Bet you didn’t imagine that your dog’s blood sugar was nearly as high as your own. Or that he would need insulin shots and a special diet to get it back into the normal range. India is clearly becoming the diabetes nation of the world for all its inhabitants, including its dogs. Vets say this has much to do with the lifestyle of their owners: small living spaces that don’t allow movement, and overfeeding of the wrong kind of food. This is a worrying trend, especially since more and more urban Indians are acquiring dogs.
According to Nagesh Mehrotra of Wisdom Pet Kindom, the popularity of pets has risen significantly. Today he sells 6 dogs a day, almost double the figure of 3-4 a decade ago. The social status of dogs certainly seems to have shot up along with that of their owner, and they enjoy the kind of lifestyle a common man in India could only just dream of.
“In cities, it’s not just the people who have poor eating habits. Pets too fall under this influence as they are treated as family members. Dogs eat the way their owners eat, which is the prime reason they are unhealthy and obese,” says Delhi- based veterinary expert Dr Pradeep Rana. But, is it fair or reasonable to impose our dietary and lifestyle choices on our pets? We find the answers by talking to veterinary experts and those with a passionate fondness for dogs.
Different from humans
Dogs may be man’s best friend but raising them as if they belong to the human species can be unhealthy and cut short their life span. According to a study done on the diets of 600 dead dogs by a Belgian acupuncturist, allergies and obesity reduce the life expectancy of dogs, which are an outcome of unhealthy diets such as junk food. Also, just like their humans, obesity in dogs can lead to the same afflictions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and joint pain. Another important readon’t son why such diseases are on rise is overindulgence.
Owners often confuse love with food and give their dogs too much food and too many snacks in proportion to the exercise they get. “Owners share a few morsels with their pets every time they eat thinking even the pet feels hunger the way humans do. So, sometimes it’s not the lack of knowledge of the owner but their guilt which makes them overfeed their pets,” says Dr Vipin Sharma. According to experts, dogs don’t require more than two meals a day. And, too much snacking in between the meals is not just bad for their health but also spoils them.
Though variety is a good thing, owners should avoid changing their dog’s food on a daily basis. This is because their digestive tracts are much shorter and their systems can’t handle too much change at one time. ” Owners often readon’t realise that the picky habits of their pets are an outcome of their extravagance. Changing your dogs’ food on a regular basis is bad for their health as it upsets their stomach and also makes them indisciplined,” says Dr Sharma.
Understand your pet
There is no diet fit for all kinds of dogs. Diets have to be customised depending on the size, weight, breed and age of the dog. “There is no ideal diet for dogs. Diets have to be designed according to the size and breed of a dog. For instance, when I had a Great Dane I would feed him meat. But I give a pure vegetarian diet to my Puggle, which is a toy dog. Essentially, every pet owner has to figure out a suitable diet for his pet as every dog is allergic to some food. My Puggle refuses to have milk so I feed him curd,” says forty- year- old Anjali Gupta.
Just like a child’s needs differ from an adult, the nutritional requirements of puppies are different from those of dogs: they require about 30- 32 percent of protein whereas adults dogs require 22 percent of protein in their diet. This is because puppies grow faster. Similarly, the breeds which grow faster require more food than a slow growing breed. Where a German Shepherd and Pug are concerned, for example, the former would definitely require much more food than a Pug whose growing process is very slow. So, feeding a Pug large meals would not make it healthy but obese and lazy.
There are also a few breeds which require just one meal a day. Also, according to vets the level of activity is an important factor in designing the right diet for your dog. If a dog doesn’t have a fixed exercise routine, this means he will burn fewer calories. In such a case, the amount of fats should be reduced from the diet.
Packaged or home-made
With lot of fancy dog food in the market–holistic, kosher, high-fibre, gluten-free, high protein-many pet owners often think commercial dog food is far superior to homecooked food, which is not always true. Packaged dog food originated in countries where people didn’t have time to cook for themselves, so cooking for pets was unimaginable for owners. It’s the convenience factor which drives the dog food market. However, there are a growing number of people in western countries who are switching over to home cooked meals for their dogs after reports of tainted pet food, which explains why the sales of cookbooks for dogs and cats are booming.
Controversies over pet food are also making news as experts say that they are not covered by the same labelling requirements as food for humans. For instance, according to a report in The Guardian, “EC permitted” additives covers a multitude of sins, including 4,000 chemicals and artificial colours banned for human consumption. “Meat and animal derivatives” can cover anything scraped off the slaughterhouse floor, while “derivatives of vegetable origin” is so broad as to include charcoal.
However, according to doctors in the city, packaged food is often a good choice for people with busy lives. They believe this is better for pets than being fed milk and bread on a daily basis, which leads to nutritional deficiencies. However, doctors strictly recommend that dog owners educate themselves on the multiple varieties of commercial dog food.
Dr Sharma recounts one of his clients who was disturbed about the increasing weight of his Pug. After a few consultations, the owner revealed to Dr Sharma that he was giving his Pug the same packaged food he was giving to his Saint Bernard, a large dog who weighs around 60 kg. ” Packaged dog food should be bought after reading the labels carefully as they are divided into breeds or sizes,” says Dr Sharma.
According to Dr Sharma, home- cooked food does have certain advantages over packaged food. It’s fresh and the owner can customise it based on his pet’s taste. But here too, caution and discernment is called for. For instance, sharing your piping hot Chinese meal with its high levels for salt, garlic and onion can be toxic for dogs.
“When you tell people that you feed your dog home-cooked food they often think you don’t want to spend on expensive packaged dog food. For many people home-cooked food means khichdi or daal chawal. Whereas making home- cooked meals requires extra efforts as you have to cook it separately,” says Mrs Gupta.
Dietary changes may be called for
Dogs, like human beings, need a change in their diet as they age, fall sick or when the season changes. Those with certain health conditions need a prescription diet that has different amounts of fat, protein and carbs. A dog with kidney problems, for example, can’t be kept on a regular protein diet. In fact, a low protein diet is often advocated when a dog has any health problem related with a weak kidney-kidney failure, kidney disease, UTI or kidney stones.The purpose of limiting protein intake is to reduce the workload of the kidneys, which are responsible for removing toxins and waste from the body.
Similarly, a dog’s diet should be altered when the season changes. “As the temperature rises, dogs start eating less and their activity levels also go down. So, they shouldn’t be fed a high- protein diet and instead should be given more fluids, carbohydrates, fruit and curd,” says Dr R T Sharma. It’s important to know what kind of food is best for your dog and what he is allergic to, and create a diet plan based on this information.
Pets’ day out
Guess people aren’t the only ones who need a break from sweltering heat. These days dogs too enjoy this luxury. Dogs’ resorts offer everything a human would crave for while holidaying: large and serene green spaces, swimming pool, parlour, good food and friends. Gurgaon based Kennel1 offers a boarding facility for dogs when their owners are travelling or need a break. However, unlike resorts for people, accommodation is provided only after a meeting with the owner and pet to ensure that the latter is vaccinated, social and diseasefree . ” Our priority is to give our canine guests an excellent service. So, we don’t take more than 20 dogs at a time to avoid overcrowding,” says Ashu Reuben, who opened Kennel1 five years ago. Kennel 1 also has trainers and a vet-on-call. Boarding charges for a day begin at Rs 275.
Don’t spoil your pet by feeding him with your hands. Inculcating such habits later creates trouble for owners when pets refuse to eat on their own.
Dogs should be kept away from certain food items such as onion, garlic, chocolate, dry fruit, curry, salt and spices. Also, they should not be fed raw meat or egg.
Don’t feed leftovers to your pets as small portions add up to a big amount by the end of the day, leading to more calories.
Food just a call away
Mutton biryani, arabian goulash and aloo paneer sabzi are just a few of the lip- smacking items on the menu of a home-food delivery service for dogs. It’s not just big food brands like Nestl, and Procter & Gamble that are cashing in on the extravagance of pet owners who want to give their dogs the best and don’t mind spending on the fancy packaged foods made by these companies. A few enterprising people in India, too, are making a living out of dog food. Twenty-eight-year-old Abhishek Kapoor of Scooby Corporations started a daily delivery service of home-cooked dog food in 2007.
With a customer base of 250 clients, Kapoor is optimistic about the growth of the business. “The food I deliver works out much cheaper than the branded commercial food. Moreover, I provide a good variety of fresh food which can be changed based on the dog’s needs. We even cater to pets with health problems, ” he says. Priced between Rs 1000 to Rs. 10, 000 per month depending on the menu, the premium service includes broccoli and celery and delivers meals twice a day at your doorstep. Such a service is also available in Mumbai and Bhopal.
Veg or non-veg?
Dogs suffer from nutritional deficiencies just like people do if they aren’t fed properly.
While there is no dispute about the need for a balanced diet, the issue of whether this should be vegetarian or not is a fuzzy one. Dog lover Anuradha Kakar is among the many who swear by a non- vegetarian diet for their dogs. “I feed my dogs a non- vegetarian diet since their bodies require it. Canines are carnivorous and need a highprotein diet to be healthy and active. Tofu and roti can’t provide what a dog needs,” she says. Clearly she is not alone. Owners of dog food services in Delhi and Mumbai say that over 90 percent of their customers order non- vegetarian food for their pets. They say that even though a chunk of customers are vegetarian themselves, they still order non- veg meals for their dogs. Mumbai-based Homecare Dogfood service owner Wasiff Khan is a proponent of non- veggie meals and often advises his vegetarian customers about the importance of non-veg diet for a dog. “Canines require a high protein diet which they can get only through non-vegetarian food,” says Khan.
On the other hand, there are many households in India that maintain their dogs on a vegetarian diet. Nirupama Sarma, who has had dogs in her home ever since since she was a child says, ” Being a vegetarian family, we always fed our dogs vegetarian food, which doesn’t mean dal and roti but a balanced veggie diet which includes porridge, millet and soya milk. All our dogs have been healthy, without a day of infection or allergy.” A few doctors in the city agree with Sarma. According to Dr Sharma, dogs fed a vegetarian diet can be as healthy as those fed non- vegetarian food.” Dogs’ digestive systems are suited for some plant foods as well as flesh. So, go for a balanced veggie diet if you don’t want to add portions of non- veg. If you feed your dog porridge, green vegetables, soya nuggets and other sources of starch, he will definitely stay fit,’ says Dr Sharma.
Just like pet owners, veterinary experts are also divided in their opinion. ” Dogs need a high- protein diet and certain essential vitamins which are not found in vegetarian food such as Methionine, Arginine and Vitamin H,” says Dr Pradeep Rana. Most experts agree that a mixture of veg and non- veg food provides the ideal nutrition. “An all-meat diet for a dog living in a tropical country like India can be unhealthy which is why a healthy mix is the best,” says Dr Rana.