A Dog's Nutritional Needs

The food your dog eats provides the nutrients he needs to promote good health and growth. Essential nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins, and water. Calories should come from healthy foods in an amount that reflects your dog's age, size, lifestyle, and health. Table scraps or people food should not be offered to your dog because the calories they contain can equal the total calories he needs for a whole day. It is up to you to offer your dog a variety of healthy foods..


Proteins are necessary for healthy growth and development and should account for a major portion of your dog's diet. Proteins are composed of amino acids, the building blocks required for growth and tissue repair. Amino acids are divided into two groups: essential amino acids and nonessential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those a dog cannot synthesize and therefore must be obtained through his diet. Nonessential amino acids can be synthesized and therefore are not required.

Animal-based proteins are a valuable source of the essential amino acids your dog requires. Chicken, lamb, turkey, beef, and eggs are rich in protein and offer your dog complete amino acid profiles. Fish, vegetables, grains, cheese, and cereals are also high in protein.


Dogs need a total of 22 amino acids, but their bodies can only synthesize 12 of them. Essential amino acids include arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Good health correlates to the consumption of the proper amino acids.


Starches are carbohydrates and are more readily available as an energy source than protein. Carbohydrates create structure, texture, and form in dry dog food. Soluble carbohydrates are found in cereal grains such as rice, wheat, corn, barley, and oats.

Some dogs have trouble digesting certain forms of starch, and the symptoms can include excessive gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Wheat and corn products are the biggest culprits; they will affect your dog's digestive system almost immediately. If you constantly monitor what your dog eats, you will have a clearer picture of the types of foods she can tolerate.


Read the ingredients on your pet's food before you buy it. The sources of fats should come naturally from the ingredients and should not be added as an ingredient. When looking at the Guaranteed Nutritional Analysis on the can, the fat content should be less then 9 percent. Do not purchase canned foods that contain any sort of animal by-products or fillers such as wheat gluten and bone meal.


Fats provide your dog with more than twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates and are the most concentrated source of energy. Fats are essential for good health. They make certain vitamins available for use in the body, cushion vital organs, make up part of all body cells, and help maintain body temperature. As with humans, too much fat can cause health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized, so they must be part of your dog's diet. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the inflammations associated with skin allergies, arthritis, and intestinal disorders. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in fish (such as salmon), whole grains and cereals, most vegetables and vegetable oils, eggs, fruits, and poultry.


Neither animal nor vegetable, minerals are inorganic. Minerals must be obtained through diet and are vital to keep your dog's body running smoothly. Iron, calcium, and phosphorus are three of the most important minerals. Meat and liver are rich in iron, as are egg yolks and dark green vegetables. Calcium can be found in hard cheeses, leafy greens, nuts, and small fish such as sardines and anchovies. Phosphorus can be found in most foods and works with calcium to strengthen bones and teeth.


In pets, hypervitaminosis, poisoning due to ingesting excess vitamins, is actually more common than hypovitaminosis, or vitamin deficiency. This is in part due to the practice of offering vitamin supplements. For dogs, an excess of vitamin A may cause bone and joint pain, brittle bones, and dry skin; too much vitamin D can result in very dense bones or joint calcification. Your veterinarian can determine if your dog is getting the correct amount of vitamins.


Essential for growth and health, most vitamins cannot be manufactured by the body. Vitamins work together with minerals and enzymes to insure normal digestion, reproduction, muscle and bone growth, healthy skin and fur, clotting of blood, and proper use of the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

There are two groups of vitamins, which are categorized by how the body stores them. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissue, while water-soluble vitamins are stored in very small amounts and need to be eaten daily. The body excretes excess water-soluble vitamins each day. If your dog eats a well-balanced diet that is partially composed of commercially prepared kibble, you don't need to offer a supplement. If you are preparing all of your dog's food, a vitamin supplement is recommended.


Essential to life, fresh water should be available to your dog at all times. Never let your dog's water bowl go empty, and be sure to really wash it at least once a week. Heavy ceramic bowls are best as they keep water cooler longer and will not tip easily. During the summer, you can add ice cubes to the water bowl to keep the water cool and fresh. Your dog will also probably need to drink more water to keep cool during warmer months.

The more active your dog is, the more water she'll drink. Check her water bowl frequently so that it never ends up dry. After all, it's up to you to provide what she needs. When you travel, whether it is a hike in the woods or a drive to the beach, be sure to bring a bottle of water just for your dog. Some dogs acquire a knack for drinking from pop-up style nozzles, while others prefer a bowl. There are numerous products designed especially for dogs, from collapsible bowls to flask and bowl combinations. If all else fails, you can simply carry a small airtight container.

  1. Home
  2. Cooking for Dogs
  3. Dog Nutrition
  4. A Dog's Nutritional Needs
Visit other About.com sites: