When it comes to choosing food for your pet, you are spoilt for choice – so much so that it can often be a difficult decision to make. There seems to be no end of complete diets for dogs available on the market, from bags of dry kibble to blocks of frozen raw meat. But what is the healthiest diet for a dog?

Canine ancestors

Through studying the DNA of dogs, scientists know that our domestic pets ­– regardless of breed – evolved from the timber wolf around 15,000 years ago. Timber wolves, being carnivores, eat mostly meat and their diet consists of small animals like mice, rabbits and squirrels, although they do eat larger animals, such as deer.

With this in mind, there is a school of thought in the canine community that domestic dogs should be fed in the same way as their ancestors, with raw meat being the healthiest and most appropriate diet for them.

In the mid-1980s, vet Dr Ian Billinghurst founded the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet with the publication of his book Give Your Dog a Bone. Dr Billinghurst believes that the healthiest diet for a dog is the same as the wolf from which it evolved, and includes feeding 60% raw, meaty bones. 

The domesticated wolf

There is no denying the domestic dog’s roots, but despite their natural carnivorous design, they have thrived over thousands of years living on the scraps and leftovers from human diets. Unlike wolves, dogs have become omnivores and there is another school of thought that believes they no longer need raw bones. In fact, many in the veterinary profession believe bones can cause problems – such as chipped teeth and choking – for dogs unused to eating them.

Commercial pet food

In the early 20th Century, commercial pet food was developed offering complete, balanced diets for dogs, formulated to give them all the nutrients needed for optimal health. The popularity of this method of feeding – replacing table scraps and leftovers ­­– has created a global pet food market worth 90 billion US dollars.

Complete dog foods – whether dry or wet – contain everything a pet needs for a healthy balanced diet. Formulas have been created that meet the nutritional needs of different life stages ­– and even different breeds – so it takes the guess work out of feeding. The Pet Food Manufacturers Association (to which 90% of pet food producers belong) oversees standards in animal welfare, nutrition, safety and sustainability too.

Vegetarian diets

In recent years there has been a rise in the popularity of vegetarian and even vegan dog foods as more owners become conscious about the environmental impacts of meat production. Unlike cats, dogs can actually thrive on a non-meat diet, although it can be trickier to ensure that all their nutritional requirements are met. With this in mind, it is recommended that dog owners do not try to feed their own diets as a vegetarian diet for a dog would look very different to one for a human. A commercially produced complete vegetarian dog food is bound by law to provide all of a pet’s dietary requirements so is the recommended choice. Also, you should not make any radical changes to your dog’s diet without consulting your vet.

Time for treats

If you are feeding your dog a complete, balanced diet they will not require anything else but sometimes you will want to give them a treat, especially if you are training them and need a tasty reward.

Some shop-bought treats are healthier than others but there are some super healthy, natural foods that your pet will love. Here are some things your dog might like to try:

  • Carrots – Dogs love them as they are naturally sweet and their crunchiness is great for keeping their teeth clean. They are also a good source of vitamins C and K, and magnesium.

  • Pumpkin – Naturally sweet and high in soluble fibre so can help maintain a healthy digestive tract. Also, it is a great source of vitamin C and potassium.

  • Sweet potato – Packed with antioxidants and vitamins A and C to help strengthen the immune system.

  • Oily fish – With their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel are particularly beneficial for a dog’s skin, coat and joint health. It’s also great for boosting brain power.

  • Yoghurt – Contains probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that can help maintain gut function, as well as provide calcium and B vitamins.

  • Blueberries – A well-known super food, blueberries are also great for dogs and they love them, whether fresh or frozen. They are packed with antioxidants, vitamins C and E and fibre.