Canine Nutrition 101
A great diet provides the building blocks for a healthy, happy dog. That means less trips to the vet, a longer life and a better quality of life. This is how important the the role of diet is for our dogs!
While every dog is unique and has different needs, there are five key elements that they all need to thrive.
Five Keys to a Healthy Dog’s Diet:
Meet The Nutritional Requirements
Use Quality Ingredients
Balance The Fats
Balance The Minerals
Add Functional Foods
1. Meet The Nutritional Requirements
Humans and dogs need to eat food to gain the nutrition which fuels their bodies. What you feed your dog directly impacts on their overall health and wellbeing, so we want to get it right!
Dogs primarily need large amounts of high quality protein, a moderate amount of fat and low levels of carbohydrates (if any). And just like people, dogs need certain amounts of vitamins and minerals each day to thrive.
If your dog’s food meets the minimum nutrition standard then it is “complete and balanced”. This is the Association of American Feed Controls (AAFCO) standard that most vets recommend. However, the AAFCO guideline has a wide range of allowable levels, so it’s really just the minimum acceptable levels.
The best dog food meets the more precise National Research Council (NRC) standard for “optimal” nutrition.
2. Use Quality Ingredients
Around 70% of the diet should be meat and bones, with fruit & vegetables (and possibly some functional foods) making up the remainder.
A healthy dog’s diet consists of:
fruit & vegetables
seeds & nuts (optional)
Quality really does matter - you are what you eat! Good quality food is more easily absorbed and contains better nutrition than poor quality food. The way in which produce is grown has a big impact on this. Studies show that organic produce is more nutrient dense than conventionally farmed food.
Feeding organic means there are no pesticides, no hormones, and no chemicals in your dogs diet. These can all impact negatively on your dog’s health, so are absolutely worth avoiding.
If you can, please feed your dog organic produce.
But if you can’t afford organic, don’t stress! Source ingredients from local producers (try the farmers markets) and stick to produce that is in season. The only rule here is to feed food that would would eat yourself.
3. Balance The Fats
Ensuring that your dogs diet has complete and balanced fats is really important. Fats provide a source of energy, help to absorb vitamins, and regulate the immune system and metabolism. The fats your dog eats become part of the cell membranes throughout their body, so again quality is key!
There are several types of fats, including essential fatty acids (EFA) which must be provided in the diet. EFA’s include the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids which are much more widely understood these days. The type of fat varies depending on the source. For example, DHA is found in oily fish. It’s a good idea to have fat from animal, plant and marine sources (if possible) to make sure that all the fats are present in the diet.
The balance of the fats is important too. There needs to be enough Omega-3 to balance the Omega-6 for the body to work effectively and to reduce inflammation. Between 1:3 and 1:6 is best. That means not too much chicken! Chicken is great, but it contains a large amount of Omega-6, which makes getting the balance right very difficult indeed.
4. Balance The Minerals
Minerals have a wide variety of functions in the body, from activating enzymatic reactions to the formation of bones, to controlling nerve impulses. The most abundant minerals are calcium and phosphorous, which are mostly found in meat and bone. It’s one of the main reasons that feeding fresh meat is so important!
The wild prey your dog’s ancestors ate had a much higher mineral content that in modern farmed animals, which means dogs have a relatively high requirement for minerals. And unlike some vitamins dogs can’t make any minerals themselves, so they need to be in the diet in the right amounts.
The balance between minerals is as important as their individual levels. In fact, too many minerals is as harmful as to little, so getting the ratios right is key. The most important ratio is calcium and phosphorous, with dogs needing slightly more calcium. Between 1.2:1 and 1.4:1 is ideal.
5. Add Functional Foods
Food is medicine, so it should come as no surprise that many ingredients have scientifically proven health benefits. These foods are known as functional foods, and can improve brain function, modify gut function and can reduce the risk of illness. So while they are not necessarily essential for survival, functional foods can significantly improve your dog’s health and wellbeing.
Functional foods include (more info in the links):
IMPORTANT: Use A Reputable Recipe!
While the fundamental elements of canine nutrition are quite simple, formulating a diet to meet the nutritional standards can be tricky. Be very wary of advice you find on the internet (yes, irony noted!). I have seen an unbelievable amount of unbalanced, incomplete recipes and wildly incorrect advice online.
Please find a reputable source of information!
The best book on the subject is Steve Brown’s “Unlocking The Canine Ancestral Diet”, which looks at the ancestral nutritional requirements for dogs and how to formulate a balanced raw diet. It contains several great recipes that are easy to make at home. What I love about this book, apart from the in depth information, is that Steve doesn’t follow a “near enough is good enough” approach. He is all about formulating a high quality optimal diet for dogs.
Consult A Canine Nutritionist
Your other option is to consult with a qualified Canine Nutritionist to create a balanced diet specifically for your dogs needs. This is a professional service I am now happy to be offering!
My consultations start with an in-depth questionnaire, which takes about 10 minutes to complete. This covers all the basic information about your dog as well as quite specific questions about their health. We then book a 20 minute phone or Skype consultation, where we discuss your dog and you have an opportunity to ask questions.
From here I formulate a diet specifically for your dog, and using ingredients which you have access to. If you are currently raw feeding I provide a nutritional analysis of your current diet, and make appropriate changes to make it balanced according to the optimal NRC standards. I teach you how to make a complete and balanced diet at home, which is easy when you know how!
If you are interested, you can make a booking here.