UPDATE: fall 2019: Due to the FDA warnings about a possible correlation between certain dog foods and DCM we are temporarily switching our foster dogs' diet to First Mate Fish and Oatmeal or Inukshuk Marine
Nutrition and your Newfoundland
By Ben Pinder
Every breed of dog is has its own nutrient requirements. In addition to being lovable, fun, and wonderful companions, Newfoundlands have some specific dietary concerns too.
Taurine (2-aminoethanesulfonic acid) is an unusual amino acid and not one of the standard 20 amino acids that we know to make up proteins. It can be found in animal bile, where it aids in digestion, and in the blood, where it performs a myriad of functions. In our diet, taurine can be found in highest concentrations in seafood.
Taurine’s effects on health are well-studied, but still not well understood. We know that it has a role in preventing heart disease, aids in muscle function, and can act as an anti-oxidant. The pancreas naturally produces taurine, but humans following a vegan diet have significantly reduced taurine in their blood suggesting that diet is the major source of blood taurine.
Taurine is an essential nutrient in cats, but not entirely essential for dogs. Even so, breed-to-breed differences in taurine requirements have been identified. We know now that Newfoundland dogs have a higher risk of developing taurine deficiency than other breeds when fed the same commercially available diet that meets traditionally established nutrient recommendations (J Nutr. 2006 Oct;136(10):2525-33). The traditional, vet-prescribed dry corn, rice, and lamb diet is very low in taurine and therefore not a good choice for your Newfoundland, though it may be a good choice for other breeds in your home.
With taurine deficiency comes many health risks, the most serious being dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). DCM is a disease of the heart that is most commonly associated with large breed dogs like Newfoundlands. This may in part be explained by the low levels of taurine in the traditional dog diet. Dogs diagnosed with DCM almost always succumb to congestive heart failure within six months to two years of being diagnosed.
Interestingly, dogs diagnosed with DCM that are not taurine-deficient can benefit their condition with taurine supplements. But we’re more interested in preventing DCM. The best way to do this, and extend the time that you and your Newfoundland have together, is by feeding him a diet rich in taurine.
Omega-3 and Omega-6
All animals need fat as a part of a healthy diet. The type of fat we eat is important to our health. Two of the most important fats are the omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The risk of an omega-6 deficiency is quite low. Almost all of us, Newfoundlands included, get enough of our omega-6s but we don’t often get enough of the omega-3s. A proper balance of omega-3s to omega-6s is ideal for your Newfoundland’s health. So up his omega-3 levels however you can. Omega-3s can be found naturally in food like oily fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel), nuts, and flaxseed oil, however plant-derived sources are inaccessible to dogs as they lack the enzymes required to convert them. That means your Newfoundland needs a diet rich in fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids. This is an important consideration as many commercial diets add vegetable oils and fish meal (processed fish which lacks its omega-3-rich oil) to enrich for omega fatty acids, but these are not actually beneficial sources for your Newfoundland.
Omega fatty acids are important for your Newfoundland because they’ve been shown to be important in so many aspects of health. Omegas are great for lowering blood cholesterol (and therefore preventing heart disease), lowering the risk of cancer, and have been shown to act as a natural anti-inflammatory (great for arthritis). They are also important for the maintenance of healthy skin and coats.
Different breeds have been shown to have differing omega-3 fatty acid requirements (Vet. Immuno. Immunopat. 69: 165-183) and due to their large size, thick coat, and known ancestral diet, Newfoundlands are expected to be near the top of this list.
Arginine is one of the 20 most common amino acids essential for life. It is synthesized in the body but additional dietary sources are necessary for keeping dogs healthy and active. Healthy levels of arginine help prevent cancer and heart disease in dogs (Cancer 88:1916-28; J Nutr. 2000;130:2626-2629), diseases beginning to plague the Newfoundland breed.
Arginine is found in a variety of foods but seafood and nuts provide the greatest dietary source. It is possible that failure to feed Newfoundlands their ancestral seafood diet is in part responsible for the increasing incidence of heart disease and cancer in the breed.
Calcium and Phosphorous
Calcium and phosphorous are essential nutrients for all animals. They’re important in maintaining strong muscles and bones, which is especially important in a large breed like the Newfoundland. Calcium can be found naturally in foods such as fish, nuts, dairy, and leafy green vegetables.
Your Newfoundland needs calcium and phosphorous especially in puppyhood (to build those strong bones) but also in adulthood to ward off and treat arthritis.
Iodine is necessary for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland in regulating the rate of metabolism. In dogs, iodine deficiency results in hypothyroidism which can cause poor growth, hair loss, weight gain, weakness, and behavioural changes such as irritability (Mol. Cell. Endocrinol. 131: 195-203). Aggression can be difficult to manage in any dog, but the large size of Newfoundlands make behaviour management a particularly important issue.
Iodine is found in fish, kelp, and iodized salt (salt with iodine added). Many commercial pet foods supplement with iodine, however because the ancestral diet of the Newfoundland is especially rich in iodine your Newfoundland may require higher levels than other breeds.
So what do I feed my Newfoundland?
Most important to your Newfoundland’s life and happiness is your love. So show your Newfoundland how much you love her by feeding her a diet rich in taurine, omega-3 fatty acids, arginine, calcium, phosphorous, and iodine. The greatest natural source of ALL of these nutrients is FISH
! This is not surprising considering where Newfoundland dogs originate. They love cold water and their metabolism has adjusted itself to a historical diet rich in seafood. Their nutritional needs reflect the diet the breed developed on. We can mimic the Newfoundland ancestral diet by feeding them cold water fish rich in all the nutrients they need to live a long, happy, healthy life.
Remember, just like us, a healthy, balanced diet is also important in maintaining a healthy body weight. A healthy body weight can reduce the risk of heart, liver, and joint disease, and give your Newfoundland the energy to keep up with you!
A good, readily-available brand of dry dog food for your Newfoundland is ORIJEN 6 FRESH FISH with SEA VEGETABLES.
Our Newfoundlands love this brand and we can help direct you to stores that carry it.
Interested in learning more about the important role of nutrition in your dog’s health? We recommend this great book:
Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food
By Anne N. Martin (1997), NewSage Press.