Nutrition is a tricky thing. Overt signs of nutritional deficiencies and specific food sensitivities are usually apparent; however, how do you know the food you’re feeding your dog is supporting your dog’s health? What if your dog seems healthy enough? Do you need premium food? In this blog, we will discuss the visible benefits and differences you might see in your dog once you switch to premium dog food that prioritizes your dog’s health. We will also talk about the hidden benefits of premium nutrition—the benefits that are internal and hard to gauge but still critical to your dog’s health.
Taste preferences can be divided into two categories: Neophilic (the preference to eat or select something new) or Neophobic (the preference towards eating something familiar). Dogs can show tendencies in both, and it is likely impacted by early life experiences and their omnivorous nature. In the wild, carnivorous species tend to show a preference for new over familiar foods, while herbivores show solid preferences for familiar tastes due to the increased risk of exposure to toxic plants.
In addition to innate feeding behaviors, certain features of the diet can impact preference. The leading factors can be texture, flavors, aroma, cooking process, ingredient quality, and even the shape or design of the kibble.
Preferences can change with repeated exposure to a food as well. For instance, what a dog may choose to eat with the first few exposures to a meal may not be the same as what they choose to eat with more exposure. With repeated or longer exposure to certain diets, dogs will tend to prefer to increase their preference for diets higher in fat vs. protein or carbohydrates.
It is also hypothesized that dogs, in the long term, can respond to food from a nutrient balance perspective, selecting diets that are more nutrient-dense and fulfilling their biological needs. This is called the “post-ingestion” effect.
So, how does Old Guard make each mealtime enjoyable? We take a balanced approach to taste, as we do with everything. We make everything in small batches, using a slow cooking method, and design our kibble shape, size, and texture to be preferred by dogs of all sizes. We use flavors that dogs crave, and we ensure our diets have positive post-ingestion effects to keep your dog coming back for more.
Stool quality can be impacted by diet in the short and long term. You might even see the impact on stool shape, softness, and amount within a few days. And there are online tools that you can use to help you identify what a healthy stool looks like. Yup, that exists, and believe me, as animal nutritionists, we spend a surprisingly high amount of time talking about dog poop because it is an easy way to understand the impact of diet on digestion, which is core to your dog’s health.
We are starting to uncover more about the slightly longer-term changes that occur in relation to the digestive systems, and that is regarding the shifting of the microflora of the gut (or more simply, the amount and ratio of the good and bad bacteria). It has been shown that the change in the microbiome can occur rapidly (within 2 days of exposure to a new food), and it takes about 6–10 days to normalize. These shifts in the microbiome can further help improve digestion, nutrient use, absorption, immunity, and much more that we are only beginning to uncover.
Lastly, the smell of your dog’s breath, coat, stool, and flatulence should be improved with a high-quality diet that is balanced for your dog’s needs. Factors in diets like too much or poor-quality protein, fiber level and type, and poor digestibility can cause digestive upsets and impact certain body systems to cause these odors.
At Old Guard Pet Company, we support digestive health using a unique holistic approach. We design our recipes for the dog, meaning we are not designing for the wolf or for humans or a different species, and we deliver the right amount of protein for each dog’s needs. We use a combination of fiber sources, each with a scientifically proven positive effect on gut health, along with prebiotics, probiotics, and even postbiotics. Many premium foods will not include any of these ingredients or only include one or two. With Old Guard, you are getting a complete matrix of digestive health benefits. Health starts in your dog’s gut, or at their core.
The energy released as your dog eats and breaks down the food can have short-term and long-term effects.
Immediately after a meal, your dog should look satisfied. Though some breeds of dogs will constantly be seeking food (cough, Labradors, and beagles), you can begin to see a difference in how certain recipes impact feelings of satiety or fullness. This is where fibers and proteins are going to support feelings of “fullness” and limit the signals in the body related to hunger.
In the long term, with high-quality American premium foods, you might notice a change in your dog’s activity level. This might manifest as increased engagement with the family (especially in more senior dogs), increased playfulness, or the ability to walk and exercise for longer periods. Interestingly, people with highly active dogs don’t tend to notice as much of an increase. So, energy changes seem to be more visible for the dogs that need a little help.
Ideally, you want your dog to have the right level of energy throughout the day and when you need them to be active, like when you take them for a family hike on the weekend. There are several leading factors in the diet that can impact energy availability, including the number of calories, digestibility, and macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) profile of the food. Dogs, like humans, tend to leverage the energy from carbohydrates first, then shift towards fat and, lastly, protein, but are superior at using fat for energy vs. humans. The goal of diets for most dogs is to ensure that the right energy is available when needed while limiting excess calories, which can ultimately be stored as fat and lead to weight gain. Weight gain will then reduce overall activity and energy, leading to more weight gain and creating a bad cycle.
Premium diets, like Old Guard, will ensure that energy breakdown and availability are balanced throughout the day. Having a slower, more stable supply of energy vs. rapid high- and low-energy bursts can support more ideal body conditions and energy or activity patterns. The type and level of macronutrients should be different between diets designed for different types of dogs to support daily energy needs and muscle strength.
The other area that can impact energy or activity levels relates to joint health; even dogs as young as 6 (for larger breeds) can start to show signs of mobility changes. That is why it is also critical to feed a diet that nourishes joint health throughout life. Certain ingredients that contain omega-3 fatty acids will help reduce inflammatory profiles and have benefits for joint health, and similarly, ingredients like animal proteins, cartilage, etc. that naturally contain collagen, glucosamine, and chondroitin can help support the structure and function of joints. Improved mobility might manifest as the dog being able to jump back into the car or, as we mentioned earlier, showing signs of increased activity. Lastly, it is important to consider protein quality, amount, and digestibility to support muscle strength. This is again especially critical for senior dogs or working dogs.
Each recipe of Old Guard includes ingredients designed to support joint health and muscle strength. By ensuring that our recipes are designed to target all the body parts (bone strength, cartilage, inflammation, and strength) related to mobility and not just a single component (like many diets and especially supplements for joint health), you can know that with each bite, your dog is getting the nourishment needed to support their mobility.
Skin and Coat
When switching your dog to a premium recipe, you may notice a change in your dog’s skin and coat. The skin is a large, metabolically active organ that serves many functions to support your dog’s whole-body health, like protecting the body from injury, maintaining immuno-regulation and temperature control, and storing essential nutrients. Since the skin has so many functions, it also has a large demand for key nutrients, and this nutritional demand makes it a good signal of your dog’s health and the quality of the diet you are feeding them.
Hair follicles in dogs are about 95% protein, and it is hypothesized that about 30 to 35% of your dog’s daily protein intake is required for skin and coat maintenance alone. Certain essential fatty acids are also important for skin health and are part of the cell membranes. Additional key nutrients for your dog’s skin include Vitamin A, Vitamin E, certain B vitamins, and minerals (like zinc).
While hair growth phases take about 6–8 weeks, you may still notice changes in your dog’s coat outside of growth periods. Due to the high turnover rate of skin cells, coat quality can be one of the first signs of certain nutritional deficiencies or sensitivities. Typical indications of skin health issues are reduced or abnormal hair growth, excessive itching, hair loss, dry skin or dander, and even discoloration. The discoloration is especially noticeable in darker-coated dogs.
Some of the more commonly used supplements on the market target skin and coat health. However, due to the wide range of nutrients, along with a very wide range of non-specific changes that can occur with deficiencies or sensitivities, a whole diet or more holistic approach has been proven to be most effective at supporting healthy skin and coat. For instance, just adding omega 3 to your dog’s food may not be beneficial. It could impact the balance of fats in the diet, and perhaps the skin issues are related to another nutrient deficiency.
Old Guard ensures that we are leveraging high-quality sources of essential fatty acids and promoting an ideal ratio of Omega 3:6 fatty acids along with balanced animal-based proteins for coat quality. We check each recipe after it is cooked in our small batches to ensure that we are delivering the essential vitamins and minerals that are also critical to skin and coat health.
Body condition is one of the longer-term changes that you may notice. This is because it takes time to modify these pathways since the body has a natural protective effect. Think of yourself: if you start dieting or weight training, the changes don’t happen overnight, as good as that would be. Typically, it takes 3 to 8 months before you notice any changes, and even then, the changes are dependent on your dog’s starting point. Many factors will impact body condition; however, the largest is caloric intake. Any diet, low-quality or premium, can cause weight gain if the owner overfeeds the dogs. Calories trump everything. However, a calorie is not a calorie. An easy way to think about this is to compare the 100 calories of a Big Mac with the 100 calories of a garden salad. They might have the same caloric or energy content, but their nutritional composition is wildly different.
What is critical in early life and adulthood is ensuring that the dogs are receiving the nutrients needed during development and in adulthood, but also ensuring that they are fed the right calorie amount. In senior years and for highly active dogs, the goal is to ensure the dog is getting the nutrients needed to help maintain muscle mass. In rapid growth phases, the growth rate needs to be managed for large breed dogs, and it is critically important not to overfeed them at this stage. Overfeeding can impact bone structure and lead to lifelong abnormalities.
Our recipes at Old Guard leverage several sources of animal-based proteins in each diet to help support lean bodies. In our recipes designed for adults, we also leverage L-carnitine, a vitamin-like substance naturally found in animal proteins and muscle tissue that supports the metabolism or breakdown of fat and can help support ideal body weights. We do not promote the use of toppers, supplements, or broths in our recipes because our recipes are complete and balanced as is. These additions can impact this balance and add extra calories.
The Hidden Benefits
Many companies will focus on health benefits that are visible if they focus on proven health benefits at all. This is because these are usually very intuitive to pet owners—maybe emotional or something they are worried about with their dogs. However, there are many hidden processes in the body that high-quality nutrition will support and can improve. The immune system’s function is a big area that pet owners can’t see but is critically important to your dog’s health and well-being throughout life. Other areas might be vision, heart health, brain function, etc. Sometimes it takes a bit of trust—trusting that your food is of high quality—and supporting these internal, or “invisible”, systems just as much as the visible. How do you know your dog’s food is improving whole-body health? Look for companies willing to talk about these internal health benefits and how their recipes support them.
At Old Guard, our whole body and holistic approach to nutrition leverage and prioritize the ideal (proven or researched) level of ingredients and nutrients to support your dog’s health from the inside and out. Focusing on both the visible and invisible health benefits. As an example, our recipes include higher levels of vitamin E across all our recipes. These levels have been proven to support immune function in puppies and seniors. We also include natural sources of DHA to nourish brain health in our recipes and essential amino acids like taurine to support heart health.
All these individual health areas that we have discussed contribute to the overall well-being of your dog and their quality of life. Ensuring that your dog is getting high-quality, premium nutrition appropriate for their needs, as well as good veterinary care, enrichment, and exercise, will help ensure you are supporting and promoting your dog’s quality of life and perhaps even more years together.
Many pet owners feel they need to “do more” for their dogs from a nutritional perspective. You might think, “Maybe I will add this chicken or sweet potato to my dog’s food” or “Maybe I will buy this supplement for my dog to help with his itching”. The fact is, premium dog food, focused on health and not solely ingredients, form (raw or fresh), or other marketing gimmicks, is a superior form of nutrition for most dogs. You will never see Old Guard recommending the addition of supplements or toppers to our recipes because they are so perfectly balanced as is. But, of course, the occasional treat is great too.
Five Dog Food Nutrition Secrets From a PhD
With so much information floating around out there on dog nutrition, how can you be sure you have the facts? In this guide, Founder Maggie Gooding, PhD, in Animal Nutrition and Behavior, with over a decade experience in R&D working on some of the largest pet food brands share five nutrition secrets to help your dog live a longer healthier life.
Get the inside scoop on:
- Energy Balance
- Weight Control
- Dog Eating Habits
- Fibers and Fillers
Download by filling the form out below: