Canine Nutritional Requirements

A well-balanced dog food will help supply your dog with the nutrients it needs.
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Your dog's health relies on a complete, balanced diet -- a diet with the right proportions of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water. The right nutrition provides the necessary nutrients for steady metabolism, ample energy and increased longevity.


Proteins are the building blocks for a dog's cells, tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones and antibodies. A dog's body can produce 13 of the 21 necessary amino acids found in proteins; however, the other 10 amino acids -- called the essential amino acids because of their importance to the growth, maintenance, reproduction and repair of a dog's body -- must come from dietary meat and plant sources. These essential amino acids can be found in animal-based proteins, meats such as chicken, turkey, lamb, beef and fish, all of which have complete amino acid profiles. Protein is in eggs, but dogs should never eat raw eggs. Protein can also found in vegetables, cereals and soy, though these have incomplete amino acid profiles. Dogs generally require about 18 percent to 25 percent protein in their diet.


Many mixed-formula dog foods provide the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
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Fats, the most concentrated form of food energy for dogs, supply energy and essential fatty acids, as well as transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats are crucial to the structure of cells and are needed for the production of some hormones. Fats help make some foods more palatable to your pet. Dogs benefit externally from a diet with a balance of fats; they help maintain healthy skin and coat. Too much fat in a dog's diet can result in weight gain, canine obesity, vitamin deficiency, reduced growth or increased skin problems. A balanced diet provides 10 percent to 15 percent fat; dogs prone to obesity need less.


Carbohydrates -- primarily comprised of sugars, starches and cellulose (fiber) -- provide energy for a dog's tissues, help keep the intestines healthy and likely play an important role in reproduction. According to a publication by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine titled "Nutrition for the Adult Dog," carbohydrates are a direct source of energy and are protein-sparing nutrients: "Without carbohydrates and fats, the dog’s body must convert protein to glucose to obtain energy; consequently, these proteins are no longer available for the building and maintenance of lean body tissues." Carbohydrates supply dogs a healthy amount of fiber, helping manage chronic diarrhea by modifying the mix of the bacterial population in the small intestine. A dog's diet should be composed of 30 percent to 70 percent carbohydrates.

Vitamins and Minerals

Two essential catalysts for many of the body’s chemical reactions are vitamins and minerals. Specifically, vitamins and minerals contribute to a range of functions, including the structural constituents of bones and teeth, the maintenance of fluid balance and the reactions of many metabolic processes. Since the dog cannot synthesize these vitamins and minerals in the body, his diet must supply them. Dogs who receive a complete and balanced diet of proteins, fats and carbohydrates do not need vitamin or mineral supplements unless otherwise directed by a veterinarian.


Water is the most important nutrient in your dog's diet, accounting for 60 per ent to 70 percent of an adult dog's body weight. While some food supplies a portion of your dog's water needs, dogs must have access to clean, fresh water at all times. According to a publication by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine titled "Nutrition for the Adult Dog," a dog could lose all his body fat and half of his protein and survive; however, if a dog were to lose just one-tenth of his water, he may not survive.

Dog Food Nutrient Profiles

The Association of American Feed Control Officials, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for animal feeds and pet foods in the United States, says a dog food can be marketed as "complete and balanced" only if it meets the nutritional standards set forth by the organization. These nutritional adequacy standards are defined by two nutrient profiles based upon a dog’s stage of life -- adult maintenance, and growth and reproduction. Consumers can choose a complete and balanced dog food that includes all the necessary nutrients by looking for AAFCO-approved labels on the packaging that state either: "(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles," or "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition." Dog foods that do not include these labels don't provide all the necessary nutrients for your dog. If you choose such a dog food, you'll need to supplement the missing nutrients.