Nutritional Needs for Dogs
You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat”. Well, this saying applies to dogs also. Feeding your dog a well-balanced, wholesome diet will go a long way in improving the longevity of your dog, her appearance, and her energy levels.
Feeding your dog the wrong diet can be disastrous. It may be hard to resist those begging eyes and slip some table scraps to your best friend. And in many cases there would be no harm done. But certain table scraps should never be given to the dog, or serious consequences could result. So, just as important as what is best to feed your dog is what not to feed your dog. Information on foods to avoid can be found here.
The Building Blocks of Dog Nutrition
To understand proper nutrition for your dog, it is important to learn about the different macro nutrients, what they are and what they do. Below is a brief summary to get you started:
- Water - Water is the most important of all the nutrients, and must be readily available at all times. Water makes up most of your dog’s body (from 75% at birth to 60% in adulthood). It is used in almost every physical function of your dog, including regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients throughout the body, transporting waste from the body, and lubrication of your dog’s joints. Water, as well as by drinking it, can be obtained from the food your dog eats (up to 80% of a raw meal is water, and up to 10% of kibble is water), and as a by-product of her metabolism.
- Protein - Protein is the main component of your dog’s muscles, tendons, and skin. There are thousands of proteins, but all are made up of a small number of small chemicals called amino acids. These protein building blocks (amino acids) are what are essential for your dog’s well-being. While some amino acids can be created from others if needed, the dog has 10 essential amino acids (those that cannot be created if missing). These essential amino acids must be provided in the diet you provide your canine friend. Eggs are the most well balanced source of protein, followed by meats. Wheat, corn, and other grains contain only two thirds the protein value of eggs. An important point is that while all meats will contain all 10 essential amino acids, vegetables and grains may not, and must be balanced considering protein complementation (using several protein sources to balance out the lacks of the other sources).
- Fats - Fats (more properly called lipids) are an excellent source of energy, providing more than twice the energy of a similar amount of proteins or carbohydrates. However, they also serve a very important role in your dog’s nutritional needs, such as the ability to absorb vitamins that are classified as fat soluble (A, D, E, and K). As with amino acids, there are fatty acids also classified as essential fatty acids (EFAs). These EFAs must be supplied by the diet, because the body cannot manufacture them from other fatty acids. If the dog’s body is missing these EFAs, she will have problems such as skin conditions, poor wound healing, and even poor reproductive ability. Some common EFAs you may have heard about are the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
- Carbohydrates - Since dogs can make their own blood glucose from amino acids, carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient. However, carbohydrates do provide energy and dietary fiber, so they are beneficial. Fiber supports gut health by providing non-digestible material to keep food flowing, and providing energy to the cells of the large intestine. They help control the speed of digestion, they moderate the water balance, and control the amount of flatulence your dog exhibits! They also provide essential vitamins and minerals that might otherwise be lacking. Finally, by converting carbohydrates to energy (glucose), the amino acids are left to perform the job they were meant to do! So don't count carbs out of your friend’s diet!
- Vitamins and Minerals - The word vitamin was derived from the Latin vita (meaning life) and amine (derivatives of ammonia, which, when first discovered, vitamins were thought to be, though proved wrong). So as its name implies, vitamins are important to the overall health of your dog. The same is true of minerals. Vitamins and minerals are considered micronutrients because, while a necessary part of the diet, the actual amount of these nutrients required is much less than the macronutrients discussed previously. Vitamins and minerals are found in varying degrees in all forms of meat and vegetables.
Why should I worry about dog nutrition? My vet will guide me.
Unfortunately, dog nutrition is not very high on most veterinary doctor’s education list. That’s right! When going through all those hours of training to take care of your dog, most colleges just glance over the need for a proper diet. And most of that dog nutrition training is sponsored by commercial dog food suppliers!
So we, as loving dog owners, need to learn as much as we can about what types of food are good for our dogs, what dog foods are a waste of time, and what types of food just might be lethal to our dogs.
Nutrition for Dogs is something that every dog owner should be familiar with, to ensure a long, happy, and rewarding life with their dog.
Dog nutrition is one of my passions, so I will be adding much more to the pages of this section. Feel free to browse the pages of the Dog Nutrition Section, and please leave a comment if there is additional information you would like to see.