FAQs About Dog Nutrition & Diet

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FAQs About Dog Nutrition & Diet

(This article was last updated on Feb 25, 2017 @ 10:32 am)

What is the best food to my dog?

How much should I feed my dog?

How should I pick a good diet for my dog?

I’m sure you would like to find some answers about your dog’s nutrition.

A balanced and complete nutrition is essential to your dog’s health maintenance and growth.

A dog must obtain 37 different specific nutrients from his food.

Your dog’s nutritional requirements depend on his breed, age, lifestyle, and health.

It’s not surprising that a growing, energetic puppy needs different nutrient balance in his diet than a less active senior dog.

Additionally, some specific medical conditions also influence nutritional needs.

dog food nutrition

Is my dog a carnivore or an omnivore?

Dogs belong to the family Canidae and the order Carnivora, but this doesn’t reflect their behavior, anatomy or diet preferences.

Dogs are omnivores, which means they need a combination of meats, cereals, and vegetables in the correct quantities to obtain a nutritionally balanced diet. They are able to eat and remain healthy with both animal and plant foodstuffs just like wolves and coyotes.

Dog’s nutritional, behavioral and physical omnivore’s characteristics are:

  • Molars with flat surfaces aimed to chew bones and fibrous plant material
  • Digestion of nearly 100% of the carbohydrates they ingest
  • Small intestine
  • Ability to produce vitamin A from beta-carotene found in plants

Why is it important to offer my dog a balanced food?

Dogs need a complete and balanced diet to maintain health. Too much or too little of a certain ingredient can have an adverse effect.

For example, an excess of protein and phosphorus may aggravate kidney disease. It’s essential that veterinary nutritionists select proper ingredients and find the balance for optimal healthy diet.

What are the best ingredients listed on a dog food label?

You should found in the top of the ingredient list one or two quality protein sources (meats), one or more source of carbohydrates (whole grain), and a quality fat or oil source.

What are the nutrients included in a balanced dog food?

Your dog’s diet needs correct amounts and proportions of the six major groups of nutrients:

  1. Water
  2. Protein
  3. Fat
  4. Carbohydrate
  5. Minerals
  6. Vitamins

Why is water important for my dog’s health?

Water is a vital nutrient for all living beings and dogs are no exception. Water is important in helping regulate body’s internal temperature, hydration of body tissues and as a fluid medium for the blood. A loss of 15 % of body water can lead to death.

Water intake depends on:

  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Metabolic activity (exercise, pregnancy, lactation, growth)
  • Environment (temperature, humidity)
Dogs obtain water from the water they drink, fluid ingested with food, and water produced from metabolic reactions in the body. Water is mostly loss in urine, feces and respiration.

You should always make sure your dog has access to uncontaminated, fresh drinking water at all times, preferably in a large ceramic bowl.

Your dog will need more water if:

  • He is fed exclusively dry diet
  • The weather is warm
  • After exercise
Drinking more than usual can be a sign of sickness so consult your veterinarian if you notice your dog visiting the water bowl more often.

What are the best sources of quality protein in dog food?

Premium proteins for use in dog foods are animal-based sources such as chicken, lamb, turkey, venison, duck, pork, beef, fish, and eggs.

Protein are essential nutrients for dogs. They are vital to:

  • Muscle growth
  • Tissue repair
  • Skin and hair health
  • Hormone synthesis
  • Oxygen transport in the blood
  • Immune function
Proteins are made up from small units called amino acids, thus amino acids are “building blocks” of the body.

Dogs need to obtain specific proteins from their food because they include essential amino acid that can’t be produced fast enough or in sufficient quantity to meet the necessities for growth and maintenance. Therefore, they must be supplied in the diet. An example of essential amino acids for dogs is arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

In manufactured dog food, proteins are derived from animal and plant sources. Most protein ingredients contain inadequate amounts of one or more amino acids and are thus ineffective if used as the sole source for meeting protein needs. These inefficiencies can be defeat by careful selection and mixture of different protein sources.

A protein deficient diet can lead to:

  • Poor growth
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lower reproductive performance
  • Loss of muscle bulk
  • Poor coat condition
  • Increased risk of infection (impaired immunity)
In dogs fed with diets containing more protein than is needed, extra protein is metabolized and used for energy. Once the requirement for amino acids is met and protein reserves are filled, excess of protein energy generation can potentially get stored as fat.

Why is fat an important ingredient for dogs?

Fat provides the most concentrated form of energy in the diet. Fats, made from small units called fatty acids, supply “fuel” for your dog to stay full of life.

Fats are also vital for:

  • Improving the flavor of food.
  • Aid absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
Fatty acids are essential “building blocks” for important substances (e.g. hormones) and indispensable to maintaining normal and healthy cells.

Good fats, and essential fatty acids (EFA’s) such as linoleic acid, linolenic acid, and arachidonic acid, are critical for healthy coat and skin condition.

Linoleic acid is the source of omega-6 and linolenic acid is the source of omega-3.

Dietary deficiency in fats can lead to:

  • Poor skin and coat condition
  • Reproductive problems
An excess of fat can lead to:
  • Clinical obesity and associated medical problems (e.g. diabetes, cardiac problems, and osteoarthritis).

Why are carbohydrates important for my dog’s nutrition?

Carbohydrates provide an excellent and readily available energy source. Fibers help to maintain a healthy gut by promoting intestinal flora growth and ensuring normal intestinal function.

What are the best sources of carbohydrates in dog food?

Whole grains are the greatest sources of carbohydrates because they have higher levels of fiber that keep your dog feeling full longer, keep blood sugar levels stable, and support digestion.

In manufactured pet foods, most dietary carbohydrates are cereal grains or flour, such as:

  • Corn
  • Oats
  • Rice
  • Barley
  • Wheat
  • Sorghum
Carbohydrate may make up to 40% to 55% of dry diets in dog food. Grains are usually processed by grinding, flaking or cooking. These methods improve palatability and digestibility. Raw or inappropriately cooked starches are poorly digestible and tend to ferment in the large intestine, so cautious processing is central to make highly digestible pet foods.

The bran or hulls from grains and other vegetable products provide sources of dietary fiber in pet foods, such as:

  • Soybean hulls
  • Wheat bran
  • Beet pulp
  • Rice bran
  • Oat bran
  • Pea fiber
The carbohydrates are digested in the small intestine, where they are broken to glucose. Glucose is the normal source of energy used by most cells in the body.

A dietary insufficiency in carbohydrate can lead to:

  • Reduced energy
  • Poor coat condition for example. This occurs because dietary fat and protein is used to ensure sufficient energy and there is therefore less protein to spare for non-essential functions such as healthy, glossy fur.
When dogs consume diets containing too many carbohydrates, excess of energy is stored in the form of:

  • Glycogen in muscles and liver
  • Fat in the adipose tissue
In periods of fasting, stress or exercise, glycogen is broken down to glucose and delivered to the bloodstream.

Are grains bad for my dog’s health?

Whole grains contain healthy nutrients including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber. As omnivores, dogs are efficient at digesting and utilizing nutrients from grains. Some dogs are allergic to specific grains. However, these allergies are no more common than allergies to animal proteins such as chicken.

Why are vitamins important for my dog?

Vitamins are required in small amounts through the diet to help your dog to maintain:

  • Growth
  • Normal vision
  • Healthy skin and coat
  • Normal wound healing
  • Normal functioning of the nervous system
Vitamins are classified as:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), which are stored in your dog’s adipose tissues
  • Water-soluble vitamins (B complex and C), which are excreted in urine. Dogs don’t have an essential necessity for vitamin C as they can make it themselves.
Vitamins work in concert with other vitamins and nutrients to nourish the animal. Thus is crucial to provide balanced amounts of vitamins and other nutrients in complete diets. Adding supplements to diets which are already complete and balanced may create imbalances with harmful effects.

Which foods are good sources of vitamins?

Fat-Soluble Vitamins:

Vitamnin Source Function
Vitamin A Plants (beta-carotenes): Carrots, Spinach, Pumpkin Normal vision, growth, immune system function, and reproduction; Antioxidant
Vitamin D Produced in the skin following exposure to UV lightDiet: salmon, eggs, fish liver oils, tuna Regulation of calcium in the body, helps mineralization of the bone, increases the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from intestine
Vitamin E Tocopherols found in plant oils (soybean oil, safflower, wheat germ) Important for reproductionAntioxidantProtection of cell membranes
Vitamin K Green, leafy plants and vegetables Clotting agent in the blood

Water-soluble vitamins:

Vitamin Source Function
Complex B (B1, B2, B6, B12, …) Fish,
liver, meat, poultry, lean beef, legumes, yeast, broccoli and other vegetables, eggs
Crucial in the metabolism of protein, carbohydrate, and fat which results in energy body processes
Vitamin C Citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, green leafy vegetables, green peppers Synthesis and production of collagen (protein, fibrous in nature, that connects and supports body tissues, such as skin, bone, tendons, muscles, and cartilage)

Why are minerals important for dogs?

Minerals are inorganic nutrients that make up less than 1 % of a dog body’s weight. Minerals carry out diverse functions in the body such as:

  • Bone and cartilage formation
  • Enzymatic reactions
  • Maintain fluid balance
  • Oxygen transport in the blood
  • Normal muscle and nerve function
  • Hormone production
Minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, are essential for strong, healthy teeth and bones and must be offered in balanced proportions through the diet. This is of chief importance in growing dogs. The ideal calcium:phosphorus ratio is between 1:1 and 2:1.

Other minerals that are essential for normal body function are sodium, chloride, magnesium and potassium, as well as zinc, copper, and iron.

All dietary minerals must be carefully balanced and always will be in a good quality complete manufactured dog food. Supplementation of any one mineral to an already balanced diet can create imbalances and potentially disrupt an animal’s nutritional health.

Minerals are usually grouped into:

  • Macro-minerals: needed in greater amounts in the diet and found in larger amounts in the body
  • Micro-minerals: needed in minor amounts in the diet and found in smaller amounts in the body


Mineral Function
Calcium and phosphorus Confer rigidity to the teeth and bones, aid in blood coagulation, important for nerve excitability
Sodium and chloride Fluid regulating minerals, help to preserve the balance between fluids inside and outside the cells
Potassium Normal enzyme, muscle and nerve functionsMaintenance of fluid balance
Magnesium Structural component of both bone and musclePlay a role in enzymatic reactions


Mineral Function
Iron Combines with hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying compound in red blood cells

Important component of enzymes (proteins that speed up the velocity of a chemical reaction in a living being)

Zinc Involved in production of proteins

Important for normal immune system function

Crucial for DNA and cellular turnoverAntioxidant properties

Maganese Enzymatic activator involved in the production of energy, fatty acid synthesis, and amino acid metabolism
Copper Collagen and elastic connective tissue formation

Development and maturation of red blood cells

AntioxidantProvide pigmentation for hair

Selenium AntioxidantContribute for normal immune function
Iodine Production of thyroid hormones in the thyroid gland

Thyroid hormones regulate basal metabolic rates

What are chelated minerals? Are they bad for my dog?

A chelated mineral is a mineral chemically bonded with a protein. This combination generally improves the absorption of the mineral in the digestive tract.
Natural forms of minerals are always more biologically valuable than synthetic forms, but that doesn’t mean that chelated minerals are bad for your dog’s health.

What is the best food to feed my dog?

There is a multiplicity of dog foods available – recipes, formats, and formulas, wet and dry. Every dog is unique. Each has their own special personality, likes, dislikes and needs. Always choose a diet that is nutritionally balanced and complete. The quality of ingredients can vary greatly from product to product, influencing intake requirements and nutritional delivery.

Most manufactured pet diets now offer a rising range of individual recipes, designed to meet the precise and varying needs of different dogs. So you can be certain you’re getting the balance right for your dog.

What is a Rotational Diet?

Rotational diet is a nutritional philosophy that offers your dog a diet varying both food protein sources and food types (e.g. raw, wet, and dry). This diet implies to vary your dog’s food on a periodic basis. For example, if you usually give your dog dry kibble, you can gradually rotate to a raw dog food or to a different kibble.

I hope this article answer to some of your questions about your dog’s nutrition. An informed owner will be able to pick a healthier and balanced dog food. Feel free to post comments and suggestions.



About the Author:

Hi! I'm Dora Mancha, DVM. I am graduated for the Veterinary Medicine Faculty of Lisbon (2009). My degree is recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). I completed my degree in Veterinary Medicine in July, 2009. Over the first years as a veterinarian my work was closely related to the animal health field. I have gained some average experience having worked in Barcelona University (UAB) Equine Hospital and by working with veterinarians in Portugal. In addition, in 2009 - 2010 I was in Madrid at the University Alfonso X el Sábio doing an internship in the equine service. I am also very interested in small animal medicine and surgery. In fact I worked in several small animals clinics in Portugal improving my knowledge about small animal behavior and health. Dogs always have been present in my life, since I was a child. At the present moment I have four dogs a Labrador, a Epagnheul Breton, a Whippet and a mixed breed dog.

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Each dog has unique needs... The approach "one food for all dogs" isn't the more suitable. Dogs have different sizes, different life stages, unique breed characteristics, health conditions and a few other factors... Choosing the right food for your dog may help him or her life a longer and healthier life! We exist to make that task easier for you.

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