Why Is Copper in Dog Food?

Dog foods must contain certain macronutrients and micronutrients--including copper -- to be determined "complete and balanced."
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Copper is one of the nutrients required by the canine body. It goes into the development of various tissues, as well as performing other functions. Minerals such as are often found in plant material and other ingredients, but also are added to dog foods. Dog owners should be aware that some dogs and some particular breeds store too much copper in their bodies, causing toxicity.

AAFCO Standards for Dog Food

The Association of American Feed Control Officials provides guidelines that dog foods should meet to be considered complete and balanced sources of nutrition. AAFCO is not a regulating body, however, and cannot enforce any penalties for people who violate the guidelines. The nutrient profiles that appear on the side of AAFCO-approved dog foods are set by this organization, which revises them periodically as new research becomes available.

Copper Requirements and Functions

Copper is a trace mineral, which is absorbed in the stomach and small intestine. It serves as one of the building blocks of the canine body. Copper assists in the formation of collagen, bone, cartilage and other connective tissues. It also helps the body absorb iron, helps the red blood cells develop, serves as an antioxidant and develops hair pigment as well. According to PetEducation.com, dogs have a daily requirement of 3.3 mg of copper per pound of dog food they consume. To determine whether a dog food brand fulfills that requirement, the copper content of the food should be divided by the dry matter contained in the food. The dry matter of the food is found by subtracting the moisture content from 100.

Dietary Sources of Copper

Copper is found in fish and in meats, particularly in liver. It is also found in fish, in whole grains and in legumes such as beans, peas and soybean. Dog foods are often supplemented with copper to ensure that they provide a sufficient amount of copper when they are consumed.

Copper Toxicity

Copper is stored in the dog’s liver, kidneys and brain. However, some dogs do not excrete excess copper adequately, leading to too much copper being stored in their bodies. This abnormal copper storage is known as copper-storage hepatopathy. Certain breeds, such as the Bedlington terrier, the Doberman pinscher and Skye terriers appear to be more prone to abnormal copper storage. Dogs of these breeds should be tested for the gene that causes copper storage problems, especially if they show evidence of jaundice, spontaneous bleeding or other symptoms related to the disease. Untreated copper-storage hepatopathy can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, chronic hepatitis or even liver failure.