First, let me start off by saying that I am NOT a vet. I have, however, done extensive research on nutrition, and I have a very strong relationship with my vet. I balance my horses’ rations very precisely and have attempted to do the same for Abe. However, dogs’ diets are much different, and much more varied, than horses’, so it’s harder.
First, I determined Abe’s approximate daily caloric needs. There’s a nifty calculator here, on possibly the greatest dog-related website ever: Dog Food Advisor. (DFA has reviews and detailed ratings of pretty much every dog food on the market. Check it out!) Abe is 35 pounds, and that’s a very healthy weight for him. This dog is all muscle. He’s also pretty active. According to this calculator, Abe needs approximately 996 calories/day. This is just a rough starting point and will need adjustment for each dog.
A good rule of thumb is to feed the highest quality food that you can afford. With a high quality food, you’ll end up feeding less because the ingredients are higher quality and more easily digested, so your dog will get more out of it. A side benefit is that because the food is more easily and efficiently digested, there will be less poop. 😉
Because Abe is a picky eater, it took me some time to find a quality food that he likes. I went with Purina Beyond Grain Free canned food, which is rated 4.5 stars on Dog Food Advisor, and Nutro Max Grain Free dry food, which is rated 4 stars on DFA. I decided to go with both a wet and a dry food because dry food is cheaper, but he won’t eat it on its own, so I mix it with wet food. Time for some math.
Purina Beyond wet food contains 434 calories per can, and Nutro Max contains 385 calories per cup. These values are pretty high for both a wet and dry food. That’s why I chose them over other food of the same quality.
So if Abe needs roughly 1000 calories a day, and I want to only feed one can of wet food a day, this is what it comes down to:
1000 cal – 434 cal = 566 calories from dry food. 566 cal / 385 cal/cup = 1.5 cups dry food.
That’s all well and good. However, Abe won’t eat all of it if there’s that much dry food in there, even if it’s soaked in water until it’s squishy and mixed in with the wet food. The most dry food he will tolerate mixed in is about a cup.
434 cal wet food + 385 cal dry = 819 calories
So I’ve got just over 100 calories to make up for without adding any more food. I decided to go with canola oil to make up the difference. It’s not ideal because it’s plant-based and therefore isn’t as efficiently digested and balanced for a dog, but it’s not going to hurt him in any way in small doses. You wouldn’t want to give more than a tablespoon of oil to a medium to large dog, as it can make for some runny poops. The calorie content of one tablespoon of canola oil is 124, so that brings his daily caloric intake to 943. That’s close enough for me, especially since he gets some treats outside of his daily ration anyway. So he gets his cup of dry food soaked in water and a tablespoon of oil every day, and he eats it mixed with his wet food with no problem. Plus, the dry food gives the mixture a nice texture so it’s easy to ball it up into bite-sized training treats.
Once or twice a week, Abe also gets some raw meaty treats. Usually chicken necks, chicken gizzards, or something of that nature. As much as I would like to feed a totally raw diet, it’s not feasible for me, but he still benefits from some raw snacks from time to time without upsetting his stomach.
I didn’t take anything but calories into account when deciding how much to feed. This is because these foods are both complete and balanced, and the ratings on DFA are very good, so I’m not going to go into it too much. I did consider the protein level when I chose these two; for a fearful dog, a high-protein diet can actually decrease the levels of seratonin in the brain, and that can increase their fearfulness and anxiety. There aren’t any definitive studies on this that I can find, but it’s not a bother to feed a lower protein diet, and if it can help, I’m all for it. Because of this, I didn’t choose food with a high protein level.
As always, talk to your vet with questions on feeding your dog!