How to feed your Bernese Mountain Dog right
Bernese Mountain Dog food: how to feed your Berner correctly
Correctly planned, nutritionally balanced food that is fully suited for the breed is one of the most important (if not THE most important) factors determining the overall health and wellness of your Berner. It is extremely important for you as an owner to think your dog’s nutrition through, so that the food you provide for them contains all necessary vitamins, minerals and amino acids essential for your dog’s health. You can approach this nutritional task in a few various ways.
You can go natural and home-made, and use natural products such as meat, vegetables, dairy and grains. A lot of owners go this route. If you choose to feed your Berner this way, remember that meat is the best, most optimal food for a dog. You can supplement vegetables (moderate amount) and grains (small amount!), but the basis of a dog’s nutrition should be meat, as it is in nature for all carnivorous animals.
How much meat should you feed your dog daily? An average sized adult Berner will need about 750g of meat daily, plus a side of vegetable or grains (around 200 g). You can cook the meat, but raw is more optimal: more vitamins preserve in raw meat rather than being destroyed during cooking. This natural way of feeding will provide your dog with almost everything they need, but you might still want to consult with a veterinary nutritionist to see if there might be any supplements necessary for the most optimal health.
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If you do go this route, you need to understand that you may have more work preparing meals for your dog. They don’t have to be different every day – a dog will happily eat the same meal every day for years. But you still have to buy, store and prep large amounts of meat (and vegetables) daily. While it’s a great way to feed your dog, it may increase the amount of work you need to do daily quite substantially.
This is why a lot of people feed commercial packaged food.
Bernese Mountain Dog food: commercial food
When you go the commercial food route, you also have a few choices. You can give wet food, normally packaged in tin cans. For a large dog like a Bernese Mountain Dog, around 1500g of wet food per day will suffice. You can also feed dry food to your dog. A lot of people do, as it is significantly easier to manage. 400 g of dry food a day would be enough for an adult Bernese Mountain Dog.
Of course, you need to do your research in terms of what brands to choose. I won’t go into it here. For one, it’s not that hard to google “Premium Dog Food”, or even just ask at your local pet store. The actual difficulty here is that any brand can easily state that their food is “premium”, “special”, “best”, optimal, etc. It may not be true.
I personally side with the owners who feed their dogs natural, home-made meals – mostly meat, ideally raw. That is a dog’s natural diet in the wild (well, wolves’, not dogs’), and that, with the addition of some vegetables, is what should be best for their health.
When it comes to your dog, it is your choice, but I would highly recommend reading more about raw feeding for dogs, so that you have a rounded opinion of the options you have when it comes to feeding your dog. If you can’t or don’t want to feed your dog raw meat, the next best option is cooked meat. If not that, then wet foods are the next optimal option. I would put dry foods last on that list.
There is plenty of evidence that dry foods are not that healthy for dogs, despite what some large brands may try to convince us. Various issues, such as kidney disease, can arise on a long term diet of dry food. I would not recommend going that route.
Feeding your Bernese Mountain Dog puppy
Other than choosing the right food, you need to make sure you are feeding your dog enough and at the right time intervals. This will depend on whether your Berner is still a puppy or if they are older. The schedule and amount of food will differ depending on age. For a puppy, feeding three times a day is a good schedule.
A puppy needs a considerable amount of food (some experts even advocate free feeding of puppies, which I don’t recommend), but their small stomachs can’t fit and handle a very large amount of food. It would cause digestive issues and also too much stress on the puppies’ musculoskeletal system. Instead, feeding 3 times and smaller amounts of food works quite well.
Puppyhood is also not the best time to experiment with food. You should feed your little Berner the same food they were eating at the breeder’s. Familiar food will not only help avoid digestive upset (which easily happens with puppies!), but also help your puppy feel more comfortable. After all, we all tend to love the food we are used to.
After the 6 months mark you can switch the puppy to a more adult-style feeding, decreasing the number of meals a day to two times. This is also a time to switch your dog’s food to a different brand or from dry foods to wet foods, or from wet foods to raw meat etc. If you are switching brands, you need to closely watch your puppy’s health. Allergies are quite common in Bernese Mountain Dogs (as in any purebred dogs), and the onset normally coincides with changes in food.
If you notice any signs of allergy such as dermatitis, excretions from eyes/ears, itchiness, diarrhea, vomiting or anything else unusual, pay close attention to the food you are giving. If it’s a commercial food, read the list of ingredients to see if there is a new type of meat that your Berner may be allergic to. It could also be one of the preservatives in the food that can cause a reaction.
Don’t allow your dog to eat the food they are allergic to for any length of time: an untreated allergy can cause further health conditions and severely decrease your Berner’s quality of life.
In terms of the amount of food, it is OK if the puppy slightly overeats. You can check if the dog is getting enough food by touching their rib area. If you can feel the ribs just a bit, your dog is in perfect shape. If there is some padding above the ribs, it means your pup may be eating a bit more than they need, but, unless there is a lot of padding, it’s not an issue. Puppies need lots of energy for their exuberant antiques, and also for growing. It’s much worse to underfeed your dog at this age.
Nutritional and energy deficiencies may lead to health issues in the adulthood, such as bad state of bones and teeth, inadequate growth and other problems. A bit of extra weight, on the other hand, is usually easy to get rid of by simply slightly reducing the amount of food your pup is getting. If your Berner’s ribs stick out quite a bit, you may be underfeeding them. In that case, increase the amount of food per meal.
If your feed your puppy home-made food other than meat, make sure you are not feeding them too much liquid in their food: soup is not a good idea. The puppy’s food shouldn’t take to much space in their stomach. The food should be warm, but never hot. Don’t let the puppy eat uncontrollably all day around. The puppy needs to know they are fed three times a day and eat everything up within about 15 minutes.
Anything left on the plate after that needs to be taken away and your puppy shouldn’t be fed until next time. If the puppy doesn’t actively finish their meal, give them a little less food next time, but do not decrease the number of meals per day (keep it to 3 per day).
Make sure your puppy always has water available to them, and that the water is fresh.
A healthy puppy will have a healthy appetite! If your puppy seems like they never have a good appetite, you might want to take them to the vet to see if everything is alright. One reason for poor appetite could be lack of activity and fresh air in your puppy’s life.
Feeding your adult Bernese Mountain Dog
An adult Bernese Mountain Dog (older than 1.5 years old) should be getting one meal per day. It doesn’t matter what time of day you feed them. One time a day is enough to get all necessary nutrition and cover the dog’s energy needs, especially if your Berner, unlike their historic ancestor, doesn’t have to work on the farm. If your dog is highly active, or if they are overcoming a disease, you may want to feed them twice daily.
In any case, with adult dogs as well as puppies, it is important not to overdo treats. You can use them as part of your training program, but don’t overdo it. Berners can be quite food motivated, and with highly caloric treats weight gain may be inevitable.
Never feed your dog bones (especially chicken bones) – this can be dangerous for the dog! If you want to give them bones to chew, you can buy special – safe – bones at a pet store. It is also not recommended to give your pup processed meats (such as salami or sausages). Pastries, spices and sweets are very unhealthy and potentially dangerous for dogs. Chocolate can be lethal, but you probably already know that.
Supplementing your dog’s diet with commercial vitamin and mineral supplements could be a good idea, depending on how you choose to feed your dog. Any question regarding supplementing should be discussed with your vet, or even better – a veterinary nutritionist.