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Q. I thought that feeding my dog was just a question of throwing down a bowl of kibble once a day. Is this something I really need to think about?
A. Small things can actually make a big difference -- for example, eating only once a day can cause excess stomach acid and vomiting in some dogs. Eating twice a day, morning and early evening, is best for medium and large dogs like beagles and Labrador retrievers; if you feed them more often they may develop a weight problem. Smaller dogs like poodles and Yorkies tend to metabolize food faster, so you may need to give them three meals a day, says Gary Ryder, DVM, of Southwest Michigan Animal Emergency Hospital in Kalamazoo. Put out a bowl of water with each meal as well, and keep it filled so he stays hydrated. Filtered water is great, but tap is fine.
Q. Does it matter whether I feed my dog wet or dry food?
A. No. Both provide the right nutrients, so you can base your decision on what your dog likes best -- and on what's more convenient. "The vast majority of pet owners prefer dry food," says Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, a senior medical adviser at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. "It's easy to store and serve, and it's cheaper, too." Dr. Hohenhaus sometimes recommends switching a sick dog to wet food if he has a sore mouth, needs extra hydration, or if wet food encourages him to eat.
Q. My dog has bad breath. Does that mean I'm feeding her the wrong diet?
A. Probably not, but it does mean you need to brush her teeth, says Rebecca Remillard, DVM, a nutritionist at the Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste designed specifically for dogs and aim to brush every day. Your dog's breath is never going to smell minty fresh, but if the odor suddenly gets very bad it may be a red flag that she's sick and needs to see the vet.
Q. I'd like to make my dog's food myself. Is that okay?
A. Yes, but it's hard to ensure that homemade food contains all the right nutrients. Dogs need a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat as well as a variety of vitamins and minerals, so it's smart to talk to your vet first. And don't give your dog raw meat, one of the many recent doggie diet trends, says Dr. Hohenhaus. While some pet owners like the idea of feeding their dogs the kind of diet they would have eaten in the wild, the digestive systems of domesticated dogs are not equipped to handle raw meat, she explains. They can become sick from salmonella or parasites, the two biggest threats, or from other pathogens such as E. coli.
Q. My kids sneak bits of food to our dogs at the dinner table. Is that bad?
A. "You definitely shouldn't get in the habit of feeding your dog table scraps," says Dr. Ryder. Not only will it throw off the nutritional balance of his diet, but there are many seemingly innocuous "people foods" that are dangerous for dogs. For example, grapes and raisins can lead to kidney failure, chocolate may cause seizures, avocados can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and the sweetener Xylitol may harm your dog's liver.
Q. How can I tell if my dog has a food allergy?
A. Dogs can develop allergies to ingredients like beef, chicken, wheat, and soy. The most common sign is itching: Your dog will compulsively lick or scratch her front feet, groin, or ears, and the skin will be very red and irritated. She may also vomit or have diarrhea. If she regularly has some or all of these symptoms, call the vet, who can help you figure out whether an allergy is to blame.
Make Your Own Dog Treats
Tamra Johnson, founder of Distinctive Dog, an all-natural dog-treat company in Seattle, created this recipe exclusively for Ladies' Home Journal readers.
Peanut Butter Snaps
Preheat oven to 290 degrees F. Mix 2 cups oat flour and 1/2 cup potato starch in mixer. In a separate bowl blend 1 egg, 2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup honey, and 1/4 cup canola oil; slowly add to dry mixture. Add 3/4 cup peanut butter and 1/4 cup mashed banana; slowly add cold water until dough begins to stick together (if it gets too sticky, add more flour). Remove dough and roll to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters; place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 50 minutes, turn off oven, and leave treats inside for 2 hours to harden.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2011.