A well-balanced diet fed in appropriate quantities is essential to the overall health of dogs. Dogs are carnivores and benefit from animal protein in their diets. They also require a balance of other nutrients including fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Feeding an appropriate level of calories based on activity level is important. Obesity is one of the number one nutritional issue in dogs which can also lead to other health issues.
Dietary protein is necessary for many reasons. Not only does it provide essential amino acids for the synthesis of other proteins in the body, it also provides non-essential amino acids that can be used for gluconeogenesis and/or energy for things like maintenance. Periods of growth, gestation, and lactation have even higher protein requirements. It is important for pets to eat the right amount of protein and that it is easily digested and absorbed.1
Carbohydrates can be categorized based on their digestibility:
There is no minimum level of carbohydrates need in dog food, but a diet too high in carbohydrates may have negative consequences. Some fiber is beneficial and supplemental fiber may provide gentle support for proper digestion in some cases. Fiber also promote the growth of good bacteria present in the lower portion of the digestive tract which may aid in digestive balance.
Fat in the diet not only provides an energy source, but also a source of essential fatty acids (EFAs). Vitamins A, D, E, and K can only be absorbed, stored, and transported by fat. Fat is needed to make certain hormones and maintain cell membranes. Fat provides 2.5 times more energy than protein and carbohydrates so intake should be linked to activity level.
Minerals and Vitamins4
The major (macro) minerals needed by dogs are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, and magnesium. Levels of one mineral in the food can impact levels of other minerals. The trace (micro) minerals are needed in smaller amounts and include iron, copper, zinc, and selenium.
Vitamins are nutrients needed in small amounts that enable many functions in the body. Some vitamins need to be supplied in the food and many are found in the natural ingredients. They can also be added to the formulation.
Ingredients vs Nutrients
Ingredients provide a balance of nutrients but should never be confused with the actual nutrition of a product. Ingredients should be selected for nutrients, quality, and taste. No single ingredient, or lack of ingredient makes a pet food better or worse. It is the sum of all its parts. Some food will have functional nutrients. Functional foods are foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.
The needed formulation for dog food will change based on various life stages or special needs. Puppies, pregnant bitches and lactating bitches have different nutritional needs than adult dogs. Food recommendations and feeding amounts are also dependent on lifestyle, activity levels, gender/status, and health status.