A dog’s dinner

What is good for you, but is it good for your four legged friend?

It has long been an issue what to feed your dog to keep them in tip-top condition. Generally, the biggest problem has been the owner or guardian of the dog. Whether the dog is being kept for showing or a pet, the owner will want nothing more than to keep the dog happy and in perfect health. It is surprising how much feed can play a major part of this. 

Many scientific studies are still being carried out on the optimum feeding levels for specific dog breeds. There are so many factors to take in to consideration, such as gender, age, health status, pregnant/ stage of pregnancy etc. and even then, some dogs are just, let’s just say, unique. 

Other studies are looking at how the stomach can act as a so called, “second brain”. This means that depending on how the stomach is functioning will dictate how the dog is behaving and what activity it will do. In this way, it tells the dog what to think.

Therefore, when feeding your dog, it is necessary to feed the animal in front of you and not feed as the packet/tin/vet/nutritionist tells you. To a large degree, you make up your own mind and trial and error will tell you what your dog can or cannot eat. Just like humans, the dog will also have favourite foods and will get bored with what they are eating. Therefore, just like us, variation and a well-balanced diet are very important.

When you take all these factors in to consideration it feels like a bit of a mine field, especially when advertising tells you that this food is the best and then you go to the next brand and they say they are the best, then a vet tells you…you must have this food for your dog (but maybe the vet is selling that brand from the veterinary practice). This is why it is important to read up on nutritional requirements of your dog, but make up your own mind as you go along and use the information as a guide.

However, as mentioned earlier, one of the biggest problems is the owner. Resist those big brown eyes (in the case of an Irish) staring at you whilst you eat. Resist that tiny whimper and shuffle, begging for a scrap of food under the table, and yes, we all have to admit to doing it (some more than others). They really do not need it. It’s just like many of us and chocolate. We don’t need it, but boy it tastes good, especially when it is someone else’s! There are many reasons not to feed the dog at the table or when you are sitting watching the TV. with behavioural traits being one of them (once you start, that’s it!) and, sadly, many of the foods that are great for us can be harmful to the dog. However, there are no such things that are human food and animal food, just ones that are suitable to that specific animals’ needs/requirements and ones that are suitable to us. There are many that are good for both and I hope I can touch on some which may help you keep your dog in ‘top nick’, nutrition wise.

Some breeders, show people, kennels and general dog owners have the time to make and/or prepare their own dog food. However, for a lot of us this is not possible as it can be particularly time consuming, especially when you have more than 3 dogs. Although, many complete meals out there have been formulated to give the correct balance of nutrients to your dog, you first have to make sure it is for the specific breed, then age range etc. etc. So, although having a good ‘biscuit’ base is great for your dog, supplementary foods with different textures and flavours can have some benefit. However, it is always good to check with the vet/a good animal nutritionist, that the feed that you want to introduce to your dog is fit for them and not going to make them ill.

One thing that is highly important with Irish Setters and must be considered when feeding is that it is one of very few breeds that is prone to gluten intolerance, which is often mistaken for colitis or irritable bowel syndrome. Many owners are not aware of this, but it can lead to the dog retaining weight although not eating much or having an upset stomach when eating. Therefore, it is advised that most Irish setters be kept on a diet that is low in gluten or have no gluten content at all. There are specific complete meals available. 

Another thing that is very important to the dog is consistency. Although you may think that the dog cannot possibly know time of day or our behavioural patterns, it is far from the truth. Just like our metabolism, dogs store greater energy later in the evening. Studies have shown that because your metabolism slows down, it stores the feed rather than use it straight away for energy, which can lead to obesity in the dog. This also produces more glucose and triggers a hormone called ‘ghrelin’. This is known to stimulate a hunger response. It is generally slowly released at night (between 20:00 and 08:00), but when food is added to this later than normal, it increases the response later in the evening and even more so the next day. This not only can cause the animal to desire more food, but also cause a behavioural response with the dog (normally bad) because the animal believes it is hungry. Therefore, it is important to remain consistent when feeding the dog and not too late in the evening.

Here is a list of “human food” that can be given to dogs that can either improve the health of the dog or give them generally, a better nutritional balance. 

About Me

I am currently working at Aberystwyth Uni, in the VetHub as a molecular biologist. I previously graduated with a PhD in veterinary and animal science, with specific interest in animal nutrition.

  1. LEAN MEAT: 

Contrary to popular belief, meat is not the only thing that dogs eat. The modern dogs that are found in most homes or kennels are omnivorous. Therefore, they do not eat solely meat. However, to ensure the dog remains healthy, lean meats should be provided as the main constituents of their diet. It is a great source of protein and something the dog will love. Meats such as chicken and beef are also packed with Vitamins B and amino acids, which play a key part in the animals’ metabolism, as well as an energy boost. Once cooked, pork is generally a safe meat. However, eating raw or partially cooked pork is not safe for dogs or humans. There is often the larval stage of a parasite called trichinella spiralis present, which can cause the parasitical infection known as trichinosis. It can occur when a dog ingests the muscle of animals that are infected with the parasites. The infection of Trichinella spiralis will only produce subtle symptoms in dogs, although not all are present:

  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated fever
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle inflamation
  • Pain & stiffness

Also, do not feed cooked chicken bones to dogs. As the cooking process is carried out, it dries the bones and they become brittle. They can and do splinter and cause no end of problems to the digestive tract of the dog. However, raw chicken bones are fine.

Raw meat on the whole is also very good for the dog. It is able to digest and process it more easily than we can and because it hasn’t been cooked, the goodness that is lost through cooking is still available to the dog.

  • FISH:

Just like with humans, oily or fatty fish such as Tuna and Salmon are very good for the dog. They are high in Omega-3 and 6, which is very good for coat, skin and digestibility. It can also be given during pregnancy. Dried fish can also be good as bait when training the dog, but may not be to every dog’s taste. 

  • LIVER:

This is a very good source of Vitamins, especially when not giving the dog a complete meal. Vitamins A, B and K are necessary in the diet of the dog and liver is a good source of this. It can be considered an almost complete diet in itself because it contains most of the essential components the dog requires. However, this should not be given as a complete diet because it contains such high levels of vitamin A that it can be hazardous to the dog. It can be a brilliant bait or treat for the dog. It can also be added in small quantities to the mixed meal of the dog. 


With all the high protein levels the dog has received from meat or fish, it is important to balance this out with good sources of fibre. A good source of this is Oatmeal. However, caution must be exercised with this. Many of the supermarket branded oatmeal contain gluten because they have been crossed with barely and wheat. However, many of the true or whole oats/ oatmeal do not and as previously stated, Irish setters can be gluten intolerant. Therefore, although a very good source of fibre to aid with digestion, it must be the correct type of oat/oatmeal. It is also a soft food that can be good for a dog that has digestive problems, older dogs or ones that have allergies. Ensure that it has been cooked completely, but with no additives.


This can be sub-divided in to green and other.

Green vegetables are a good source of fibre to aid digestion (just like the oats), but they also have other benefits. Brassicas, like broccoli (cauliflower can be added here also), are a good source of many essential minerals, protein and vitamins. They are also good for iron and potassium and will aid with the metabolism and keep the coat of the dog looking shiny. Peas have similar benefits. These are particularly good as they are quick and can be shelled directly in to the feed. They are also good to eat a few for yourself. Again, no additives must be given when cooking the vegetables I.E. NO SALT.

The same can be said of seaweed, such as nori (the one that’s found as the wrap for sushi). The same or similar type of seaweed is found off the coast of the U.K. (particularly Wales). It can also be bought as a powder or dried. It can then be added on top of the food or mixed in. 

Other benefits can include a natural odour neutraliser. Parsley is particularly good at this.

The “other” category for vegetables include, but not exclusively, carrots and swede. These are packed full of vitamins and fibre that are sure to continue with aiding the digestive systems and overall well-being of the dog, but also is good for the dogs’ teeth and heart respectively. Leaving the carrots raw can also help scrape any plaque off the teeth. 


These are a great source of Calcium for healthy bones and teeth and are particularly good for pregnant or whelping dogs as well as young/ growing dogs. However, ensure to purchase the types without added sugar, sweeteners or fruit. Again, allergies should be looked at beforehand. However, some milks are actually suitable for lactose intolerant dogs. It is also good to give to dogs that are being shown. It will give the dogs the sensation of being full and give them some sustenance without making them too sluggish to run or ill in the car trip on the way home from a good day’s performance (quantity dependent). 

There are other feeds that can be given, however, this is just a brief over-view.


Garlic is one that sort of falls in-between good and bad. In small dosages, garlic can aid with digestion, has antibacterial properties and can even aid in lowering parasite burden or deter them completely. However, garlic can have extreme adverse effects on dogs also. Therefore, extreme caution must be adhered to when feeding garlic. Either consult a vet/nutritionist or avoid. 


There are many foods that we ingest that are definite ‘no goes’ for dogs. The most prominent of these are (in nor particular order):

  • Dried fruits and grapes
  • Chocolate
  • Onions/ chives
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Deserts
  • Uncooked potatoes
  • Bread
  • Spices
  • Cooked chicken bones

If ever you question whether it is possible to give a certain food, then either do not give it to them or consult your vet or good nutritionist well before hand. Always monitor your dog for several days after changing its diet. Opinions are changing constantly on foods and their benefits and what may have been a ‘no go’ 10 years ago may be ok now. Similarly, vice versa can be applied.