I have received some questions about what to feed a Labrador.
Everybody has different opinions on dog food, some of the key things that I look at are 1) the food’s protein and fat levels and 2) the dog’s exercise/activity levels. Just as with people, the more active a dog is the more nourishment the dog needs to cope with the burning of calories, protein and fat.
Labs in low activity environments should do well on a 26% protein and 16% fat diet (e.g. Purina Pro Plan Performance 26 / 16 or Purina Pro Plan Savor Chicken and Rice formula).
Dogs that are in a high training and conditioning program can be on a 30% protein and 20% fat diet (e.g. Purina’s Pro Plan Performance 30 /20 formula). These two foods are for hard working and active dogs, so exercise is critical for proper bone/joint development!
Dogs doing moderate exercise can be on around 28% protein and 18% fat. For example, Taste of the Wild High Prairie (yellow bag).
There are a lot of good brands of dog food, but you have to decide what works best for that specific dog. The examples I noted above meet the protein and fat levels, but there are many other brands of dog food available. There are too many brands to list them all. Check the brands sold at your local pet stores like PetSmart, your local feed stores, and research the nutrient & caloric contents/guaranteed analysis on the Internet.
A word of caution: please be careful with too rapid growth in Labrador puppies. Rapid growth causes skeletal issues (like hip dysplasia and issues in the front legs/feet). Rapid growth is said to be linked to genetics, excessive dietary calcium and/or overfeeding during the puppy phase of life. Over feeding not only means the amount of food being fed, but also the quality of food!
Pay close attention to what and how much you are feeding because nutrition is very important in puppy development. It does not matter what you feed, IF it works. But if it is not working, feed whatever it takes to make it right. If there was a perfect food, there would only be one.
One of the most important pieces of puppy nutrition is that you feed a correct calcium/phosphorus balance. If you are feeding a quality food, you don’t need to worry about this as most quality brands are all properly balanced. The second most critical piece of feeding puppies is to make sure you feed them the same number of calories that they use. You cannot read that on a bag, you have learn to read that on the dog.
If you feed more calories than they are using, that can allow bone to grow faster than it is meant to grow. But you cannot change the growth rate of tissue, so if your bone grows faster than the tissue, the tissue has to stretch to keep up with the bone and any time you stretch tissue you weaken it.
The first place you see an issue is in the joints of the front legs as the front carries more weight. The front legs, pasterns and feet should look exactly the same, suspended in the air and bearing weight. When the dog is standing and bearing normal weight, if you see flatter feet, east/west pasterns, spread toes or twisted feet, that is usually an indication that you are overfeeding.
If you correct overfeeding immediately at a young age, you should see improvement pretty quickly. So either you feed less, switch to a lower calorie food, and/or exercise more! Make sure the dog is using the calories you are feeding it.
The following information was provided by Pat Hastings, a leader in canine structural evaluation and an experienced AKC show judge. Go to http://www.dogfolk.com for more information on obtaining her books and videos.
When you consider that a puppy grows for 18 to 20 months and a child grows for 18 to 20 years, the speed at which damage can be done by improper puppy nutrition is staggering. Feeding a puppy improperly for one month is the equivalent of feeding a child improperly for one year. Thus, it is imperative to make sure your puppies are doing well on whatever you are feeding them. Just remember how quickly nutritional damage can occur, once the growth plates close, nutritional damage is permanent.
Something we as consumers must rethink is the idea that more is better. Why would we want to feed our puppies more powerful nutrients than human children? They start out on formula or breast milk, and then slowly move to strained, bland fruits and vegetables. They are hardly coaxed to gum down salads, steaks or multigrain dinner rolls. When was the last time you saw an infant chomp into a pepperoni pizza?
High-powered nutrients can enable bone to grow faster than it was meant to grow. However, the growth rate of tissue is unalterable. If a puppy receives more nutrients than it can utilize and those nutrients accelerate the growth rate of bones beyond the growth rate of tissue, the tissue can be weakened. Therefore, close attention needs to be given to how puppies are doing on the food that they are being given. My recommendation is always to feed a name-brand product. If you see any structural weaknesses that could be caused by what is being fed, switching to a lesser-power food (usually the adult formula of the same brand) generally corrects the problem, as long as the growth plates have not yet closed. The younger the puppy is when this change is made, the faster the problem is corrected. As stated earlier, the nutritionally-based weakness becomes permanent once the growth plates have closed. If you are feeding a quality, maintenance food to your adult dogs and they are in excellent condition, then that is usually what you can safely feed your puppies from day one.
Are you feeding the right food?
Your dog should:
* Be in good weight
* Have tight/compact feet (not splayed out)
* Have straight legs and pasterns
* Have a full coat with a healthy sheen
* Have clear, focused eyes
* Have supple, smooth skin
* Have no inflamed or irritated membranes (e.g. ears, feet)
* Have a firm stool
* Display an alert, animated attitude
A Healthy Weight:
As far as weight condition, there are three elements to check on your dog:
1. You should be able to feel a nice layer of fat over the ribs, but you should still be able to feel all of the ribs with your fingers. Your fingers should not fall between the ribs.
2. You should be able to find the hip bones easily by touch, but they should not be visible.
3. When looking straight down on the topline, you should be able to see an indication of a waist.
Keep an eye on the dog’s weight. It’s best to be a little bit on the lean side to encourage healthy joint growth, yet not too thin to where the dog is not thriving and growing well. Monitoring your dog’s weight day by day is so much easier than working to fix a weight problem once it has become too obvious.
With respect to supplements, this is what has worked for us.
Recommended for all our Labs:
* 1,200 mg Glucosamine – supports the structure and function of joints
* 600 mg Chondroitin – natural component of cartilage, which is the “shock absorber” between joints
* 500 mg MSM – makes cell walls softer/more permeable, enabling the body to quickly wash out any foreign particles, free radicals and toxins
The above can be found in two chewable tablets of Cosequin DS Plus MSM.
* 1,200 mg Fish Oil capsules – great for the coat and skin.
* Pill Box – we use an AM/PM pill box to keep track of the supplements.
* Cabots Greek Style Regular Yogurt – lowers yeast in the system and may lead to less ear problems. 1 tablespoon of yogurt added to the regular dog food works wonders.
* The absolute best physical workout for a dog is swimming. 20 minutes of active swimming-retrieving is worth an hour of jogging, without the continuous pounding on the joints that takes place on hard surfaces.
* Jogging and running for dogs is best accomplished on soft surfaces such as grass or sand versus the hard impact surfaces of concrete and asphalt.
* In any canine conditioning program, short and medium distance sessions provide greater benefit for the dog than long grueling distances.
* In order to avoid anxiety and frustration by your puppy or dog, keep training sessions as short as possible.
* A good ratio of training to breaks is 7 minutes on, 5 minutes off.
* The use of verbal praise and treats with young puppies is essential to keep the interest level high.
* Always end all training sessions on a positive note and then spend some extra time playing with the puppy or dog.
Plan on feeding your puppy twice a day. If you have the ability to feed three times a day, then go for it. Smaller, more frequent meals, is always better for young puppies. First thing in the morning and then the last meal of the day should not be any later than 6:00 PM which will give your puppy time to eliminate before bedtime.
If you choose to use a different brand of food, be sure to change to the new food slowly. Mix about 2/3 of what he has been eating with 1/3 of what you want him to have. Use this blend for a day or two, then over the course of the next week or so, slowly start adding in the new food until it is completely replacing the original. This will help prevent an upset stomach and possible diarrhea.
I am not a veterinarian. Please consult with your vet before introducing new items into your dog’s diet.