This probably sounds familiar: You sit down for a meal and your dog comes running to taste whatever you’re serving up. Dogs are notorious beggars—and their biology allows them to be. As omnivores who’ve been stealing scraps from humans for thousands of years, dogs can eat a lot of different foods. But have you ever wondered what nutrients they actually need?
As it turns out, dogs need many of the same nutrients as humans. Those nutrients—protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water—can be found in lots of foods. But not all foods are made equal.
If you’re like most pet owners, you want your dog to have all the vitamins and minerals he they need but buying dog food can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve created this complete guide to the nutrients dogs need.
You may recall learning in biology that the amino acids in protein are the building blocks of life, and it’s true: Dogs can’t survive without protein in their diets. Of all the amino acids dogs need, there are 10 that can’t be produced in their bodies. To get these essential amino acids, you must incorporate them into your pet’s diet.
These proteins should make up approximately 22% of your dog’s caloric intake. By feeding them foods that are rich in protein, you help keep their muscles, hair, and blood healthy.
Unlike humans, dogs get most of their energy from fat and protein. This means that your dog’s fat intake should make up approximately 14% of their daily calories. But fat is also more calorie-dense than protein or carbohydrates, so there’s no need to start feeding your dog a full-fat diet (despite how much they might enjoy it).
Like protein, there are numerous plant and animal-based fat sources for dogs. These include lamb fat, chicken fat, flax oil, and sunflower oil. These ingredients help keep your dog energized and alert, as fats promote healthy brain and eye function. They also keep your dog’s coat soft and skin supple.
You might’ve heard rumors that dogs can’t digest carbohydrates. In reality, dogs need carbohydrates in order to stay healthy and active. On top of being a third energy source, carbohydrates are important for reproductive and intestinal health.
Grains, potatoes, and corn are great sources of carbohydrates for dogs. But there’s an important caveat: These foods should always be cooked. Cooking carbohydrates like grains and potatoes make the foods more easily digestible. Luckily, most dog foods on the market contain easily digestible carbohydrates.
In addition, the fiber found in carbohydrates contributes to healthy digestion. Fiber isn’t a necessary nutrient for dogs, but it’s found in many carbohydrate-rich foods and certainly helps things run smoother. Fiber promotes digestive health and regular bathroom breaks. It also keeps them feeling full.
Carbohydrates should make up 30-70% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. Yes, that’s a big window—but the exact amount depends on what makes your dog feel best! If you’re worried that your dog is eating too many or too few carbohydrates, consult a vet.
For dogs, only very small amounts of vitamins are necessary for life. But that doesn’t make those vitamins any less important! Dogs can’t synthesize most vitamins, which is why you should ensure that you’re feeding your dog vitamin-rich food. Here’s what they need:
Vitamin A: Found in carrots, sweet potatoes, liver oil and more, vitamin A is necessary for vision and immune health.
B-Complex Vitamins: There are 8 B vitamins, all of which are important to your dog’s health. Whole grains are a great source of all 8, as well as red meat and poultry.
Vitamin D: Fatty fish and beef liver are sources of vitamin D that help promote strong bones. This vitamin is necessary for calcium absorption, and you should always check that it’s present in your dog’s food.
Vitamin E: This vitamin is an antioxidant, protecting your pet’s body from internal harm. Sunflower oil and most nuts can provide your dog with the vitamin E they need.
Vitamin K: This vitamin is important for blood clotting and bone strength. Choose dog food that contains leafy greens and meat to ensure they are getting enough vitamin K.
Choline: While it may not technically be a vitamin, choline is a vitamin-like essential nutrient. Your dog can eat foods like legumes, liver, and eggs to get enough choline.
Minerals are nutrients that dogs (much like humans) cannot produce for themselves. In other words, your pet should be consuming minerals in his dog food. Minerals are crucial for development, including bone and cartilage formation, fluid regulation, and more.
When it comes to minerals, there are two main groups. Macrominerals form the first group, which includes calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, and potassium. These are the minerals that your dog needs a greater amount of. The second group is trace minerals, like zinc, iron, copper, magnesium, and selenium. Trace minerals are needed only in small (but important!) doses.
For a commercial dog food to advertise that it’s “complete and balanced,” it must contain all the vitamins and minerals your dog needs to survive. This standard is upheld by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. If your dog food is “complete and balanced,” it should contain sufficient nutrients. But there’s one thing it won’t contain enough of: Water.
Water is the most essential ingredient for your dog’s health. After all, our dogs are biologically more than 50% water! Dry and wet dog foods don’t provide dogs with the hydration they need, which is why it’s so important to give your dog access to plenty of fresh water.
Even if you take away your dog’s food after mealtime, always leave the water bowl out. Dogs should drink about 1 oz. of water per pound of body weight every day, which could mean a few sips for toy breeds or half a gallon for large dogs. No matter their size, keeping your pet hydrated is important all year long.
What we feed our dogs can greatly impact their health. Both at snack time and mealtime, dog owners should choose healthful foods that provide their pups with all the nutrients they need.
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