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One of the most important responsibilities of being a pet parent is providing their dog with a nutritionally complete and balanced diet. Dog food manufacturers have come up with creative marketing strategies to make their products more eye-catching; however, this doesn't mean their products are necessarily high-quality.
The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) create standards for balanced diets and ingredients used in animal feed and pet food. When buying pet food, the AAFCO recommends checking labels for ingredients, drugs/additives, feeding directions, calories, nutrient guarantees, and other descriptors.
Dogs' digestive systems and nutritional needs are similar to humans, but there are a few differences. Dogs are technically facultative carnivores meaning they prefer to get their nutrition from meat but as they are scavengers, they have adapted to eating more omnivorous-type diets. Their digestive systems are similar to humans in that they have a simple stomach, but their intestinal tracts are much shorter which corresponds with their preference for meat sources of energy. Nutritional needs are determined by age/life stage, reproductive status, weight and other health conditions, however there are six nutrients, pet parents can look for to create a balanced diet for their dog.
Water: This is the most important nutrient because it makes up more than half the dog’s body weight. Wet food offers some water but can damage a dog’s teeth. Dry food is fine to feed as long as the dog has access to plenty of water.
Proteins: Dog food should contain a high amount of protein. There are 10 amino acids dogs are unable to make on their own, so they need to get them from the protein source in their food. Good dog food will have the protein source on the label.
Carbohydrates: Dogs don't have an absolute need for carbohydrates however, it is a common source of energy used in commercially available diets in the form of whole grains and vegetables. Some carbohydrates are good to have in the diet because they provide sources of soluble and insoluble fiber which are important for colon health.
Fats: Dogs don’t require as much fat in their diets as humans. However, they do require a few good fats to maintain a healthy coat and skin. Fats also provide energy. Healthy fats to look for are Omega-6 and Omega-3.
Vitamins: Dogs require vitamins A, D, E, K, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid, Choline, and B complexes. Fun fact: dogs don’t need vitamin C in their diet because their bodies make it.
Minerals: Dogs require calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iodine.
No one food fits all when it comes to feeding dogs. The packaging on a bag of dog food will have instructions on how much to feed, however, these recommendations don’t take all the health factors for each dog into consideration. The amount of each nutrient and the amount of food a dog needs will depend on the following factors: age, size, weight, and health considerations.
Puppies, active adult dogs, pregnant dogs, and lactating dogs require more nutrients than older, inactive dogs. Dogs that are obese or have food allergies or other health concerns will need specialized diets. A good quality dog food will contain all the nutrients a dog needs; however, some dogs with specialized diets may need a supplement. When a dog is stressed or sick they may experience an intestinal bacteria imbalance. Probiotics for dogs are natural supplements that support digestion and intestinal health. A veterinarian or canine nutrition specialist can prescribe the appropriate diet and supplements for individual dogs.
Want to learn more about the nutritional needs of your dog? Fuzzy veterinarians are highly qualified professionals and can help you make informed decisions about your dog’s dietary and nutritional needs. Fuzzy members can always contact a Fuzzy veterinarian via in-app 24/7 Live Vet Chat to ask about pet health, food, or supplement questions.