The Basics of Dog Nutrition
Feeding a dog is very much like feeding a baby – neither has much say in what it eats and both depend on us to make the right decision. The right decision is a well-balanced diet.
Despite outward differences between breeds, dogs descended from primordial canine ancestors with whom they share much of their genetic code. Although modern dogs gradually adapted their digestive apparatus to the foods they could feed themselves with, they still prefer a carnivore diet.
Therefore, the starting point in your decision-making process is accepting that your dog is a carnivore, from an anatomical and physiological point of view.
The perfect and well-balanced diet is supposed to be a proper combination of the six major nutrient groups:
- Fats & Oils
Protein, carbohydrate and fats provide your dog with much-needed energy. Vitamins and minerals are essential for energy conversion, enzyme activity and bone growth. And finally, clean water is the very essence of life.
Factors Influencing Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs
To choose the right dog food you need to know the nutritional needs of your dog. You also need to know that those needs depend on several factors:
- Body composition
- Gender (plus whether they are neutered/spayed)
- Activity level
- Taste preferences
Since many factors influence your dog’s nutritional needs it is recommended to consult a veterinarian or dog nutritionist — they will consider those factors and suggest the best diet for your dog.
Canine ancestors have specialized digestive adaptations that allow them to eat large meals and then go several days without food. However, this is not the case with our pet dogs. For most adult dogs, feeding twice a day is the ideal option. The daily food intake should be equally divided into two meals.
Regardless of the feeding schedule you choose, it is important to avoid excess activity after consuming food, especially if your dog eats fast. As for water, fresh and clean water should be available at all times.
Types of Dog Food
The simplest, most practical and most economical option, dry food is the most popular type of dog food. Dry food is made of grounded meal, has a low moisture content, and is molded into pellets with different shapes and sizes. Dry foods include:
- Extruded foods (shaped pellets or kibbles)
- Flake foods (flaked cereals)
Wet food has a high moisture content and has a pleasing texture and top palatability. It comes in meatloaf form, chunks in jelly or chunks in gravy form. It can be packed in cans, foil trays or pouches. Wet food is suitable for picky eaters.
Dehydrated food is made by removing the water content while naturally preserving the proteins, vitamins and minerals. Its minimally processed nutrients are easy to digest. Dehydrated food is sold either cooked or raw.
This highly controversial diet consists of raw meat, raw bones and raw organ meat. The raw diet has a plethora of pros and cons. Raw diet comes closest to the evolutionary and biologically appropriate diet for dogs. On the flip side, using raw food requires extra attention and a careful approach. Before deciding to feed raw, educate yourself about both the benefits and risks.
Regardless of what type of dog food you choose, make sure the manufacturer uses a meat-based protein source as the number one ingredient.
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What to Avoid
Knowing what to avoid is equally as important as knowing what to avoid. Certain ingredients can be harmful to your dog’s health, especially if given on a daily basis. The list of harmful ingredients includes:
- All types of by-products (from meat, grain or any other source)
- Unnecessary fillers (usually grains like wheat, corn or soy)
- Added sweeteners (usually listed as grain fragments)
- Artificial preservatives (BHT, ethoxyquin, propylene glycol)
- Artificial flavors
If you follow a balanced diet for your dog, you do not need to worry about deficiencies, unless your dog has specific issues that require special diet or supplements. Addressing health concerns with corresponding diets increases your dog’s quality of life and extends its survival period.
However, every health issue requires different and individually tailored nutritional approach. Tailored diets must not be practiced without your vet’s permission and careful monitoring.
Choosing the right the right diet influences your dog’s longevity and quality of life. With so many types and brands of dog diets, choosing the right food can be quite challenging and overwhelming, as well as time and nerve-consuming. To make the best decision educate yourself or consult your trusted vet.
However, do not forget that the ultimate decision is based on your dog’s personal taste preference. Whether your dog is a picky eater or eats voraciously, he must like the food he is offered. Even the most expensive and healthy food can be useless if your dog doesn't like how it tastes.
Ultimately, there is no one-type-fits-all kind of dog food. Every dog breed, or more specifically every dog, has different eating habits and nutritional needs.