The Best Nutrition For Dogs and Puppies | Choosing The Best Dog Food For Your Dog
By Rachele Baker, DVM – I am delighted to share with you the following excerpt from Chapter 1 of my newly released book Dog Health Care: 7 Simple Ways To Keep Your Dog Healthy.
Praise for Dog Health Care: 7 Simple Ways To Keep Your Dog Healthy:
“I really liked it. You made it interesting and easy to read. Everything was well explained without dumbing it down for non experts like me. It was well structured and well written.” – Ali I.
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The Best Nutrition For Dogs and Puppies
Essentials of good nutrition for your dog
The food that your dog receives plays a vital role in your dog’s health and quality of life. Dogs are omnivores. That means that they eat both plant material (such as fruits and vegetables) and meats. Wolves are the nearest ancestors of domestic dogs, and wolves are also omnivores. Wolves eat meat such as deer and elk as well as plant material such as fruits and berries.
Dogs that receive good quality nutrition are bright and alert with a normal body weight and a shiny, healthy hair coat. Their stools will be firm, formed, and medium to dark brown. A good quality diet for your dog will provide him or her with all the essential nutrients in the proper proportions. When you are feeding your dog a good quality commercial dog food, additional vitamins and supplements are not necessary.
The appropriate amount to feed your dog can be estimated by using the feeding guidelines on the label found on your dog’s food. You can use the dog food label as a starting point with the understanding that the amount you feed your dog may need to be adjusted depending on your dog’s needs.
You can feed your dog one or two meals a day or keep food available at all times. There are, however, disadvantages to keeping food available at all times (free choice feeding).
One disadvantage of free choice feeding is that it may be difficult to determine if your dog is eating well, especially if you have more than one dog. In addition, some dogs will eat too much and become overweight if they are free to eat as much as they want. Canned or moist foods left out at room temperature can spoil, so it is not recommended that canned or moist foods be used for free choice feeding.
If you are feeding your dog meals rather than leaving food out all the time, it is recommended that you feed your dog two meals a day (breakfast and dinner). However, very young puppies need to be fed more frequently. There is more information on feeding puppies later in this chapter.
It is fine to feed your dog either canned or dry food or a mixture of both.
Nutrition claims on dog food labels
The nutritional claims on dog food labels in the United States are primarily regulated using protocols established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). For a dog food manufacturer to state on the dog food label that a food is “complete and balanced,” manufacturers must either conduct a feeding test according to AAFCO protocols or meet the minimum AAFCO nutrient profiles.
AAFCO guidelines require that dog foods be labeled as appropriate for “growth,” “gestation/lactation” (pregnancy and nursing), “maintenance,” or “all life stages.” “All life stages” dog foods must be formulated to meet the nutrient needs of dogs in any life stage.
Starting in 2016, AAFCO guidelines require specific dog food label provisions for large and giant breed puppies (those expected to have an adult weight of more than 70 pounds). These new guidelines address the need to regulate the amount of calcium in diets for large and giant breed puppies. Large and giant breed puppies can develop bone and joint problems if their diets contain too much calcium. They should be fed a diet specifically formulated for large breed puppies until they are fully grown.
Manufacturers have up to two years to comply with these new AAFCO guidelines. The new AAFCO guidelines require dog foods formulated for “growth” or “all life stages” to specify whether they include or exclude large breed dogs with one of the following statements:
[Dog Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for “growth” [or “all life stages”] including growth of large size dogs (70 pounds or more as an adult).
[Dog Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for “growth” [or “all life stages”] except for growth of large size dogs (70 pounds or more as an adult).
Meat by-products in dog foods
What about dog foods that contain “meat by-products?” What exactly are “meat by-products” in dog foods?
Here is the AAFCO’s definition of meat by-products in dog foods:
“Meat by-products are the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, and hooves. It shall be suitable for use in animal food.”
What about dog foods that claim they are natural, organic, or holistic?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines “natural” as:
“A food or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis, or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts which might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.”
The term “organic” as defined by the AAFCO means that the dog food meets the requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP). Regulations specifically for dog foods are currently being developed. In the interim, the National Organic Program has stated that dog foods claiming to be “organic” must meet the National Organic Program’s regulations for human foods.
According to the National Organic Program website, “organic” products are “produced through approved methods that promote ecological balance. Synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”
Certified organic foods display a seal that says, “USDA Organic.”
Regulations prohibit organically processed foods from containing artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. Produce can be called organic if it is certified to have been grown on soil that had no prohibited substances such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides applied for three years prior to harvest. Organic meat regulations require that animals raised for meat are fed organic feed and are not given antibiotics or hormones.
The term “holistic” has been applied to a wide range of dog foods. However, the term “holistic” is not legally defined or regulated by the AAFCO.
It is generally assumed that dog foods claiming to be “holistic” will contain wholesome, natural ingredients and no by-products. However, since there are no regulations in place to define exactly what can and cannot be included in dog foods claiming to be “holistic,” it is important to read the dog food ingredients label to be certain that the food is consistent with your expectations.
The six basic nutrient categories
A good quality diet for your dog will contain all the essential nutrients in the proper proportions. The six basic nutrient categories are water, carbohydrates, protein (essential amino acids), fat (essential fatty acids), minerals, and vitamins.
You may be surprised to learn that water is considered the most important nutrient. Water is vital to life. Water is one of the largest constituents of an animal’s body and can vary from forty percent to more than eighty percent of the total.
Water provides shape to the body. It acts as a solvent in which substances are dissolved and then transported through the body. Water is necessary for the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Water in bodily fluids helps lubricate the joints and eyes and keeps the airways moist.
Water helps regulate body temperature as it is evaporated from the skin or from the respiratory tract during breathing. That is why you will see your dog pant when he or she gets hot. Panting helps to cool your dog down. Panting is the primary way that dogs get rid of excess body heat. When your dog pants, water and heat are evaporated from your dog’s lungs, tongue, and mouth.
It is very important, therefore, to make sure that your dog always has fresh, clean water. You should clean your dog’s water bowl with dish soap every day to remove bacteria and debris before refilling it with clean water. I do not recommend leaving your dog’s water bowl outside in a place where other animals in the area can drink from it due to the potential for contamination with bacteria and diseases from other animals.
The body uses simple carbohydrates and starches as a source of glucose. Simple carbohydrates and starches provide energy and heat for the body. The primary reason that simple carbohydrates and starches are added to dog foods is to supply energy.
Dietary fiber refers to compounds categorized as complex carbohydrates. Dietary fiber sources in dog foods include cellulose, peanut hulls, beet pulp, rice bran, oat bran, wheat bran, guar gum, and certain fruit pectins.
The primary benefit of dietary fiber in dog foods is to increase the amount of water and bulk in dogs’ intestines. Dietary fiber helps to regulate normal bowel function and maintain the health of your dog’s colon. It can also help manage obesity, diarrhea, and constipation.
Dog foods containing increased amounts of dietary fiber can help control body weight and aid in weight loss. Dietary fiber increases bulk in the stomach and intestines which helps a dog feel full even though he or she is consuming fewer calories overall.
Dietary fiber absorbs excess water from the stool in the intestines when a dog has diarrhea. Fiber also functions to increase water content and thereby moisten and soften the stool in the intestines when a dog is constipated.
Protein (essential amino acids)
Proteins have many important functions in the body. Proteins are the main structural components of the collagen and elastin in cartilage, tendons, and ligaments as well as the keratin in skin, hair, and nails. Proteins in muscles enable muscles to contract. Proteins also function as antibodies, so they are a major component of the immune system. Antibodies are important to help the body fight infections caused by bacteria and viruses.
Proteins in dog foods include chicken, turkey, beef, fish, and lamb. Grains such as rice, wheat, corn, and barley can also provide proteins.
Fats (essential fatty acids)
Dietary fats supply dogs with energy and essential fatty acids. Dietary fats also enable the body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Dietary fats are the most concentrated source of energy in dog foods.
Minerals have many essential functions in the body. For example, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium are components of bones and teeth. The minerals iron, zinc, copper, and manganese are involved in enzyme and hormone systems in the body.
There are four fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and nine water-soluble vitamins (thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, pyridoxine (B6), pantothenic acid, folic acid, cobalamin (B12), biotin, and vitamin C).
Vitamin A is essential for a number of body functions including vision, growth, and reproduction. Fish oil, liver, and eggs are naturally rich in Vitamin A.
Vitamin D is necessary for the body to absorb and retain calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is the primary component of bones, so Vitamin D is important to keep bones healthy.
Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant in the body. Antioxidants help stop damage to cells in the body caused by free radicals. Free radicals are formed in the body during normal physiological processes such as converting food into energy. Dogs can also be exposed to free radicals from environmental sources such as air pollution. Vegetable oils, seeds, and grains are the richest sources of Vitamin E.
It is generally not necessary to give your dog vitamin or mineral supplements if your dog is eating a good quality commercial dog food.
Dogs’ nutritional needs change as they age. The next sections will cover the specific nutritional needs of dogs from birth to old age.
Keep reading! Get your copy of Dog Health Care: 7 Simple Ways To Keep Your Dog Healthy on Amazon.
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