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How to figure out the best diet for your pet

Understanding what to feed a dog can be tricky. Here’s how this writer found the right diet for her pup after several trials and errors

It is important to give your dog a break from a particular food for a few days to avoid their bodies from developing allergies for that substance.
It is important to give your dog a break from a particular food for a few days to avoid their bodies from developing allergies for that substance. (Unsplash)

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Boiled chicken and rice or kibble, most people will tell you to feed your dog these things. But is this enough? Definitely not. Just like us, dogs too need their fill of carbs, proteins, fibres and a good amount of liquids as well -- kibble and boiled chicken doesn’t have it all. 

Pet nutrition is a tricky subject. Some kibbles have grains, some don’t. Some supplements are necessary for pups, others not required. Even veterinarians differ in their opinion and that makes things harder. “The most common mistake people make is to seek nutrition advice from other pet parents without realising that the dietary needs of a differs and depends on the dog’s breed, size and age,” says Shashank Sinha, CEO of pet nutrition company Drools. 

We did that too. When Khal Dogo, our Dogo Argentino came to us at the age of 3 and half months, we fed him the kibble recommended by his breeder and gave him iron supplements because puppies need 32 times more iron than grown dogs. There were also weekly and monthly supplements for a healthy coat and stronger bones for them to sustain the impact of running on tiled floor of our city homes. But Khal would get frequent bouts of hiccups while he was on this diet. “Add curd to his dry kibble, so he stays hydrated,” someone said. From the very next day, he got dollops of curds in his bowl, which resulted in a bad cough.

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A month later, Khal’s trainer suggested we feed him boiled chicken and egg along with some boiled vegetables. Kibble, he said, can harm a dog’s kidneys in the long run. That’s when chicken was bought into a vegetarian household for the very first time. Initially, we requested our house help to buy and boil chicken for us at their homes as we were not comfortable handing meat. But that changed quickly as we realised that getting someone else to cook for our dog was not sustainable in the long run. My husband took it upon him to cook Khal’s chicken and eggs.

But the joy of being self-reliant was short lived. A month later, Khal started getting itchy boils all over his body and his coat became extremely rough. “These are heat boils,” one vet said and started him on an ointment and medicines. That didn’t work. Another vet suggested some other medicines, but those didn’t work either. Finally, a third vet, who spent 30 minutes examining Khal and asking us several questions about his diet, figured it out. “It’s some kind of a food allergy,” she said, and asked us to take an expensive blood test. But the results can’t be hundred per cent reliable, she added. 

Still recovering from the financial setback of the lockdown, we were apprehensive of spending Rs. 10,000 on a test that may yield no results. Worried about Khal’s constant scratching and our failure to figure out the cause of his problem, we hardly slept that night. My husband got on to the internet and researched about food allergies in dogs.

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By the next morning he had found a simple solution. To eliminate one thing each from his meal for a few days to figure what causes the boils. The culprit was chicken. It’s rare, but our dog is allergic to a food that is most commonly given to pets around the world. 

In the research process, my husband also found food calculators to help calculate a dog’s dietary requirement according to his size and age. “The level of activity is also an important factor to consider,” says Sinha. My husband also discovered the B.A.R.F (Biology Approved Raw Food) diet. While Sinha notes that “a raw food diet may not be a great option in India as we cannot be sure of the quality of meat available to us,” after getting feedback from various sources, my husband was convinced that it would be the best option for our dog. 

When we tried it out, we noticed that in just 10 days there was a remarkable change in Khal’s health. He was more active. His coat had become smoother and softer and there were no boils. In fact, we also stopped brushing his teeth with dog toothpaste and started giving him bone marrow instead, which is the best way to get a dog clean his teeth and exercise his jaw. 

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Khal’s diet today consists of raw meat (anything except chicken), rice, boiled vegetables and fish in specific quantities exactly measured on a weighing scale. He is given curd in the mornings and a pinch of turmeric and cinnamon in his evening meal for better digestion. Raw egg along with shell is given to him on monthly intervals. He also gets a spoonful of honey in the mornings, to be given only to an adult dog, and a low-sugar, seed-free fruit in the afternoons. 

We learned that it is important to give your dog a break from a particular food for a few days to avoid their bodies from developing allergies for that substance. Lately, we also alter Khal’s diet according to the season. In monsoons, he gets room temperature curd on alternative days. He also gets corn silk water that helps avoid and cure urinary tract infection, and, at times, when he has been an exceptionally good boy, he gets a piece of paneer for good fats.

During the early stages of the B.A.R.F diet however, despite his health being better, Khal still looked lanky. A judge at a dog show told us that he was strictly average looking and needed to put on some weight. My husband took it to heart and started feeding him chunks of cheese from the very next day. Khal suffered an upset stomach. It’s then that we decided that what’s important is how Khal feels and not how he appears, especially to others. The best way, we have realised, and one with which Sinha agrees is this: “observe your dog, understand his needs, consult a vet and a nutritionist and then feed him accordingly”. 

Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent

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