Fundamentals of Dog Nutrition


There is some debate about whether a dog's diet should consist mainly of protein, or whether a vegetable and grain-based diet is better.

Rest assured that the debate will continue, but here I'd like to give you the basics of dog nutrition and let you be the judge.

Dogs, (and cats, and all of us for that matter) need the amino acids, the building-blocks of protein in order to function. Amino acids aid in the metabolism of food and unlocking vital nutrients. They also build hair, skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and help in hormone production.

Some amino acids can be created by the body, and some can only be obtained through food, called essential amino acids.1

If a healthy dog eats too much protein for it's weight and activity level, then some is excreted in it's urine and the rest is used as calories or converted to fat. No harm done. However, if a dog has a kidney problem, a high-protein diet is not recommended.

Most pet food brands meet recommended levels of dog nutrition. The safest bet is to buy a quality brand of food that matches the activity level of your dog.


Carbohydrate sources are plants and grains.

Make sure that your dog is getting carbohydrates in their diet; they provide energy and help to build bulk.

If you've identified a grain allergy in your dog, make sure their grain-free diet is giving them the carbohydrates they they need from other sources.


Fats are found in meat, fish, and plant oils.

Fat is vital for dogs because it's the primary form of stored energy, providing twice as much as proteins or carbohydrates. It also helps maintain body temperature, controls inflammation, and is the building-block of animal cell membranes.


Water is the single most important nutrient for the body. Without it, the body can't transport nutrients, digest nutrients for energy, regulate temperature or eliminate toxins.

You should make sure your dog always has access to plenty of fresh water. Cleaning your dog's water bowl regularly is also a good way to eliminate the odor-causing bacteria that contributes to bad breath.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins help with bone growth, blood clotting, and oxidant protection. Vitamins A, D, E, and K require fat for absorption into the body, while the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C need water to be absorbed.

Minerals provide skeletal support and aid in nerve transmission and muscle contraction.

What to look for on the label

If you're not sure of the quality, the ingredients list will tell you all you need to know.

Look at the first ingredient, it's the weightiest. It should be a meat ingredient. The meat will give your dog the largest amount of protein, and in a highly digestible form. Meat by-product is of less quality but still acceptable, but meat bone-meal is of the poorest quality and should be avoided.

Also, look for this cost-cutting move: a lower-quality protein, such as corn, is not listed first but the manufacturer used smaller amounts of different kinds of corn so that they didn't have to list it as the first ingredient.

The pet-food industry is highly competitive, and the manufacturer might sneak something by you in order to meet their bottom-line.

Remember that proper dog nutrition is key to having a happy and healthy dog!

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