Canine Nutrition Basics
Q: What are the main nutrients dogs need?
A: Like most living things, dogs require a balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrate in their diet. Protein helps puppies to grow and develop healthy muscles and tissues – it also helps adult dogs to maintain their lean muscle mass. Fat provides a concentrated source of energy as well as essential fatty acids, and carbohydrates provide energy and essential nutrients. In addition to protein, fat, and carbohydrate, your dog also needs certain vitamins and minerals plus plenty of water.
To learn more about your dog’s nutritional needs in greater depth, click here.
Q: How much protein do adult dogs and puppies require?
A: A good rule of thumb to follow for dogs is, the more protein the better. When it comes to minimum nutritional requirements, however, puppies need more protein than adult dogs because it fuels the growth and development of their bones, muscles, joints, and connective tissues. Puppies need a minimum of 22% protein in their diet and adult dogs need a minimum of 18%.
Q: What role does fat play in my dog’s diet?
A: You have probably been conditioned to think of fat as the enemy, but it is actually a very important nutrition for your dog. With 9 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories for protein and carbohydrate), fat is a highly-concentrated source of energy for your dog. Fat also helps your dog to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and it plays a role in supporting his immune system. A balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids will also support your dog’s skin and coat health.
Q: How much carbohydrate does my dog need per day?
A: Dogs are not obligate carnivores like cats, so they do have a limited ability to digest plant material. This being said, your dog doesn’t have any specific needs for carbohydrate in his diet. Carbohydrates provide your dog with energy, dietary fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. They should come from highly digestible sources like whole grains, beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables and with no more than 5% crude protein.
Q: How many calories does my dog need?
A: The number of calories your dog needs on a daily basis will vary according to several factors including age, size, breed, and activity level. When your dog is still a puppy, his energy needs will be at their highest to fuel his growth and development. They’ll slow down a little bit in adulthood and will slow even further as he approaches seniority. Small-breed dogs have lower total calorie requirements than large-breed dogs, but their needs are actually higher when measured per pound of bodyweight. The average dog needs about 30 calories per pound but small-breed dogs may need as many as 40 while large-breed dogs may need as few as 20. Dogs with higher activity levels have higher calorie needs, as do working breeds versus companion breeds.
Q: How are the nutritional needs of large-breed dogs unique?
A: All dogs have the same basic nutritional requirements, but there are some subtle differences between dogs of different breed sizes. Large-breed dogs may require extra protein, for example, to sustain their grown and development as puppies and then to maintain their lean muscle mass as adults. A large-breed puppy food should be a little lower in fat than a small-breed formula because you don’t want a large-breed puppy to grow too fast. The same is true for large-breed adult diets because too much fat could lead to an excess of calories and that could put your dog at risk for obesity. Large-breed dogs may also benefit from additional supplementation with certain nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints and probiotics for healthy digestion.
To learn more about the nutritional needs of large-breed dogs and to receive recommendations for top-rated dog food brands, click here.
Q: What makes the nutritional needs of small-breed dogs different?
A: Small-breed dogs may not need as much food as larger dogs by volume, but their calorie needs are actually much higher when calculated per pound of bodyweight. The average adult dog needs somewhere around 30 calories per pound of bodyweight on a daily basis, but small-breed dogs need as much as 40. This is because small dogs have very fast metabolisms so their bodies burn through calories very quickly. Small-breed dogs need plenty of protein to maintain their lean muscle mass, but they have higher needs for fat than larger dogs because fat is a concentrated source of energy. Small dogs can also benefit from extra antioxidants to support their immune systems and to protect against free-radical damage over the course of their long lifespans.
To learn more about the nutritional needs of small-breed dogs and to receive recommendations for top-rated dog food brands, click here.
Q: How will my senior dog’s nutritional needs change as he ages?
A: As your dog gets older, his metabolism is going to slow down so he won’t be burning through calories as quickly as he did when he was younger. This means that your senior dog might need a dog food that is lower in calories, but it should still contain plenty of protein to maintain his lean muscle mass. A high-quality senior dog food will contain plenty of protein but should be limited in fat as a means of reducing the calorie content – it may also contain extra fiber to support your dog’s digestion and to help keep him feeling full on a lower calorie diet. Senior dogs can also benefit from supplementation with probiotics and with joint-supporting nutrients like glucosamine and chondroitin.
To learn more about your senior dog’s nutritional needs and to receive recommendations for senior dog food brands, click here.
Q: What are the most common dog food allergies?
A: Dogs can develop allergies just as much as people can, and to many of the same foods. The most common food allergens for dogs are corn, wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, beef, chicken, lamb, and fish. Dogs can develop an allergy at any time in their life, though it usually happens after the dog reaches 2 years of age. Certain breeds tend to be more prone to allergies as well.
To learn more about common dog food allergies and to receive recommendations for the top dog food brands for dogs with allergies, click here.
Types of Dog Food
Q: How many different types of dog food are there?
A: When it comes to dog food, there are many different types out there. The two main categories are dry food and wet food, also known as canned food. But within each of these categories there are a number of different subcategories. In the category of canned food there is wet food, semi-moist food, meal toppers, mixers, and pouches. Within the category of dry food there is traditional kibble, baked food, freeze-dried food, and dehydrated food. There are also several types of fresh or raw food including fresh raw, frozen raw, and freeze-dried raw. Fresh and frozen foods often come in patties or rolls, though they are sometimes shaped into nuggets as well.
To learn more about the different types of dog food in greater detail, click here.
Q: How do you choose the right diet for your dog?
A: With so many different types of dog food out there, it can be difficult to make the right choice. In fact, the “right” choice is different for each dog which makes it even more difficult. At the least, you want to choose a dog food that contains plenty of protein, a moderate amount of fat, and a minimal amount of digestible carbohydrates. The product should be made with high-quality ingredients and it should be free from fillers, by-products, and artificial additives. If your dog has unique dietary restrictions or some kind of medical problem, he may have other needs. In this case, you would be wise to talk to your veterinarian for recommendations.
To learn more about choosing the right kind of dog food for your dog, click here.
Q: Should I feed my overweight dog a low-fat dog food?
A: Dogs have a minimum requirement for fat in their diet. For puppies, that minimum is 8% and, for adult dogs, it is 5%. As is true for protein, however, the higher the better – except in certain cases. If your dog is overweight or obese, you may want to limit his fat intake as a means of controlling his calorie consumption. There are also some dogs who have sensitive stomachs and do not tolerate fat well. Dogs with certain medical problems like pancreatitis, hyperlipidemia, or inflammatory bowel disease may also require a low-fat dog food as part of their treatment plan. Unless one of these cases applies to your dog, however, a low-fat dog food is not necessary.
To learn more about low-fat dog food and when it is recommended, click here.
Q: What is a limited ingredient diet?
A: A Limited Ingredient Diet, or LID, is simply a type of dog food made with a select number of main ingredients. More specifically, LID dog foods also tend to be made with a single source of protein and carbohydrate, often a “novel” source as well. A novel protein or carbohydrate is simply one that your dog hasn’t eaten before, so his risk for being allergic to it is much lower. Limited Ingredient Diets are often used for dogs who have sensitive stomachs but they can also be used as an elimination diet for dogs with food allergies. If you suspect that your dog has a food allergy, choose an LID made with a novel source of protein or carbohydrate and feed it to your dog for at least 12 weeks or until all signs of the allergy have disappeared. At that point, you can keep feeding him the LID or you can introduce potential allergens one at a time until you identify the culprit.
To learn more about what a limited ingredient diet is and when your dog might need one, click here.
Q: Should I consider a high-protein diet for my dog?
A: In the early days of commercial dog food, most products had similar protein content. Today, however, there are dozens of brands out there and hundreds, even thousands of different products. One way that dog food manufacturers try to set themselves apart from the competition, is by offering high protein content. Protein is the most important nutrient for dogs, so all dogs can benefit from a protein-rich diet – in fact, your adult dog needs a minimum of 18% protein in his diet. Protein is especially important for puppies to fuel their development and for senior dogs to maintain their lean muscle mass. Generally speaking, your dog can’t get “too much” protein – any excess protein that his body can’t utilize will be excreted through his urine.
To learn more about high-protein dog food, click here.
Q: What are the benefits of raw dog food?
A: Fresh and frozen raw dog food is becoming increasingly popular among pet owners. While there certainly are high-quality kibbles and canned foods out there, they cannot compare to the nutritional integrity of raw foods. Dry foods are typically cooked at high temperatures to destroy harmful pathogens and to render the product shelf-stable. Unfortunately, this process also destroys some of the nutrient content of the raw ingredients. Raw food, on the other hand, is uncooked so the ingredients retain their natural nutritional integrity. This type of food offers excellent health and nutritional benefits, but it is not as easy to store. Fresh foods should be used within 3 to 5 days and frozen foods need to be thawed before feeding. Even so, many dog owners believe that raw food is worth the hassle.
To learn more about raw dog food in greater detail, click here.
Q: What are the pros and cons of freeze-dried dog food?
A: Many dog owners who like the idea of raw food but who don’t want to deal with the hassle of storing it choose freeze-dried food as an acceptable alternative. Freeze-dried dog food is simply fresh food that has had most of the moisture content removed. The drying process renders the product shelf-stable so you can enjoy the convenience of dry food but the ingredients retain most of their nutritional integrity so you can enjoy the nutritional benefits of raw food.
To learn more about freeze-dried dog food and how it may benefit your dog, click here.
Q: What are the benefits of grain-free dog food?
A: When it comes to carbohydrates in your dog’s diet, they need to come from highly digestible sources because your dog’s body is optimized to digest animal products more than plant products. Even so, some of the most digestible carbohydrates for dogs are whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, and barley. You must also consider, however, that grains are some of the most common food allergens for dogs – especially corn, wheat, and soy. If your dog has a grain allergy or a sensitive stomach, a grain-free dog food is probably the right choice. Choosing a grain-free diet is also an easy way to ensure that the dog food you choose doesn’t contain low-quality fillers made from corn, wheat, and soy.
To learn more about grain-free dog food in greater detail, click here.
Q: Is dry dog food or wet dog food better for my dog?
A: This is not a black-or-white question – both dry food and wet food have their benefits. For the most part, dry food is easier to feed because you can simply pour it into your dog’s bowl and then close the package to keep it fresh for up to three months. Wet food needs to be refrigerated after opening and should be used within a few days. In addition to being convenient, dry food is more affordable than wet food and it may help to keep your dog’s teeth clean. On the other hand, wet food is more palatable for some dogs and it has a more natural flavor and texture. In the end, it is your job to weigh the pros and cons to choose the food that is best for your dog.
To learn more about dry dog food and whether it might be the right choice for your dog, click here.
Q: What is a prescription dog food?
A: Prescription dog foods are also sometimes called veterinary diets because you need a prescription from a vet to get them. These foods are usually formulated to address specific dietary or medical needs and they are among the most expensive dog foods on the market. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding prescription diets because many of them are made with low-quality ingredients. It is difficult to rationalize feeding your dog a diet that is designed to address his medical problems when it doesn’t also support his nutritional needs in the healthiest way possible. Even so, there is a time and a place for prescription diets and it is up to you to make up your own mind about them.
To learn more about prescription dog food diets in greater detail, click here.
Dog Food Ingredients
Q: What kind of protein is best for my dog?
A: The best protein for your dog is animal protein – that includes meat, poultry, eggs, and fish. Animal proteins are known as complete proteins because they contain all 10 of the essential amino acids your dog needs in his diet because his body can’t synthesize them on his own. Both fresh meats and meat meals are good for your dog, as long as they come from named sources. Plant proteins are not necessarily bad, but they are less biologically valuable for your dog and should never be used as a primary source of protein.
Q: Should I avoid dog foods made with corn?
A: Many people think of corn as a healthy ingredient, but it may not be healthy for your dog. In addition to being one of the most common food allergens, corn also offers very limited nutritional value for your dog. Corn is difficult for most dogs to digest and, though it does contain some nutrients, there are many other grains and carbohydrates that are better.
Q: Is gluten bad for my dog?
A: As is the case for grains in general, some dogs are bothered by gluten and some are not. Gluten is simply a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For dogs that are allergic or sensitive to grains, it may be the gluten content that is causing the problem. If your dog is allergic to grains, switching to a grain-free diet will also take care of the gluten issue – there are no grain-free ingredients that contain gluten. Whole gluten-containing grains like cracked pearled barley do offer decent nutritional value for dogs, however, so an argument can be made both for and against gluten in dog foods.
To learn more about gluten in dog food, click here.
Q: Are synthetic supplements safe for my dog?
A: Pet food manufacturers use synthetic supplements in their products when necessary to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. The number of supplements used in any given dog food will depend on how many other natural sources of nutrients are included. Fresh fruits and vegetables, for example, are loaded with healthy nutrients and their inclusion might limit the need for synthetic supplementation. Synthetic supplements are not bad for your dog, but they offer more limited biological value than natural sources for the same nutrients.
Q: What is BPA and should you I be worried about it?
A: Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a type of chemical that is commonly used in epoxy resins and polycarbonate plastics – it is also sometimes used in the lining of metal cans. There is some evidence to suggest that BPA may be dangerous for dogs, but there are no long-term studies as of yet.
To learn more about BPA in dog food, click here.
Q: What does “human-grade” mean and why should I care?
A: The term “human-grade” simply means that the ingredient or product is fit for human consumption, as determined by the FDA. In order for a dog food to be marketed as human-grade, it needs to not only be made with human-grade ingredients but also processed in a human-grade facility. This requirement means that there are very few pet foods out there that can be described as human-grade. If the facility in which a pet food product is made is not solely used to produce human food products, the product itself cannot be considered human-grade.
To learn more about human-grade dog food, click here.
Shopping for Dog Food
Q: What is breed-specific dog food?
A: A breed-specific dog food is simply a dog food product formulated to meet the unique nutritional needs of a specific breed. Some breed-specific dog foods are designed for breeds of a certain size (like small-breed dog food or large-breed dog food) while others are made for specific breeds. There is a great deal of controversy regarding dog foods formulated for specific breeds since all dogs have the same basic nutritional requirements. It is also worth noting that most of the brands that offer breed-specific diets are the lower quality brands like Eukanuba and Hill’s Science Diet – these products are largely made to prey on undereducated dog owners who don’t know the facts about basic canine nutrition.
To learn more about choosing a dog food brand based on your dog’s breed, click here.
Q: What is life stages dog food?
A: Life stages dog food is simply dog food designed to meet the unique nutritional needs of dogs in different life stages – puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs. While all dogs have the same basic nutritional needs, dogs of different ages require the main nutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) in slightly different ratios. Choosing a life stage formula is an easy way to make sure that your dog’s unique nutritional needs are met.
To learn more about life stage nutrition for dogs, click here.
Q: Which ingredients should you avoid in commercial dog food?
A: The list of ingredients you should avoid in commercial dog food is endless. There are, however, a few main categories you should be on the lookout for – fillers, by-products, plant proteins, coloring agents, flavoring agents, artificial preservatives, and sweeteners. These ingredients serve little to no nutritional value for your dog, so there is no reason to include them in your dog’s food.
To learn more about the ingredients you should avoid in dog food, click here.
Q: What should I look for when reading a dog food label?
A: When it comes to reading a dog food label, there are many things to look for but the most important information can generally be found in three places. First, check for an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy to make sure that the product is properly formulated to meet the minimum nutritional requirements of a dog in your dog’s life stage (growth, maintenance, or all life stages). Next, check the guaranteed analysis to make sure the product has at least 18% protein and 5% fat for adult dogs and 22% protein and 8% fat for puppies. You also want to make sure it contains no more than 5% crude fiber. Finally, review the ingredients list to make sure that the product shows a high-quality protein as the first ingredient with other supplemental proteins as well as healthy fats and digestible carbohydrates. It also doesn’t hurt to include chelated minerals and probiotics.
To learn more about reading the label for dog food products, click here.
Q: What should I look for in a grain-free dog food?
A: A grain-free dog food shouldn’t contain any grains – that includes corn, wheat, soy, barley, rye, and rice. To replace the grains in dog food, there are a number of high-quality and digestible carbohydrates that can be used as a substitute. Beans and legumes, for example, provide plenty of dietary fiber as well as plant protein. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and potatoes also make good options. Other grain-free carbohydrates you may see in grain-free dog foods include tapioca, green peas, and other fresh fruits and vegetables.
To learn about the cheapest grain-free dog food brands on the market, click here.
Q: How does a cheap dog food differ from an expensive dog food?
A: There are many ways in which a cheap dog food differs from an expensive dog food, but the biggest difference is the quality. A cheap dog food is more likely to list some kind of grain or other plant product as the main ingredient – corn, wheat, and soy ingredients are very common in cheap dog foods. An expensive dog food, on the other hand, will almost always list a high-quality protein as the first ingredient. Cheap dog foods are loaded with fillers and by-products while expensive dog foods tend to rely more on wholesome ingredients like whole grains, animal fats, and fresh fruits and vegetables. These dog foods may vary in terms of supplementation as well. Cheap dog foods are loaded with synthetic supplements because the nutritional integrity of the raw ingredients has been destroyed during processing. Expensive dog foods are more likely to contain fresh fruits and vegetables as natural sources for key nutrients with a few synthetic supplements as needed – they also tend to include chelated minerals and probiotics.
To learn about the top 5 most expensive dog food brands on the market, click here.
Q: Can a high-quality dog food still be affordable?
A: The simple answer to this question is Yes, but there are a number of things to consider. There are many varying degrees of quality when it comes to dog food, and most of the top-quality dog food brands are also at the top of the price range. You can, however, find affordable dog foods that are made with decent ingredients. Some of the better dog foods that are still considered affordable contain inexpensive whole grains like rice and some of the more common proteins like chicken and turkey. They contain synthetic supplements for nutritional balance, but may not include chelated minerals or probiotics. They may also rely a little more heavily on plant proteins, though an animal protein should always be the first ingredient, no matter what.
To learn about the best affordable dog food brands on the market, click here.
Q: Should I only buy dog foods made in the USA?
A: When it comes to evaluating the quality of a pet food product, one of the most important things to consider is whether the product was made in the USA. The United States has strict rules and regulations for the manufacture of human food products. While pet foods are not regulated quite so closely, they are more controlled than pet foods in other many other countries. What many people (and even some pet food regulatory agents) don’t know is that, in order for a pet food to be labeled “made in the USA,” it has to be made with 100% USA-sourced ingredients. There are some countries like Canada and New Zealand that also follow strict regulations for their manufacturing processes, but there are only a handful of them. For all other pet foods, it’s best to look for the “Made in the USA” label.
To learn more about USA-made pet foods and to receive our top 3 recommendations, click here.
Feeding Your Dog
Q: How much should I feed my adult dog each day?
A: There is no answer to this question that is right for all dogs because you have to take into consideration certain factors such as age, size, and breed. For example, younger dogs need more food than older dogs because their metabolisms are working faster. The type of breed your dog is matters as well because some breeds are more active than others. You also have to consider your dog’s breed size because small-breed dogs need more calories per pound of bodyweight than large-breed dogs to sustain their fast metabolisms. The best way to ensure that your dog’s needs are met is to select a high-quality dog food formulated for dogs of his size and to follow the feeding recommendations on the package. Follow these instructions for several weeks while keeping an eye on your dog’s bodyweight and condition. If he gains too much weight, cut back on his food – if he loses too much weight, start feeding him a little bit more.
To learn more about how much to feed your adult dog and to receive recommendations for top-rated adult dog food brands, click here.
Q: How many meals should I feed my dog per day?
A: Most dog owners feed their dogs two meals a day – one in the morning and one in the evening. If you have a small-breed dog, however, you might want to consider throwing in an extra meal around midday. Small-breed dogs have very fast metabolisms so they need a steady stream of energy throughout the day to support it. The same is true for puppies – they need plenty of energy throughout the day to fuel their rapid growth and development.
To learn more about how much to feed your dog each day, click here.
Q: How much should I feed my puppy every day?
A: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question because there are a number of factors to consider. For one thing, different puppy foods have different calorie contents, so the serving size will vary from one brand to another. Second, different puppies have different needs based on their age, size, and breed. Your best bet is to select a high-quality puppy food formulated for dogs of your puppy’s size (small-breed or large-breed) and to follow the feeding recommendations on the package according to your puppy’s age and weight.
To learn more about how much to feed your puppy, click here.
Q: When should I transition my puppy to an adult diet?
A: As a general rule, you should wait to transition your puppy onto an adult dog food until he reaches about 80% of his expected adult size. This value will be different for different breeds, of course, so you’ll have to do some research. You should also remember that different breeds will grow at different rates. Small-breed puppies tend to grow very quickly and they will reach their adult size much sooner than a large- or giant-breed puppy. Keep in mind that for large- and giant-breed puppies you want to prevent them from growing too quickly because rapid growth could strain their developing bones and joints. This means that you might end up switching a small-breed puppy to an adult diet before he reaches 1 year old and you might end up waiting to switch a large- or giant-breed puppy to an adult diet until after he reaches 12 or even 18 months of age.
To learn more about when to transition your puppy onto an adult dog food, click here.
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