Boxer Central – The Hungry Dog

Boxer Central is a Facebook page dedicated to all things Boxer. My followers know that my own dog, Toby, is a rescued Boxer, and that over the years I have dedicated a great deal of my time and resources to working with rescued Boxers in Ontario. I am proud to have been invited to contribute to Boxer Central’s awesome page, in the format of ‘Ask Erica’, where followers will ask me questions, and each week I’ll answer one of them in my blog!

This week’s question comes from Maria Gauvin, who asked “Our 2 male Boxers are 2.5 years. Recently it seems as thought their appetite is never satisfied. Getting on top of counters etc. They eat 4 cups of food per day each. They eat Nutrience for adult dogs. Should I change their food? Give more? Any thoughts?”

This is a two part answer; one being the issue of weight control, and the other being the issue of food seeking. Let’s start with a common concern of dog owners – weight control. Maria doesn’t mention specifically a weight issue, but I’m guessing it’s on her mind if she’s concerned about how much her dogs should be eating, and of course assuming her dogs are otherwise healthy. A rule of thumb in raw feeding is to feed between 4% and 7% of a dog’s ideal body weight per day. The larger the dog, the lower the percentage of food to be fed, as a large breed dog will generally expend less energy in a day than a small dog (think about a Great Dane getting on the couch, versus a Chihuahua!). When feeding kibble, the company will describe the feeding guidelines on the product, and it should be fed based on your dog’s ideal weight. It’s important to keep in mind that firstly, each dog is different and will require a different amount of food per day to maintain a healthy weight. Secondly, when switching from a lower grade food to a higher grade food, you’ll often end up feeding less of a higher grade food because the ingredients contain higher levels of nutrition, and therefore your dog can consume less food for the same amount of caloric value.

Grains are often the first elimination that should be made in weight control. Dogs do not biologically require grains in their diet, and the vast majority of dogs don’t get the amount of exercise needed every day to burn the grains (dogs who do are often competition sport dogs, or dogs who work all day herding sheep, for example). Grains that are unused in the body become a substance called glycogen, which will become fat. They also cause the blood sugar to rise and fall throughout the day, causing a dog to have sudden bursts of hunger, and to have a malfunctioning metabolism. In cases where, for whatever reason, the dog cannot be transitioned to a higher quality and/or grain free food, I’ll often suggest a veggie puree (which can be made monthly, and stored in freezer containers) with spinach, kale, dark berries, and any other leafy green, blended with sweet potato (mashed into the puree or mashed separately). The greens help to improve metabolism, the berries are an excellent source of fibre and also a wonderful source of anti-oxidants to fight off cancer, and sweet potato helps to balance the blood sugar. I’d also add a healthy source of fat, such as coconut oil, to help the dog feel full. This way, we reduce and dilute the kibble fed, and offset with healthier options.

Something to consider in a dog who is healthy, adequately fed, but always seems hungry is the behavioural component. Have you ever seen a child after Halloween, with a full stock of candy, who happens to be ‘hungry’ all the time? We seem to know that it’s not appropriate to allow a child to eat as much candy as they like, yet when it comes to our dogs, we’re much more likely to give in! Often, requests (including counter surfing) for food are offered simply because they are effective – not only in gaining something to eat, but also in getting some interaction from the owner. Requests for food that are ignored (not denied – ignored meaning the owner does not acknowledge the dog’s request at all) will eventually extinguish (the behaviour of asking for food isn’t effective for the dog, so he stops asking), but we need to provide the dog something else to do in place of this request.

For kibble fed dogs, the best, and in my opinion the only way to feed a dog is through treat dispensing toys. Measure out your dog’s food rations for the day, and instead of feeding in a bowl, instead purchase products like classic Kongs, Kong Wobblers, Busy Buddy toys and any other toy that releases food. This causes the dog to work for his food in a way that appeals to his natural seeking instincts, extends the amount of time it takes for the dog to eat, and is also mentally stimulating. Even well exercised dogs exhibit boredom behaviours if they are not challenged mentally, and research shows us that mental stimulation can have a profound effect on behavioural balance, stress management, and even the dog’s general level of happiness. Asking the dog to work for food they would otherwise get for ‘free’ in a food bowl is an excellent way of fulfilling their daily need to ‘think’!

Don’t forget that if you’re feeding additional treats throughout the day as a part of training or added stimulation exercises, reduce the amount of kibble or other food you’re feeding to maintain your dog’s healthy weight.

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