Dogs form such an important part of our lives, don’t they? It’s hard to explain to a non-pet owner the impact one can have on your life. From providing much needed company, to giving a reason to get out of the house on even the most miserable of days, it’s easy to see why a dog is often described as man’s best friend, and woman’s for that matter. But do you do your very best to look after your pup in the same way you would a human best friend? We’ve teamed up with renowned dog food brand, James Wellbeloved, to share our dog owning journey and some tips we’ve found on how best to keep our four legged friend fit and well. Fancy seeing what we found out? Then read on…
Introducing Bella, The Devon Mama Dog
Whilst you may have seen her in the background of our social media pages and making the odd appearance on here, it’s been a while since I dedicated a whole post to the Devon Mama dog, Bella. Affectionately known as our first child, our long-suffering pup has admirably dealt with going from the apple of our eye in those heady pre-child days to a toddler climbing frame without a grumble. Bella is a chocolate labrador who, at over ten years of age, is starting to slow down considerably… not that that seems to stop her leaping around like an idiot the moment the doorbell goes! She’s a huge part of our family life and, despite slipping down the ranks as our family’s grown, I’d be more than a little lost without her, hence wanting to keep her as healthy as possible as she goes into her older years!
The Challenges Of Keeping Bella Healthy
With two small children (and another on the way) ensuring our dog gets enough exercise is never an issue. From running around in the garden to traipsing through the woods each weekend, our daily walk has long formed a staple part of our family routine. Our biggest challenge is ensuring that we keep an eye on what Bella eats.
Bella is fed a dry dog food diet which we’ve followed since she was a puppy. She has a measured serving first thing in the morning and we tend to add a small amount of warm water and let it sit for a while before giving it to her. This was something that we picked up when using cheaper food brands where the food swells when it gets wet thanks to some of the ‘bulking’ ingredients. By soaking it prior to feeding, we’re stopping it from swelling further in her stomach and causing discomfort or upset. These days we use higher quality branded food that doesn’t swell in the same way but we still tend to soak it, mostly to soften it slightly thanks to her being that bit older.
With two children around, there’s always a plethora of food at dog height and we work as best possible to try and ensure that this doesn’t become dog snacks along the way. Many human foods such as chocolate, grapes and onions can be particularly harmful to dogs so it’s not just about protecting their waistline. We tend to move Bella to a different room when the children are eating and then clean up as best possible to try and minimise the amount that she gets but dogs (and children) are pretty smart and I’m sure she snaffles down various bits she shouldn’t throughout the day. Because of this we don’t tend to offer treats or other food on a regular basis, unless we need to for positive reinforcement. In those situations we tend to use pieces of her regular, dried food or on special occasions she might even get a bit of cooked chicken… what a treat!
Many dog breeds can suffer joint issues, with labradors being a breed that are particularly prone to hip joint issues. From the early stages of our puppy owning journey, our vet impressed upon us the importance of minimising any excess weight in order to reduce unnecessary pressure on those joints. That’s easier said than done with a breed that are renowned for their puppy dog eyes and their abilities to act like a doggy dustbin – she’d happily eat anything and everything!
What Does A Healthy Diet Look Like?
It sounds basic, but a healthy dog diet starts with choosing a healthy dog food. You want something that’s going to support your dog’s nutritional needs at their stage in life by offering a complete and balanced diet packed full of essential nutrients and goodness. A natural dog food, such as those available from James Wellbeloved, only use simple ingredients with a single source of protein in each food and naturally hypoallergenic properties. Dogs are similar to humans in that they can suffer allergies and intolerances, leading to stomach upsets, lack of energy or a dull coat and dry skin so this is an important feature to look out for. You’ll also want to look for foods that don’t include cheap bulking ingredients; all these do is mean you’re giving your canine friend less goodness per mouthful, effectively bulking out the good stuff. It’s also these ingredients which can swell in your dog’s stomach as they absorb fluids leaving your dog uncomfortable after meals.
Once you’ve found your healthy food, you’ll want to make sure that you’re serving your dog the right amount. What does that look like? Most dog foods will have a recommended serving size on the side of the pack based upon your dog’s size and breed. If you’re unsure or want extra guidance, it’s always worth asking your vet who’ll be able to offer more guidance based on your dog’s exact needs. It helps if you know an ‘ideal’ weight range for your dog as this can be an easy way to monitor if you’re over-feeding your dog – most vets now will issue this and ask you to weigh your pet prior to any annual appointments just to keep an eye. Don’t forget that dogs will need to be fed differently depending on their age with puppies needing smaller, more regular feeds during the day compared to older dogs, again this is something that your vet can give guidance on.
A well-balanced dog food should give your dog all the nutrients and food source that they need but it’s still okay to sensibly treat your dog when appropriate. We use treats to reinforce good behaviour throughout Bella’s life, for example, she’s not a huge fan of being brushed so we’ll always be sure to reward standing still for that with a treat! You can either purchase specific dog treats, offer a smaller amount of their main food or offer occasional pieces of human food. Remember that if you’re regularly treating your dog you should swap the treat amount for the equivalent portion of their day’s food rather than giving them in addition. Also it’s important to make yourself aware of human foods that can be dangerous to dogs so that these aren’t offered in error; these include chocolate, grapes and onions as well as moulds amongst other things. Instead, lean protein sources such as cooked meat or fish make perfect treats – just watch out for bones!
Finally, if you’ve read all of those tips and now feel you need to make changes to your dog’s diet, it’s important that you do so gradually so as not to cause digestive issues. In the past our vet has recommended a slow transition by mixing foods in gradually decreasing (existing diet) and increasing (new diet) quantities over a number of weeks in order to smooth the process and allow you to monitor for any issues with the new food. Again, it’s always worth getting advice from a vet who’ll be happy to support your journey to making healthier choices for your pet.
What Changes Do We Need To Make?
Thankfully, following our research, we’re confident that we’re currently doing everything that we can to support a healthy diet for Bella. This is made up of a combination of a high-quality food source, minimal treats and a clear understanding of portion sizes. As she continues to slow down and get older, we’ll be asking the vet for advice on whether we need to alter portion sizes or offer anything different to support her body through this process. As ever, our biggest challenge will always be ensuring she doesn’t eat too much – particularly tricky when we’re about to have another baby and go through that messy weaning stage all over again. Rather than being too hard on ourselves for the odd piece of stolen food (or floor crumb picnic) we’ll be making adjustments where possible, monitoring her weight and making sure we educate the children from a young age on what foods absolutely mustn’t end up on the floor… as you can imagine, that’s particularly easy with chocolate!
** This post is in conjunction with James Wellbeloved but, as ever, all thoughts and opinions are my own. **