Diet & Nutrition
Diet and Nutrition is very important to your Labradoodle's health and wellbeing, but choosing a suitable diet that will ensure your Labradoodle is healthy and happy can sometimes be a minefield. The strength of your dog’s immune system, resistance to disease and quality of life all depends on the type and quality of food it eats. There are hundreds of commercial brands to choose from, and also the option to 'do it yourself' by feeding a more natural diet like BARF.
So how do you go about choosing the 'best diet' for your Labradoodle?
Best Diet for Labradoodles
It is important to stress that there is no best food for Labradoodles or any dog, as each dog is an individual, and what works well for one may not work at all for another. However, the one thing to bear in mind is that dogs are carnivores and hence they do have a requirement for meat. So whatever diet you choose for your dog, quality meat should be top of the ingredients list.
It is also important for a dog to get a variety of foods, rather than just one type of food for its whole life. With commercial diets, feeding different foods can help fill nutritional gaps that a particular food or brand might be deficient in, as well as making it less likely that your dog will develop food allergies. A dog can’t get the optimal nutrients it needs out of one bag and type of food if it’s fed that all the time. It’s better to choose at least two or three different brands using different protein sources and grain fillers, and rotate between them, anywhere from a daily basis to every few months. The only caution about feeding a lot of variety is not to feed every exotic protein available (eg duck, rabbit, venison ), as you may need to do an elimination diet using a food your dog has never had before to test for food allergies.
In addition to kibble, I suggest adding some fresh foods to the diet, including eggs, meat (raw or cooked), tinned fish (sardines, mackerel, in oil, never in brine), dairy (bio yogurt, cottage cheese) and healthy leftovers (steamed vegetables, meat and fish scraps). This will dramatically improve the quality of whatever diet you feed.
If you tend to feed the same food continuously for a month or more, be sure to make the switch gradually to avoid digestive upset, i.e, add some of the new kibble to the old before switchover, but dogs that are used to getting different foods all the time rarely have any problems with it.
There are many problems with some commercial petfoods as a high proportion of their ingredients are not meat based and use grains and waste from the human food chain to bulk out their food. Health issues such as allergies, obesity, food intolerance, arthritis, chronic ear infections, cystitis, kidney stones, certain heart diseases, pancreatitis, hip dysplasia, canine mammary cancer, bloat, and diabetes all have nutritional components — that is, nutritional factors are suspected or known to play a role in inducing or perpetuating these diseases. Therefore it is very important that when selecting a commercial food that we feed one that is of high quality and suits our dogs.
Every commercial food on the market contains different ingredients, and each one has the potential to cause symptoms of allergy or intolerance in some dogs. Every food contains a different ratio of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals and you have to learn by trial and error which ratio works best for your dog. So it’s not surprising that people feel confused or are persuaded by clever marketing that they are feeding their pet a good quality food, when the truth is they are not.
What to Look for When Choosing a Commercial Brand of Food
Meat/ Fish etc should be listed as the first ingredient. Meat is easily digestible and should be the main protein source. Also look for a named meat…i.e. chicken meal, as opposed to “meat meal” as it could contain absolutely anything. The meat content should always be high.
- Purchase dried foods in smaller bags and vary the protein sources regularly. I.e. Chicken one month, Lamb another. Buying a huge 20kg bag which is open for a few months before it’s used up will “go off” and not be as nutritionally viable. Keeping food in tight storage containers improves longevity too. Food allergies are also more likely to develop if the dog is fed the same food all the time.
- Naturally preserved food. I.e. Preserved with Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols), Vit C (Ascorbic Acid) instead of chemicals.
- Low Grains- Be careful to read the label and check ALL grain sources. Food labelling can be deceiving and just because they label meat first doesn’t mean it’s the main ingredient. Grains tend to be split to hide the overall content so for e.g. wheat, Maize, prairie meal etc when all added together means that grains are the main ingredient.
What to Avoid
- Artificial preservatives – (BHA, BHT or Ethoxyquin) - another sign of a low quality food. These are usually labelled as permitted EC additives, EC permitted colourants and antioxidants. Ethoxyquin is banned from use in foods for human consumption except for the use of very small quantities as a colour preservative for spices. Find a food with natural preservatives such as Vitamin E instead.
- Meat by-products, derivatives or digest (meal is OK) - these descriptions basically translate to horns, hooves, beaks, feathers to name a few. There is some disagreement whether whole meat is preferable to meal. Meal means it has been dehydrated, so if a meal is listed as the first ingredient, there is greater likelihood that the food contains more meat than grains. When whole meats such as chicken, lamb, turkey etc are listed as the first ingredient, there may actually be much less meat due to the weight of the moisture in the meat. Both whole meats and meals are considered acceptable as long as they are identified and not generic (e.g., not "meat meal" or "meat and bone meal").
- Grains - Avoid food that have grains as the main ingredient. Better to choose a brand that has a smaller percentage of grains where possible as these tend to be high in carbohydrates which are difficult for a dog to digest and will tend to increase weight in our dogs. They are present in many commercial brands and are more likely to cause digestive intolerances. These include wheat, maize, corn, rice etc and if the main ingredient, should be avoided. Wheat and oats also contain Gluten.
- Salt and sugar - sugar can damage the pancreas and drain vitamins and minerals from the body. Yeast also thrives on sugar. Excessive salt content leads to kidney and heart problems.
- High in carbohydrates (tends to be from grains) - food should be high in protein in the form of quality meat ingredients, not high in carbohydrates from grains. Contrary to many myths and popular beliefs, there is no harm in feeding a high quality protein diet to dogs of any age, including puppies and seniors. Studies have proved that protein does not cause joint issues in puppies, nor lead to kidney disease in older dogs. In fact, protein is extremely beneficial: it supports the immune system and the central nervous system, contributes to wound healing, helps build lean muscle, and is required for skin and coat health. There is absolutely no reason to limit the amount of protein you feed your dog. However you must ensure it is high digestible protein from Meat/ Eggs as opposed to grains. Look for foods that are high in proteins from meat sources, rather than the typical high-carbohydrate diets that are more commonly available. Dogs find it hard to digest complex carbohydrates that are used in dog food mostly as an inexpensive source of calories (grains are also used to supply low-quality protein in some foods), and to help bind dry food together into kibble. Studies indicate that highly digestible protein, low-carb foods with moderate amounts of fat also help dogs lose weight better than the traditional high-carb, low-fat (and often low-protein) weight loss diets.
Just be careful not to choose a high protein + high carbohydrate based on grains as these are the ones that can act like rocket fuel. Always choose a kibble that has a high meat/fish content. If unsure just reduce the amount of kibble you feed and replace with some fresh, high-protein foods, such as meat, eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, and tinned oily fish. That way you know it is good quality highly digestible protein from meat and not grains. Essential Fatty Acids are often missing from dried foods so it’s good to add fish oils daily to the diet to ensure they get plenty of Omega 3 and 6.
Labradoodles are large breed puppies (unless miniature) and therefore should be fed a restricted diet to slow their growth. Overfeeding encourages them to grow too quickly, resulting in most of the bone and joint problems common in large breeds, including dysplasia, osteochondrosis, etc. Limit the amount you feed to keep your pup lean and slow-growing, and keep to a low carbohydrate diet.
Never give supplemental calcium of any kind when feeding a commercial diet. Feeding an adult food to a puppy may cause excessive calcium intake, as the adult food might have more calcium for the same amount of calories than a puppy food would, while not providing the other nutrients required by puppies. Puppies need more vitamins to ensure optimum health and that’s why puppy foods have higher vitamin content than adult food.
You should always feed puppies foods that are approved either for puppies or for all life stages. If you feed a food that is approved for adult dogs only, there will be inadequate amounts of protein, and improper levels of calcium and other nutrients. Large Breed Puppy Formulas may not be the answer, as they often replace protein with carbohydrates. High protein diets are preferred, as puppies need protein to thrive and studies have shown that high protein does not lead to developmental problems, but high fat diets, carbohydrates and overfeeding may contribute to too many calories, leading to rapid growth.
“Convenient Complete” dog foods are not the only way to feed your beloved Labradoodle, more and more people are now taking control of what they are feeding and are doing it themselves.
Natural Feeding or BARF
Many Labradoodle Owners have changed stance and started to feed their dogs more “naturally”. By feeding a more natural diet, you are in charge of everything that your dog is eating and therefore know exactly what you are providing nutritionally wise for your dog. Owners have witnessed great benefits by feeding this way to include cleaner teeth, brighter eyes, thicker and glossier coats, more lean muscle and less body fat, and better energy levels -- hyper dogs often become calmer, while lazy lethargic dogs may become more energetic. They have also more importantly found that doodles on this diet now love their food. Dogs and cats have been eating a fresh raw diet for thousands of years until recently, so why do we think that commercial processed foods are better? The truth is they are not, and I certainly wouldn’t want to bring my child up solely on “convenience foods” and expect them to be healthy! it’s the same for our dogs.
BARF - Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. Raw meaty bones as the main part of the diet (Chicken carcass, wings, rib bones, marrow bones etc, mince), Offal (kidneys, liver, tripe), eggs and dairy, Fish, and Vegetables. Many Dogs fed a raw diet have much improved digestion, fewer odourless firm stools, less allergies, and overall fewer health problems. This is because you are feeding your labradoodle as nature intended and what they would automatically feed themselves if they were in the wild. For more information about BARF, click here.
It’s easy to do, but you must do your research first to ensure that you are providing the necessary nutrients for your dog to thrive.
There are three basic rules to feeding a homemade diet: variety, balance over time, and calcium.
All homemade diets need to contain a variety of different foods, including different types of meat and raw meaty bones, different parts (especially organs), and different foods, such as eggs and dairy. As a general rule, you should never feed one kind of food or meat as more than half the diet, and preferably less. Variety ensures optimal nutrition.
When you feed a variety of different foods, every meal does not need to be “complete and balanced.” You should ensure that all of your dog’s nutritional needs are met over a period of a week or two, just different foods at different meals, and on different days; you don’t have to combine all the different foods into a single meal. It’s also fine to feed just chicken, for example, for a couple of weeks, and then switch to another meat source for the next two weeks. This works well if you buy in bulk to keep the costs down.
A raw diet that includes about 50 percent raw meaty bones will supply the proper amount of protein and calcium (these can be in the form of minced meat ground with the bone). As a general rule of thumb, adult dogs will eat around 2 to 3 percent of their body weight in fresh food daily, but remember that each dog is an individual, and the amounts they eat can vary considerably.
Foods to Avoid or Restrict
While most foods safe for people are also safe for dogs, there are a few notable exceptions. Here are some foods you should not feed your dog:
- Onions - can cause a form of anaemia. Reaction is dose-dependent and will build up over time.
- Grapes and raisins - cause kidney failure in a few dogs for unknown reasons.
- Macadamia nuts - toxic to dogs, even in very small amounts.
- Raw salmon, trout and related andromadous fish from the Pacific Northwest (California to Alaska) - can carry a parasite that causes Salmon Poisoning in dogs. Cooking will destroy the parasite. Note that tinned salmon is cooked and therefore safe.
- Chocolate and caffeine - contains Theobromine which is toxic to dogs.
- Xylitol - a natural sweetener, is toxic to dogs. It is found in some water additives, such as C.E.T. AquaDent and Petrodex Breath Spray for Pets. It is also found in many human products, including sugar-free gum, mints and children's vitamins.
In conclusion, diet is essential to your labradoodles health and taking the time to find the most suitable food will save you money and heartache in the long run.
Cost, time and convenience are important factors to consider, but let’s make sure as we feed our doodles, that we truly provide them with the quality of nourishment that will help each one reach its own healthy, individual potential. Remember 'you are what you eat' and it’s the same for our beloved Labradoodles.
There is plenty of more indepth information regarding diet and nutrition on Doodle Times. If you have any queries regarding diet then please register and feel free to ask as many questions as you need to.