Feeding the Fluffy Bichon Frise
Learn how to choose the best food for your Bichon.
Karla S. Rugh, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Not so many years ago, feeding a dog was easy. Dog food was either canned or dry and usually some sort of generic meat flavor. You opened the can or bag and poured the food into the dish.
Today, feeding a dog is all about choices. Everywhere you turn, theres another choice. Do you want dry, canned or frozen? Adult maintenance, puppy or senior? Regular, light or high protein? Organic? Preservative-free? Vegetarian? Kangaroo?
Wait a minute. Feeding your Bichon doesn't have to give you an anxiety attack. Lets just start at the beginning and take a look at some of the things you need to know.
For optimal health, your Bichon needs protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. Protein is essential for the growth and repair of muscles, bones and other body tissues. Its also used in the production of disease-fighting antibodies, as well as enzymes and hormones. Carbohydrates are metabolized into glucose, the bodys principal energy source. Fats supply energy when glucose is unavailable. They're also used for hormone production, nervous system function and vitamin transport. Vitamins and minerals participate in many functions, including bone growth, healing, metabolism, fluid balance, and muscle and nerve function.
Finally, your Bichon needs plenty of fresh, clean water every day. As the major component of its body, water participates in its every function. Adequate water intake also helps prevent formation of urinary stones (urolithiasis), a potential problem for some Bichons. The body cannot store water, only conserve it by somewhat limited means. A good rule of thumb is that dogs need at least one ounce of water per pound of body weight each day, even in cold weather. Hot weather or vigorous exercise can double or even triple that requirement. And make sure the water is fresh and cleansome Bichons won't drink if it isn't.
Pick and Choose
Its not necessary to choose the most expensive food, but you shouldn't buy the cheapest food on the shelf either, says Craig Datz, D.V.M., a clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I see problemslack of condition, poor coat qualitywhen owners try to feed bargain foods that aren't nutritionally well balanced. Those foods just aren't going to have high-quality ingredients at those low prices, Dr. Datz says.
Laura Purnell, a Bichon breeder from Stilwell, Kansas, prefers to feed premium food. In fact, when asked what she considers to be the most important thing about feeding Bichons, she says, Feed a good-quality food. Don't skimp on food.
How do you know your Bichons food contains all the necessary nutrients? If you're feeding a commercially prepared food, just read the label. A food can't be labeled as complete and balanced or nutritionally complete unless it has been demonstrated in feeding trials or by meeting specific nutritional requirements. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) controls both processes. This organization develops the nutritional requirementcalled nutrient profilesbased on the most current canine nutritional information. The label must also state the particular purpose or group for which the food is intended, such as puppies, seniors or adult maintenance.
The nutritional analysis on the package lists protein, fat, fiber and moisture contents, as well as other information. The percentages are as fed valuesthe food as it comes from the sack or can. Protein and fat are listed as minimum values; fiber and moisture (water) are listed as maximum values. Carbohydrate content isn't listed, because its everything that isn't protein, fat, fiber and moisture.
Protein levels in commercial dry foods usually range from about 23 to 26 percent for adult maintenance and 26 to 30 percent for growth and reproduction; for canned foods, the values are about 7 to 9 percent (adult maintenance) and 9 to 13 percent (growth and reproduction). The fat content of commercial dry foods ranges from 9 to 10 percent for adult maintenance and up to 20 percent or more for growth and reproduction; for canned foods, fat content ranges from about 2 to 3 percent for adult maintenance up to 8 percent or more for growth and reproduction. The dry food values are larger than those for canned food, but that's just because dry food contains less waterthe values are actually similar when compared on a dry matter basis.
The labels nutritional information refers to crude protein and crude fatamounts analyzed in the laboratory. This analysis, although technically accurate, doesn't tell you how much of the nutrient your Bichon can actually use (digestible content). You can obtain information about the actual digestible content by contacting the manufacturer. Many manufacturers have 800 numbers or websites listed on their labels.
The ingredient list on a food label shows the ingredients in descending order by weight. It may include several different forms of a single ingredient (for example, ground corn and corn gluten meal). The protein may be derived from beef, chicken or other animals. The food may contain meat by-products, meat and bone meal, and animal fat, which may not appeal to you, but are nevertheless nutritious and safe for your Bichon. Its preferable to have meat or meat products near the top of the ingredient list (unless its a vegetarian food), but you shouldn't worry about grain products, as long as the label indicates that the food is nutritionally complete. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are omnivores and need both plant and animal foods for optimal health.
Dry food (kibble) is the least expensive commercial dog food. Its bulky and takes longer to eat than other foods, so your Bichon may feel fuller after a meal. Unmoistened dry food must be chewed rather than gulped; this promotes dental health by reducing plaque accumulation and massaging the gums. On the downside, dry food takes up more storage space than other types of dog food. It must be stored in a cool, dry, vermin-proof environment. Because increased water intake can help prevent urinary stones, unmoistened dry food is not usually recommended for Bichons at risk for developing this disorder.
Canned food is a highly palatable, rather concentrated source of energy. Its a good appetite-booster for an underweight dog or one that's recovering from an illness. Feeding canned food is an easy way to increase the water intake of a Bichon that's prone to urinary stones. Canned food is more expensive than dry food, but this isn't a major concern, given the Bichons small size. Canned food stores easily, but must be refrigerated after opening, because it spoils rapidly at room temperature.
The advantages of frozen food are similar to those of canned products. Frozen food is usually more expensive than canned. Its easily stored, provided you have adequate freezer space, but can't be kept indefinitely. Unlike other forms of dog food, frozen food is available in both cooked and raw forms.
Juniors and Seniors
Bichon puppies grow and develop rapidly, going from newborn to adult in less than a year, so their nutritional needs are different from those of adults. Maintaining a good body condition is most important, Dr. Bartges says. Important specific nutrients include protein, calcium-and-phosphorous balance, and the caloric density of the diet.
Protein is a critical nutrient for puppies because its essential for muscle and bone growth and repair. Puppy food usually contains at least 27 percent protein, compared to about 21 percent for standard adult dog food. Puppies also need lots of energypound for pound, they burn more calories than adult dogs. That doesn't mean its okay to let your Bichon puppy eat as much as it wantsit still needs only enough calories to supply its energy needs. Additional calories will just make your Bichon fat and could lead to serious health problems later in life.
Puppies also need the correct amounts of calcium and phosphorus to ensure proper skeletal development and growth.
Because puppies have small stomachs and high metabolic rates, they need to eat several times a dayif they don't, they'll not only run out of energy, they won't take in adequate amounts of protein and other nutrients. A puppy less that 3 months of age should be fed at least four times a day. The number of meals can be reduced to three per day when the puppy is 3 to 5 months old. A 6-month-old puppy will usually be ready for an adult feeding schedule of one to two meals per day.
The nutritional requirements of senior dogs differ from those of both puppies and younger adults. According to Dr. Bartges, maintaining optimal body condition is extremely important, just as it is with puppies. The specific nutrient or diet requirements will vary from dog to dog, he says. Some older dogs gain weight and so require fewer calories, while others lose weight and require more calorically dense diets.
As dogs age, their metabolism slows, decreasing their energy needs. Obesity can result if this change is not considered when feeding a senior Bichon. Most senior foods have less fat and fewer calories than food formulated for younger dogs. Many contain added fiber, which adds bulk without increasing calories.
Some senior dogs are underweight because of diminished food intake, health problems or a high activity level (many Bichons remain active well into their senior years). Decreases in the senses of smell and taste may cause appetite loss. Some senior Bichons have good appetites, but lose weight because they can't digest food or absorb nutrients efficiently. Underweight seniors need food that provides more energy than the standard senior diet. These foods often have added levels of high-quality fat to increase palatability and boost energy content.
It was once thought that dogs needed less protein as they aged. On the contrary, most healthy senior dogs actually need more proteinup to 50 percent morethan they did when they were younger because the ability to metabolize protein decreases with age. Chronic protein deficiency can lead to muscle wasting and weakness. Protein is also crucial for proper immune system functioneven a mild protein deficit can increase your Bichons susceptibility to infections and stress. Many foods for senior dogs have protein levels that are as high as those in puppy foods.
A Weighty Problem
Obesity is by far the most prevalent nutrition-related health problem of all dogs, including Bichons. Many owners just feed their dogs too much food, Dr. Datz says. Often its fed free-choice and its a rare dog that can limit itself under those conditions. Dr. Datz adds that some owners also contribute to their dogs weight problems by feeding them too many snacks, including too much people food.
Obesity can cause serious health problems for your Bichon. It increases its chances of developing urinary stones, diabetes, liver disease or pancreatitis. Extra weight can also aggravate slipped kneecaps and hip dysplasia (an inherited hip joint malformation). It can force your Bichons heart to work harder and make it difficult to breathe, especially when it lies down. These problems can limit your Bichons ability to run, play or even walk, which in turn, increases the likelihood of continued weight problems.
How can you tell if your Bichon is the correct weight? Dr. Bartges explains that an optimally conditioned dog is one that's neither too fat nor too thinone with some body fat, but no fat stores. You should be able to feel the ribs easily, but there should be a little bit of padding between your fingers and the ribs, he says. If you stand above the dog and look down at its back, there should be an indentation in the flankan hourglass shape.
The best way to fight the battle of the bulge is to prevent your Bichon from ever getting fat. Don't overfeed it. (Tip: Feed according to the food manufacturers recommendation, then adjust the amount if necessary, depending on your dogs response.) Limit between-meal treats and provide your Bichon with plenty of vigorous exercise. If your dog can't exercise vigorously because of knee or hip problems, substitute less intense exercise, such as walking, and increase the duration, if possible.
If your Bichon already has a weight problem, you'll need to take more drastic action. Reduce the amount you feed by 25 percent or switch to a light, restricted-calorie food. Eliminate all table food, snacks and treats. Increase your dogs daily exercise by 15 minutes. If your Bichon can't handle vigorous exercise, just try walking. Increase the exercise intensity and duration as your dogs fitness improves.
An Ounce of Prevention
Bichons, like many small breeds, are susceptible to urolithiasisstones (uroliths) that form in the urinary tract. The most common types of uroliths in Bichons are struvite, which form in association with a bacterial urinary tract infection, and calcium oxalate, which form without an accompanying infection.
Diet, while not the sole factor leading to urolithiasis, is an important factor in its treatment and management. For example, struvite urolithiasis is treated with a therapeutic diet to dissolve the uroliths (along with antibiotics for the infection), followed by another therapeutic diet to prevent their recurrence. Calcium-oxalate uroliths must be removed surgically. Their recurrence can also be prevented by dietary management, although a different one from that used to prevent struvite urolithiasis.
Because calcium-oxalate urolithiasis is difficult to treat, dietary measures are used to prevent calcium-oxalate urolith formation in dogs that are predisposed (not every Bichon is at risk). The goal is to minimize urolith formation by feeding a low-protein diet and avoiding foods and supplements that increase urinary acidity, calcium content or oxalate content. Many foods are potentially harmful, including milk, corn, broccoli, soybeans and others.
Increasing water intake is a crucial aspect of dietary management of all types of urolithiasis. Increased water consumption dilutes the urine and increases urination, both of which decrease urolith formation. Its sometimes difficult to determine just how much water your dog is consuming (especially water that's contained in food), so veterinarians often recommend increasing the dogs water intake sufficiently to double its urine output or until the urine is clear, colorless and odorless. Feeding canned food or moistened dry food is one way to increase a dogs water intake. Making sure that fresh, clean water is always available helps, too.
The Great Imposters
Some Bichons are plagued with allergies, including allergies to certain foods. Food allergies can be confusing. In some dogs, they cause vomiting and diarrhea. In others, they target the skin, causing inflammation and itchiness. Its not uncommon for a Bichon to develop an allergy to a food its been eating for years. Finally, some so-called food allergies aren't true allergies at all, but rather sensitivities or adverse reactions that lack the immunological characteristics of allergies.
Halstead believes allergies and skin problems are major health problems in Bichons Frises. When her first Bichon had severe skin problems, Halstead, a registered nurse, used her medical training to research the problem and develop a diet plan that included high-quality lamb-and-rice kibble and several supplements. The skin problems resolved.
I believe that allergies can develop from poor nutrition, as well as skin problems, and one causes the other, Halstead says. I think the improvement in skin problems was due to a combination of a diet change, which may have removed some allergens, as well as improved nutrition, which promoted healthier skin.
Although Halstead was able to solve her Bichons skin problems by herself, most owners will need to work with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to correct nutritionally related disorders.
If your Bichon Frise has a food allergy or sensitivity, your veterinarian may recommend using an elimination diet (one that contains a protein and carbohydrate source that your Bichon has never eaten) to pinpoint the triggering food or foods. This diet is usually fed for at least eight weeks. No other food should be fed during the diet trial. If the symptoms persist, a different diet (or possibly skin testing) may be recommended.
If the symptoms have resolved after eight weeks, single ingredients (such as chicken, wheat, corn, soy, etc.) are systematically added to the diet (diet challenge). If no reaction occurs, another ingredient is added, and so on, until a reaction is triggered. Foods that elicit a reaction are eliminated from the diet.
By now, its probably evident that canine nutrition has come a long way since the days of meat-flavored dog food. The choices are here to stay. Sure, feeding your dog is more complicated these days, but all those choices make it easier than ever for you to provide your Bichon with exactly the type of nutrition it needs. Your Bichon will be healthier because of it, and that should make you both happy.
Was it something My dog ate?
Medically speaking, excessive tearing is called epiphora. The end result of epiphora is often tearstainingstreaky reddish-brown smears that mar an otherwise perfectly white face. We wipe them off, clean them up, and the next day they're back again.
So what causes the stain? Tears are normally colorless, but they dry to a dark reddish-brown color because they contain pigments called porphyrins, as well as other pigment-like compounds. In addition, the constant dampness irritates the skin and fosters subsequent bacterial and yeast growth.
Some breeders believe that dietary factors may play a role in tearstaining, but epiphora is most commonly caused by either overproduction of tears or an abnormality in the drainage of the tears from the eye. Overproduction of tears usually occurs in response to an irritation or inflammation stemming from allergies, eyelid or eyelash abnormalities, or excessive hair at the inner corner of the eyelid. Abnormal tear drainage may occur when the tearduct is blocked, scarred or deformed.
Although diet is not the most common cause of tearstaining, some proposed dietary factors include:
- Highly pigmented foods, such as beet pulp, or artificially colored foods
Additives or preservatives in dry food
Substances in drinking water, such as iron and minerals
The following nutritionally based measures have been suggested to reduce or eliminate tearstaining:
Vitamin C supplementation
Natural diet with no additives, preservatives or food coloring
It certainly won't hurt your Bichon if you switch it to bottled water, but some of the above remedies could have detrimental effects. For instance, vitamin C supplementation could be harmful to a Bichon that's prone to calcium oxalate urolithiasis (urinary stones), because the resulting acidic urine could promote urolith formation.
Overall, theres little evidence to indicate that dietary factors play a major role in epiphora and tearstaining. So, if your Bichons in tears, its probably not something it ate. Its more likely that its producing too many tears or they aren't draining correctly. Your veterinarian or a veterinary ophthalmologist can determine why and prescribe treatment to correct the problem.
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