Guest Blog: David Agius, Accredited Animal Nutritionist

As a society we are increasingly conscious of what we put inside our bodies. We follow the recipes of nutritionist health bloggers and get tips from fitness influencers, seeking their advice to ensure we are living our healthiest life possible. And while we take the time and effort to ensure we know what we are putting into our bodies, why aren’t we doing the same thing for our pets?

A good question, right?

The team at Olly’s Box recently sat down with David Agius, an accredited Animal Nutritionist to chat about pet nutrition and what us pet-parents can do to help our pups live the happiest and healthiest life possible.

Two of David’s greatest passions in life are healthy living and dogs, which gave him the inspiration to study animal nutrition and become a qualified pet nutritionist through the Holistic Animal Therapy Organisation. Since 2009, he has been involved in the pet nutrition industry, giving nutritional advice to thousands of dog owners through seminars and workshops. David is the proud fur-dad to Lexi, a three year old adopted greyhound.

Thanks David for chatting with us today. Tell us about the work you do?

Sure, I organise workshops and seminars on canine nutrition around Australia. They range from simple, introduction seminars to intensive balanced raw feeding workshops. I also consult with people in persona and online one-on-one on a regular basis providing them nutrition advice and custom diet plans for their dogs.

What would you describe as a healthy balanced diet for a dog? Is there a doggy version of the Healthy Eating Pyramid? 

A healthy balanced diet for a dog should be moisture-rich and very low/nil in simple carbohydrates. Fresh ingredients like high quality animal proteins, some organ meats, bone or source of calcium, colourful veggies, oily fish, nuts and seeds are a good start. It would be hard to give a one-size-fits-all healthy eating pyramid for dogs as each of their needs are unique, so I recommend studying up on nutrition books and adjusting recipes to suit your individual dog.

We all know the really bad foods we should never let our dogs eat, like onion, grapes, chocolate. But are there any lesser known foods or ingredients we should be wary of? And why?

Yes there are others. Here are some of them. Macadamia nuts can be extremely toxic to dogs and can cause paralysis, increased heart rate and vomiting. Artificial sweeteners are dangerous as they are hidden in a lot of foods and can cause liver damage. Raw salmon can contain a parasite that leads to salmon poisoning. Pits of fruits such as pears, apples, peaches and cherries should be avoided due to the toxic levels of cyanide.

What are some good ingredients we should be incorporating into our dog’s diet? And what benefit will they provide?

My two favourites are canned sardines in spring water and organic ground ginger. Sardines are great as they add omega-3 fatty acids, DHA & EPA, vitamin D and calcium to the diet. They are excellent for helping keep a shiny, healthy coat and results don't take long to see! Ginger is an excellent source of manganese which promotes joint and ligament health.

The pet food aisle is pretty confusing. There are a lot of brands out there - some offer pet food designed for specific breeds or they help control weight, there is food for small dogs and large dogs, etc. What should I be looking for when choosing a pet food?

Definitely look at the frozen and fridge section first when selecting a pet food. Ingredient quality should always be a priority, so do some research on the manufacturer. Always pick the food that contains the least amount of soluble carbohydrates as they are not needed in a dog's diet. Carbs are not even listed as a required nutrient for dogs by the National Research Council.*

When dogs are young, they have special puppy food designed for their growing bodies. But what about as they age, do we need to consider changing their diet to suit what their nutritional needs in their mature years?

Yes, older dogs need a more nutrient-dense food that is lower in calories as their energy levels change. There are certain supplements like green-lipped muscle which can assist with joint problems when they age.

Over recent years, lots of people have started talking about feeding their dog a raw food diet. What are the pros and cons of a raw food diet for pets?

There are many, many pros such as knowing exactly what your dog is eating (if you home-prep), shinier and healthier skin and coat, less itching, better weight control, more energy, SMARTER dogs (when you include sources of DHA & EPA), less poo to clean in the backyard and just overall better vitality and quality of life. Cons - can lead to deficiencies if not formulated correctly, can be time consuming and inconvenient. Some people are grossed out by raw food. All of these cons can be turned around with a little research and preparation.

What’s a healthy treat I can use in training my dogs or to give them as a reward?

Your dog is going to be your best judge for this question! There are plenty of local Aussie treat makers who put a lot of care into the quality of their treats. As long as the ingredients are healthy and aren't highly processed - treat your dog with what they love!

What’s the best thing to give my dog to help keep his teeth clean?

I use dental drops and brush teeth with home-made toothpaste. Bones can be helpful too - but stay clear of the extremely hard bones which can damage your dog's teeth.

Now for some myth-busting. True or false?

  • Raw-hide can make dogs sick. TRUE
  • Dogs can get all their nutritional needs from a premium quality dry food. On paper this may be true but they can also develop allergies, disease and deficiencies from being fed a solely kibble based diet.
  • Dogs will eat grass when they feel unwell. We still don't know why dogs will eat grass!
  • Dogs that eat possum poop, another dog’s poop or even their own, are trying to fill a nutritional deficiency. Dogs that eat poop are probably doing it because they like the taste! Gross!
  • It’s expensive making your own dog food.  It is as expensive as you want to make it! Buy in bulk or shop for sales and you will get costs down.

What’s the best piece of advice you want to share with us pet-parents to help us give our dogs the happiest and healthiest life possible?

LOVE LOVE LOVE and LOVE your dogs. The most important thing to keep your dog happy is LOVE. Spend QUALITY time with your dogs. Do things that you both enjoy be it walking, hiking, swimming, training, solving puzzles, ballroom dancing (okay maybe not). Provide them with mental stimulation and enrichment. As far as diet goes - feed them as much variety and fresh, natural food as your wallet will allow. Don't be afraid to ask for help, seek out advice, do your own research - but at the end of the day you know your dog best.

One last question, what's Lexi's favourite meal?

Lexi doesn't have a favourite "meal" as such but she absolutely LOVES turkey and chicken necks! They have become her favourite portion of her meals. She loves crunching on them. She also loves pork, eggs, canned salmon and sardines, veggie paws treats and coconut oil!

Thanks David so much for your time. We have definitely learnt lots from our chat. Give Lexi a pat from us!

Follow David:
Facebook: @DavidCanineNutritionist
Instagram: @david_caninenutritionist

Source: National Research Council 2006. Nutrient Requirements for Dogs and Cats.

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