Canine Nutrition

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We cover the six fundamental nutritional needs that your dog must have in order to live a healthy life, as well as why it’s essential to look for the AAFCO statement on pet food labels!

Plus we’ll show you how to read a dog food label so you can make the right choices throughout his life!

Table of Contents

Canine nutrition is paramount to a long healthy life! deciding what to feed a pet is the most important decision with regards to its health.

The correct food can have a profound positive effect on many aspects of your pet’s life, from their energy levels and general happiness, right through to how long they live.

A healthy dog’s nutritional needs are crucial to his or her long-term survival! It is critical for your pet’s overall health and well-being that you feed it an adequate diet.

Studying canine nutrition has advanced our understanding of basic and applied nutrition, revealing that a healthful diet must also include the right amounts of minerals, vitamins, specific necessary amino acids (from proteins), and specific required fatty acids (from fats).

Video: Canine Nutrition

Because of the dietary requirements of dogs, their tooth structure and intestinal tract have become accustomed to an omnivorous diet. This implies that, in most cases, dogs can fulfill their nutritional needs by eating a mix of plant and animal foods.

In order to provide a complete diet, pet food manufacturers combine various components such as meat, fish, grains, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals to satisfy the nutritional needs of pets.

canine nutrition

Nutritional requirements

Water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins are the six primary nutrients. These essential components are required as part of the dog’s regular diet and aid in all basic bodily functions.

Many nutrients have minimum dietary requirements that have already been determined, the maximum safe amounts of specific nutrients are known, as well as the effects of toxicity.

Some nutrients, such as carbohydrates and proteins, can be used as energy sources for the body, other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are required only in trace amounts, but play a critical role in maintaining good health.


I’ve begun with this vital point since, surprisingly, even if dogs lose all of their body fat and half of their protein, they can survive.

Water is so essential that they may die if they lose less than 10% of the water in their body. More than half of an adult dog’s body weight is made up of water.

Although canned dog food has a lot of water in it, it isn’t enough for your pet; and because the moisture has been removed from dry dog food, make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Protein - quality is more important than quantity!

This is essential for all phases of growth and development, as well as the structural make-up and immune system.

They are also used as a source of energy and can be transformed into and stored as fat.

Dogs have evolved to eat a lot of meat, and their bodies have adapted to easily break down and absorb the nutrients in it. This is why nutritionists place such a high value on the meat content of meals.

When it comes to protein, quality is much more important than quantity, and a more expensive product may frequently include a higher quality of ingredients, including a greater source of protein.

An example might be a chicken meal made with a higher component of chicken meat instead of feathers, beaks, and feet! ( the latter could be under ANIMAL DERIVATIVES on the dog food label, which you want to avoid at all costs!

Quality is more important than quantity

Named protein sources!

Organ meats from high-quality protein sources are a great source of amino acids, but they should always be specified (for example, chicken liver, chicken hearts, etc.).

If a protein meal is listed, it should always name a specific animal, like Beef, Chicken, Venison, Trout, etc. It should not be a generic, single term like “Meat”, “protein meal” or “animal meal”.


Carbohydrates are not necessary for dogs, however, they are vital to include in the diet since they offer various health advantages. As an energy source, carbs are used by the body and burn way faster compared to proteins.

Carbohydrates provide a slower digestive process to dogs because the carbohydrates’ hydrate components slow down the digestion process of the dog’s intestine by giving it more time to absorb the nutrients in its food. Carbs also provide a valuable source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that protein does not contain.

Carbs are the most numerous kind of organic compounds found in nature, mostly as parts of plant material, however, when compared to other key nutrients such as protein and fat, they are commonly considered the least essential and are sometimes termed as “fillers” in dog food.

Avoid rice, soy, corn, wheat, and white potato as these are difficult to digest and can cause health problems in certain dogs. However, consider certain legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin or squash, and Grains such as  porridge (oat), couscous, amaranth, brown rice and millet.

In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began looking into claims linking grain-free dog food formulations to Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The majority of these diets included substantial amounts of potatoes or sweet potatoes as carbohydrate replacements. [14]


Fats are the most concentrated type of food energy, providing a dog with more than twice the calories of proteins or carbohydrates. Fats are needed for cell structure and hormone production as well as vitamin absorption and utilization.

Fats must be included in the diet, yet they should not be consumed in excess, since, like carbohydrates and proteins, they may promote weight gain but are necessary due to their role in the absorption of important vitamins such as Vitamin A, D, and K.

Make sure the fats and oils listed in your pet’s food come from identified, recognized sources. Avoid non-specific phrases like “poultry fat,” “animal fat,” “vegetable oil,” and “fish oil,” instead look for ingredients like salmon oil, chicken fat, beef fat, pork fat, and coconut oil.


Vitamins have become an increasingly hot topic for canine nutritionists of late since many dog food production methods involve very high temperatures which are known to destroy vitamins during the manufacturing process of dog food.

For this reason, the vast majority of manufacturers now add synthetic vitamins to their foods to help supplement this.

Vitamins are necessary for many of your dog’s chemical reactions, such as bone formation and maintenance. However, due to the production process of canine foods, your dog may not be receiving the adequate quantity of vitamins and minerals he needs to flourish.

Read our article on what is considered to be The most important supplement for dogs!


Minerals are inorganic chemical substances that may be found in the soil and absorbed by plants, after which they are consumed by animals. Minerals are nutrients that can’t be manufactured by animals and must be supplied through food.

In general, minerals are crucial structural components of bones and teeth, as well as being involved in many metabolic processes.

How to read a dog food label

When it comes to selecting the best dog food, consumers may be misled. Many producers use a variety of fillers and low-cost components in their products for convenience.

To entice customers to purchase their brands, many manufacturers utilize attractive packaging that leads people to believe they’re feeding them the highest quality diet possible.

In this video, Dr Karen Becker clearly explains what you should be looking for and avoiding the next time you pick up a can of dog food, so you can make sure your dog receives the best-balanced nutrition he needs to thrive!

Things to Avoid in Dog Food!

Some dog foods can be detrimental to a dog’s health so it’s very important to read the ingredients label and be aware of the meaning of some of the ingredients. We have compiled a list below of some of the ingredients in dog food you will want to avoid!


Commercial dog food manufacturers like to put “cheap fillers” into their products. These are ingredients that are cheaper than meat and other nutritious foods, but they also happen to be unhealthy for your dog.

Fillers may be found in a variety of dog foods (some rather well-known). Fillers are items that have little nutritional value and only ” bulk up” the dog food to make it appear like there is more inside.

Because there is nothing beneficial to be absorbed, these fillers pass straight through the body. This might lead to nutritional inadequacies because the dog is not getting what it needs.

Avoid any food brand that includes any of the following: husks (corn, peanut, or other), hulls (oat, peanut, rice, or other), corn (ground, corn gluten, or maize bran meal), mill run (soybean, wheat, or other).


By-products are animals parts that are not fit for human consumption. This includes necks, intestines, spleens, bones, heads, feet, and feathers. These by-products can be used for pet food if they are not dangerous to humans; otherwise, the parts must be disposed of properly.

As with any manufactured product, there is a chance that by-products used in pet food may contain pathogens. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration requires all commercial dog foods to meet certain standards for safety and quality before they can be sold as animal feed or human consumption.

If these agencies find the products are not safe or of adequate quality, they will not allow the pet food to be sold. Avoid foods with ‘by-products’ that do not specify the animal source.

Generic meats

Be very aware of this one; it can be deceiving. If a dog food lists ‘poultry’, this can be any sort of bird: geese, buzzards, seagulls, former pet birds that were euthanized at shelters, etc.

Any other listing of simply ‘animal’ in the term usually refers to meat from ‘4D livestock’ which is dead, dying, diseased, or disabled animals.

Always look for specific named meats on the label, such as, Beef, Pork, Duck, Chicken, Salmon etc.

Chemical flavoring or coloring and synthetic preservatives

Artificial chemical additives can do real harm to a dog. Some are agents used in pesticides, or to make rubber, some have been proven to cause both liver and blood issues, and all are known for causing terrible allergic reactions.

This can include skin reactions such as itching, a rash, blisters, welts, bumps, hives, drying, peeling, and/or fur loss. Plus it may cause your dog to have gastrointestinal distress (upset stomach, runny bowels, diarrhea, nausea).

Some of the common additives to avoid include: glyceryl monostearate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT, TBHQ, and propyl gallate. But, there are many others. Check out our article: Dangerous Ingredients In Dog Food.

Coloring dyes

Coloring dyes are harmful and cause a wide range of allergic reactions, including severe itching, and even more worrying can be a harmful carcinogenic. Avoid Yellow #5, Red #40, Blue #2, and Yellow #6 at all costs.

Also, note that many dogs are sensitive to soy. 

Whether you go dry or wet food, one of the easiest ways for you to determine good dog food is by reading the label and looking out for the AAFCO Statement.

AAFCO guidelines

Nutritional guidelines have been developed by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO guidelines are the general basis for the nutritional content of commercial pet foods.

Make sure that your dog’s food meets the AAFCO standards. Food can either be formulated based on what should meet these standards or actually tested and proven to meet the standards by feeding it to closely monitored animals.

(The best option…see label) The AAFCO statement also tells you whether the diet meets the standards for growth, maintenance, pregnancy/nursing, or “all life stages”.

Look For the words AAFCO and ‘TESTS’

What is The Guaranteed Analysis?

For pet food, the guaranteed analysis must show the minimum levels of crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture.

Many pet food producers include extra omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, probiotic supplements, and other compounds in their products; however, they are not required by law. (Crude does not refer to the quality or the type of ingredient listed, instead it refers to the specific method of measuring the nutrient. Since each batch will vary in minute percentages based on uncontrollable factors, crude essential means “roughly”)

It can tell you if a product satisfies your dog’s minimal nutritional needs. You may utilize the guaranteed analysis in order to make a direct comparison between two dry food products as long as they have the same moisture content if you’re looking at two different types of dry food.

Because most dry kibbles have 10 percent moisture, this isn’t an issue. If you want to compare two canned foods, however, the two may have different levels of moisture.

Calculating The True Nutritional Value Of The Dog Food

Figuring out the dry matter content in dog food is a pretty simple process. You will use this equation:

100 – Moisture Content = dry matter

You will use this equation with both wet and dry food. Once your have the dry matter content you can then determine what the true percentage of protein, fat, and fiber content of the dog food.

To calculate the true percentages use this formula:

  • Guaranteed Crude Protein ÷ Dry Matter Content x 100 = True Protein Content
  • Guaranteed Crude Fat ÷ Dry Matter Content x 100 = True Fat Content
  • Guaranteed Crude Fiber ÷ Dry Matter Content x 100 = True Fiber Content

So for example if your dog food has 10% moisture, 25% protein, 14% fat, and 3.5% fiber, you will do the following equations:

  • For dry matter: 100 – 10% (moisture content) = 90% (dry matter content)
  • For Protein: 25% (crude protein) ÷ 90% (dry matter content) x 100 = 27.7% (true protein content)
  • For Fat: 14% (crude fat) ÷ 90% (dry matter content) x 100 = 15.5% (true fat content)
  • For Fiber: 3.5% (crude fiber) ÷ 90% (dry matter content) x 100 = 3.8% (true fiber content)

As you can see using this formula shows that this particular food has higher levels of nutritional content than what is actually listed. So armed with this knowledge you can make a better choice for your dog (source:

It’s important to remember that these are suggested values, and your dog may require more or less depending on his health condition. Consult with your veterinarian for further information on specific vitamins that your pet could require.

What to do next!

We hope that the above article has given you an insight into how to recognise quality ingredients and avoid harmful ones when it comes to picking up your next can of dog food for your canine companion!

Did you know that a dog’s gut health has a significant influence on its overall health? A recent scientific study reports that 70% to 80% of all illness begins in the gastrointestinal tract, and the majority of dogs are enzyme deficient as a result of being fed almost entirely on processed food!

Discover why this supplement is essential for your dog’s immune system and overall health-Full Bucket’s Probiotic supplements


  • Dr Karen Becker

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