Dog Nutrition Requirements — Are You Barking Up the Wrong Tree?

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Good nutrition and a balanced diet are essential dog nutrition requirements. Your dog needs plenty of fresh water and should be fed good quality food in amounts just right to meet his energy requirements. Inadequate or excess intake of nutrients can be equally harmful.

Dog Nutrition Requirements

It’s vital that your dog eats a complete and balanced diet. He needs fresh water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. The most important nutrient is water, which makes up 60 percent of a dog’s weight. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates are necessary for energy; minerals are important for nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and other things; and vitamins are important to help your dog process biochemicals.

Some pet owners and veterinarians alike have become concerned that artificial ingredients might have detrimental health effects. To that point, more people are switching to natural pet food formulas or those with fewer artificial ingredients. Natural pet food can now be purchased in most pet supply stores. Kibble can be ordered online in bulk, and many veterinarians now stock all-natural foods. For those who prefer a home-cooked meal, recipes are available that provide a nutritionally balanced meal for dogs using human-grade food that you prepare yourself. These diets range from combining cooked vegetables and meats to feeding an entirely raw meat diet. Many books and websites are devoted to the benefits of an all-natural diet, whether prepackaged or prepared at home.

What should you consider before switching your pet to an all-natural diet? First, bear in mind that “natural” does not necessarily imply that it is appropriate for your pet. Remember that “natural” only signifies that there are no artificial ingredients; the term has no official meaning according to the FDA.

It is important to ensure that the food you have chosen still has the proper balance of protein and other ingredients for your pet’s needs, and does not contain any ingredients that your pet might be allergic to. If your pet has specific health concerns that require a special diet, you should consult your veterinarian before switching foods.

Choosing the Right Food

It’s also important to recognize that not all dog foods are created equal. While most dog foods are soybean-, rice-, or corn-based, better brands may have meat or fish meal listed as the first ingredient.

Although better-quality brands tend to be priced higher, they can prove worthwhile. Dogs typically eat less of high quality-products, since they have greater caloric density. This extends the time this food lasts, helping offset the higher cost.

The choice of dry vs. canned vs. semi-moist food is an individual one, but larger dogs should be fed a dry or semi-moist diet, since they may have difficulty consuming enough canned food to fulfill their caloric needs.

Dry dog foods also have greater caloric density, which means simply, there is less water in a cup of food as compared to a canned food diet. This is not a big issue for our smaller canine friends, but large dogs may have difficulty eating enough volume of canned food to fulfill their caloric needs (because they also get a lot of water in that food). Overall, the choice of dry vs. canned vs. semi-moist is an individual one, but larger dogs (such as those greater than 30 pounds) should be fed a dry or semi-moist food in most circumstances.

Dietary Requirements

Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are necessary for energy. Dietary requirements for dogs can vary according to activity and stress levels and medical history. Dogs expend energy in many different ways. For example, outdoor dogs are likely to experience increased levels of exercise and thus require a higher percentage of protein and fat for energy production than a dog who stays indoors most of the time. Dogs in various life stages [including puppy (growth), adult and senior (geriatric)] require different amounts of nutrients. Special situations such as pregnancy and nursing puppies can dramatically affect nutritional needs. Working dogs need more calories, while the “couch potato” needs less (just like us!).

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an organization that publishes regulations for nutritional adequacy of “complete and balanced” dog and cat foods. Your pet’s food should conform to minimal AAFCO standards.

Resources for Understanding Dog Nutrition Requirements

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