8 nutrition tips for your dog

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8 nutrition tips for your dog - puppy eating from a dog bowl

Choosing the right food for your dog can be overwhelming, especially with so many choices available. You may have questions about pet nutrition and what food your canine companion should eat. Read on if you’ve ever asked yourself:

  • What are my dog’s nutritional requirements?
  • Should I feed my dog a grain-free diet?
  • Should my dog avoid animal byproducts?
  • How much food should my dog eat?
  • What is the best dog food?

There is a lot of conflicting information and misinformation online that can confuse dog owners. Much of this information is not supported by current science and is used as an advertisement, pushing pet owners to buy certain pet foods. Dogs have specific nutrition and dietary needs, and most commercial dog foods are adequate to meet them.

What nutritional requirements does my dog have?

Dogs need a variety of nutrients to survive and remain healthy. These nutrient requirements include amino acids from proteins, carbohydrates, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, in addition to clean water. Fortunately, most store-bought foods are created with these nutritional requirements in mind and make for balanced meals.

Should I feed my dog a home-made diet?

While most commercial dog food is balanced nutritionally, some owners may choose to make home-cooked meals for their dogs. If you decide to make dog food at home, be sure to work with a veterinary nutritionist to make sure the food contains all the essential nutrients your dog needs. If you feed your dog the same meals you eat, even if they are healthy for you, they may not contain the right balance of nutrients dogs need. In addition, it is not advised to feed dogs vegetarian or vegan diets. Many diets that lack meat, whether commercial or cooked at home, lack the necessary amino acids dogs need to remain healthy. Note: some dogs may have individual medical needs where general dietary guidelines do not apply. Always consult a veterinarian before restricting or changing your dog’s diet, especially if they have been diagnosed with an underlying condition.

Should I give my dog dietary supplements?

All dogs need a balanced daily diet that includes vitamins and minerals. The majority of commercially prepared dog foods have adequate amounts of these beneficial nutrients to keep your dog healthy. More is not necessarily better when it comes to some vitamins and minerals for dogs, and high doses can lead to toxicity. Always consult a vet if you have concerns about your dog needing additional supplements in their diet.

Should I feed my dog a grain-free diet?

Grains are not harmful to the vast majority of dogs and are a great way to provide the carbohydrates they need in their diet. The popularity of grain-free diets for dogs was created as a marketing strategy and has no scientific merit. In addition, some grain-free diets have been linked to cardiomyopathy in dogs, even young dogs, although the exact reason why is still unknown.

What are animal by-products?

Animal by-products are the “leftovers” from meat animals that many Americans don’t want to eat, even though they are safe and even considered delicacies in other countries. By-products include organ meat and entrails that often provide more nutrients than traditional muscle meat. They can also be extra tasty for dogs.

In the U.S., there are strict legal definitions and regulatory requirements for what animal by-products are included in dog food. These forbid the use of animal hair, hooves, hide trimmings, manure, intestinal contents, floor sweepings, and trash. Many high-quality nutritionally-complete products contain organ meats, such as heart or intestine meat, or other by-products listed on their labels. These ingredients are a source of high-quality protein and are included in many healthy dog foods. They also increase farming sustainability by utilizing the entire animal rather than just the muscle meat for consumption.

How much should I feed my dog?

Even though your dog might try to convince you otherwise, the amount of food your dog should have is based on their energy requirement, not how much they’d like to eat. Different dogs have different energy requirements depending on their size, stage of life, activity level, and breed. For example, a puppy has a different energy requirement than an elderly dog of the same breed, and an active dog will need more calories per day than a more sedentary dog of the same age and breed.

While commercial foods often have a feeding suggestion chart on the label, there is no regulatory requirement for this information to be scientifically accurate. Label feeding guides are also usually too broad to be accurate for every dog. Food calculators exist to estimate a closer caloric requirement for your dog, but discussing your dog’s food needs with your veterinarian is always a good idea. Tools like feeding guides and food calculators provide a reasonable starting point, but you’ll know you’re feeding your dog the right amount when they remain at a healthy weight.

Pet food, treats, and weight gain

Unfortunately, obesity is a very common problem for pet dogs. Obesity and being overweight are caused when a dog eats too many calories compared to the number of calories burned through physical activity and exercise. Excess calories can be consumed through food, treats, and table scraps. “Treats are a great tool for training your dog, but it’s really easy to give too many treats for the wrong reasons,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “They are not a dietary necessity and should never exceed more than 10% of a dog’s daily caloric intake. More importantly, they’re not a way to show your dog how much you love them or a substitute for play or exercise.” It is important to keep track of how many treats you are giving your dog when you are actively training them. These calories count towards their daily intake and should be accounted for.

There are some occasional treat options that are healthier for your dog, such as blueberries, unseasoned cooked meat, and crunchy vegetables. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight has more to do with the amount of food your dog receives and their energy requirements than the type of food they eat, but any food offered should also be nutritionally sound.

Are table scraps bad for dogs?

Feeding dogs table scraps can contribute to obesity and lead to more begging at the dinner table. In addition, there are many foods that we regularly eat that are toxic to dogs, such as grapes and onions. Dogs are naturally inclined to overeat and eat things they shouldn't, and foods that are particularly rich or high in fat can also lead to pancreatitis, enteritis, or gastritis.

What food should I give my dog?

There are hundreds of food options out there for dogs and choosing one can be overwhelming. The good news is that the majority of commercially prepared dog diets are nutritionally complete and have everything your dog needs to be healthy. More expensive food is not always better than a cheaper alternative. Correctly interpreting the information on pet food labels is more complicated than it seems, and it’s important to avoid common pitfalls.  If the food you want to use is readily available, has a nutritional adequacy statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), fits within your budget, and is enjoyed by your dog, you’re good to go.

Some dogs are more sensitive to food changes than others, so be sure to slowly introduce any new foods to your dog and gradually switch if a particular dog food doesn’t seem to work well for them. Veterinarians typically only recommend a special diet for dogs with food allergies or other medical conditions, and most dogs do well on any of the commercially available foods. If you have questions about the nutrition in your dog’s food or what your dog’s nutritional requirements are, an online vet at Vetster can help answer your questions.

FAQ - 8 Pet Nutrition Tips for Your Dog

Is dry food or wet food better for dogs?

The majority of commercial diets, both canned food and dry kibble, are nutritionally complete for dogs. Look for a nutritional adequacy statement to know for sure. Wet food can aid in water intake and make it easier for dogs with mouth pain to eat. Ultimately, it is up to you and your veterinarian to decide whether or not your dog will benefit from dry or wet food and, if so, which food they will benefit from more.

Is homemade food good for dogs?

Homemade dog food can be difficult to make nutritionally complete. Commercially prepared dog foods that carry a nutritional adequacy statement contain all of the essential nutrients for a balanced diet, but the inclusion of those essential nutrients in a homemade diet is usually a big unknown. If you would like to make your dog’s food at home, always work with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that the food is complete and healthy, and be sure to store and handle the food appropriately to avoid food-borne illnesses.

What foods should dogs avoid?

Some human foods are toxic to dogs. These include raisins and grapes, onions, chocolate, macadamia nuts, and foods that contain xylitol sweeteners. Few store-bought dog foods are unhealthy for dogs. There have been some studies that suggest some grain-free diets and other boutique and exotic foods for dogs are linked to heart disease, but the reason for that connection is still unknown.