit, onion, large amounts of garlic, xylitol).
· Use a portion of your dog’s daily meal to reward desirable behaviour in training or to create positive associations.
Do not feed multiple dogs in the same space at the same time. Food is a highly valuable resource and feeding in close proximity can cause unnecessary stress and conflict.
Please leave your dog alone while they are eating and monitor any children to ensure they do not interfere.