Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs

Your dog needs a supply of certain nutrients. They help her to grow and they keep her immune system in good working order so she can generally get along in the healthy, energetic way she likes. The six basic nutrients that all living things need – and that include dogs – are clean water, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins.

A dog’s individual nutritional requirements will determine how much of these nutrients she should have, and that will vary depending on her lifestyle. Is your dog active or sedentary? Young or old? A working dog that hunts, herds or races? Is she suffering from a chronic or temporary health condition? Is she pregnant or nursing a litter of puppies?

“Foods containing the right amounts of the six nutrients must be eaten by the dog to balance her particular body needs,” says Edmund Dorosz, D.V.M., a veterinarian and nutrition specialist in Fort McCloud, Alberta, and author of Let’s Cook for Our Dogs. “Once eaten, the food will be broken down and processed into useable forms for the many cells of the dog’s body. This, very simply, is dog nutrition.”

This building block of all life is one of your dog’s most vital requirements. She can go for a while without flood, but without water she would soon become dehydrated or suffer heatstroke and other serious conditions. An adult dog’s body weight is 50 to 60 percent water; a puppy’s is more than 80 percent. Since dogs can’t always tell you when they are thirsty and even Lassie might have trouble pouring herself a glass of water from the tap, have a bowl of fresh water available for your dog at all times. A dog of medium size that eats a diet primarily of dry food could require upward of two quarts of water each day.

Dogs don’t actually require proteins as such; what they really need are the amino acids that make up proteins. Dogs manufacture some amino acids, known as the nonessential amino acids, within their bodies. They must get the rest – ten essential amino acids – from their food, specifically from animal or plant products that contain protein.

Proteins from animal sources, such as eggs, meat and fish, are high – quality, or complete, proteins. Incomplete proteins come from grains and vegetables, and they contain only some of the essential amino acids. You might suppose that the more “high-quality” proteins your dog gets, the better, but it’s not as simple as that. Your dog needs both together to ensure her cell-building, blood – clotting, infection – fighting and myriad other bodily processes are all working okay.

If your dog is a normally active and healthy dog, just a small amount of protein will get her by. The only exceptions are puppies, pregnant or nursing females, and dogs that work hard. These dogs might need a greater ratio of protein in their food. “Young and active dogs need more protein in their diets – young dogs for growth and active dogs because they are constantly breaking down more tissue, such as muscle tissue and red blood cells, which needs to be replaced,” explains Dr. Dorosz. “They need to get this protein from animal sources.”
There are simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, and complex carbohydrates, such as starches and fiber. They help provide your dog with energy and also keep the intestines functioning smoothly so that food waste passes through the system efficiently.

Fiber is often included in diets designed to help a dog lose or maintain weight, because to help a dog lose or maintain weight, because it may make a dog feel full without sending the calorie count through the roof.

High-fiber diets are traditionally prescribed for dogs that have weight problems.

The preferred source of carbohydrates in many commercially prepared dog foods is corn, followed by soybeans and wheat. Recently, rice has become a popular ingredient, particularly in special formulations for dogs that have developed an intolerance to other grains. Carbohydrates are an important part of your dog’s nutritional needs, although they should make up no more than about 50 percent of a balanced canine diet.

We humans are certainly preoccupied with fat in our food, but there’s no need to transfer that anxiety onto our pets. Any diet too high in fatty foods will make for an overweight dog, but that doesn’t mean you should throw out the fat completely. Fats should be properly balance with other nutrients, and are essential to her good nutrition and health, as well being an important source of energy.

Feeding your dog the proper amount of a complete and balanced dog food should ensure that she gets the right level of fat, but beware those extras that can literally tip the scales out of favor for your dog. Too many calories are often the result of too much fat – too many biscuit treats, too many table scraps.

Very active, hard working dogs may benefit from a diet that is higher in fat, and protein, than would be healthy for their less active canine counterparts. Sled dogs, for instance, can eat up to 40 percent of the dry matter of their diet as fat, says Dr. Dorosz. That would be enough to make most dogs as wide as they are long!

If you’ve ever read a pet food label and wondered why there was a measure of the food’s “ash content,” wonder no more. They aren’t really adding ash to your dog’s chow. The term actually refers to a laboratory testing method that is used to measure the total mineral content of a food.

Minerals either trigger chemical reactions within the body or serve as building blocks for specific bodily systems, such as nerve tissue (magnesium), skin and enzymes (zinc), or heart and kidneys (potassium).
Generally, your dog doesn’t need a lot of minerals. For instance, the amount of iron her body needs to affect her red blood cells is measured in parts per million. Other minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, are needed in relatively large amounts to ensure she has healthy bones. “If a dog is fed a complete and balanced diet, there is no need to supplement her diet with minerals,” says Francis Kallfelz, D.V.M., a professor of nutrition at Cornel University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. “At best, it has no value whatsoever. At worst, it could be harmful.” Most commercial dog foods will provide your dog with the minerals that she needs.

Just as your dog’s body needs minerals, it also needs vitamins for vital chemical reactions and normal vitamins for vital chemical reactions and normal metabolic functions. She requires the same vitamins from her food as you need from yours, except for vitamin C, which dogs are actually able to manufacture in their own bodies.

Vitamins are divided into two groups: those that are soluble in water and those that dissolve only in fat. The B vitamins, which help convert food into energy, are water soluble, as is vitamin C. this means that they need to be replenished every day, and any excess is simply passed out again in the dog’s urine.

Fat – soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, E, K and D, have a bit more staying power in the body, which is fortunate, because deficiencies can cause serious problems. By the same token, excess amounts of these vitamins, especially vitamin A, can lead to trouble.

Achieving the rights balance shouldn’t be a problem. “There’s really no reason to supplement with vitamins as long as you are feeding a complete and balanced diet,” says Rebecca Remillard, D.V.M., an animal nutrition specialist at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston. “I’d only suggest supplements if you need to make sure the food is nutritionally balance.” If you choose to prepare your dog’s food at home, Dr. Remillard suggests you review her diet with your vet to check if any supplementation is needed – your vet will advise you on this.

When to Feed:
Most adult dogs can sustain their energy and nutrient levels on one meal a day. “Feeding a dog once a day is fine,” says Dr. Kallfelz. “You just need to be sure that you give that meal at the right time to suit your household.” For a family that’s away at work and school most of the day, it makes sense to feed your dog at night, since someone will be home to let her out after she eats. On the other hand, if there’s always someone at home during the day, a morning feeding might suit you and your dog better.