Nutrition - General Guidelines for Dog Feeding | VCA Veterinary Clinic (2023)

Perhaps the most common question pet owners ask their vet is "What should I feed my dog?" Feeding your dog an adequate amount of a well-balanced diet is vital to his overall health and well-being. To understand how and what to feed your dog, you must understand what the nutritional needs of dogs are and how these needs developed through biological evolution.Nutrition - General Guidelines for Dog Feeding | VCA Veterinary Clinic (1)

Since dogs are carnivores, doesn't that mean they need to eat a meat-based diet?

As a species, the dog is a member of the scientific order Carnivora, a large group of mammalian animals that share a similar tooth structure. The dietary needs of animals belonging to this order vary. Some members of this group have an absolute requirement for meat in their diet (called obligate or true carnivores), while others can meet their nutritional needs by eating plant material (herbivores) or a combination of meat and plants (omnivores). Cats are an example of an obligate carnivore, cows are an example of a herbivore, and dogs and humans are two examples of omnivores.

Due to the dietary needs of dogs, both the dental structure and the intestinal tract have adapted to an omnivorous diet. This means that, under normal circumstances, dogs can meet their nutritional needs by eating a combination of plant and animal foods. The source of protein and fat is less important than the quality and digestibility of these essential components of the dog's diet. Dogs can thrive on a properly balanced vegetarian diet. However, a meat-only diet would be unbalanced and would not meet all of a dog's nutritional requirements.

"Under normal circumstances, dogs can meet their nutritional needs by eating a combination of plant and animal-based foods."

As basic and applied nutrition research has expanded knowledge of canine nutrition, it is now known that a well-balanced diet must also include adequate amounts of minerals, vitamins, certain essential amino acids (from protein), and specific essential fatty acids. (from fats). These components are needed to build and maintain tissues and carry out biological reactions, and the amounts needed vary somewhat depending on the dog's life stage (puppy, adolescent, adult, pregnant, senior).

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I was told that dogs cannot digest carbohydrates. That's true?

To meet their energy needs, dogs have evolved to use protein and fat as their main sources of energy, but they can also use carbohydrates for energy. The fact that the dog's digestive system produces specific enzymes to digest starches and sugars shows that they are capable of digesting carbohydrates. However, complex carbohydrates like grains are more digestible when cooked.

I've heard that dogs should only eat raw food and that dogs cannot properly digest cooked food. That's true?

Domesticated dogs have adapted over millennia to consume diets provided by their human companions, including cooked food. As mentioned above, dogs can digest complex carbohydrates more easily once they've been cooked. Feeding raw foods can carry a number of risks for the dog and for the people in the house, especially for the young or immunocompromised.

What are the nutritional needs of dogs?

The six basic nutrients are water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. These essential nutrients are needed as part of a dog's regular diet and are involved in all basic bodily functions. Minimum dietary requirements have been established for many nutrients. Maximum tolerable amounts of some nutrients are known and toxicity results have been established. What is less understood is what can happen over time with deficiencies or marginal excesses.

The nutritional guidelines were developed by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The AAFCO guidelines are the general basis for the nutritional content of commercial pet foods. Make sure your dog's food meets AAFCO standards. Remember that these are guidelines and that your dog may need more or less depending on her state of health. Talk to your vet for more information on the specific nutrients your particular dog may need.

What should I look for in a dog food?

The best advice you can get about feeding your dog is this: Feed your dog the highest quality food you can afford. The differences between a premium food and a budget food are not found in the nutritional label; found in the quality and origin of the ingredients. Two dog foods may contain 27% protein, but they are very different in digestibility.

Pet food ingredients are listed in order of weight. Each ingredient is weighed when added to the batch of food, and ingredients like fresh meat contain a lot of water, much of which is lost during processing. This means that a dry diet that includes corn as the first ingredient may be nutritionally superior to one that includes meat first.

"Feed your dog the highest quality food you can afford."
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To further complicate matters, some nutrients are listed as a "minimum" percentage, while others are listed as a "maximum" percentage, meaning that the food lot may contain a higher or lower percentage of the ingredient than is listed. In the label. .

The best method for choosing a food for your dog is to ask your vet. However, here are some general tips to help you decide what to put in your dog's food bowl:

  • Select diets with real, recognizable and complete ingredients. If most of the listed ingredients are unfamiliar to you, find another diet.
  • Select a low calorie diet. Most adult, indoor, spayed or neutered dogs have low energy requirements. Your dog's diet should contain a relatively small amount of calories per cup; ideally less than 350 calories. If your dog's food contains 500 calories per cup and you have a 20-pound dog, the amount you should feed is small (and unsatisfactory!). To make matters worse, high-calorie foods mean that even a few extra kibble can make you very fat.

How much should I feed?

The ideal method of determining how many calories to feed your dog is to determine what your dog's lean weight should be and feed accordingly. Unfortunately, this requires constant monitoring (and weighing) and is not always practical.

"Your vet can estimate how many calories your dog needs per day based on his lifestyle and body condition."

Your vet can estimate how many calories your dog needs per day based on his lifestyle and body condition. The standard formula used to calculate the energy needs of the average adult dog that lives indoors, gets light exercise every day, and is spayed or neutered is:

30 x weight in kg (or pounds divided by 2.2) + 70 = daily calorie needs

Please note that few of our dogs are "average" so this formula is just a starting point. Most dogs require fewer calories per day, while some require slightly more. This daily caloric total includes not only your dog's meals, but also any treats and treats. If your dog needs to lose weight, your vet will recommend a caloric restriction (usually 70-90% of the calculated weight maintenance value).

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How often should I feed my dog?

The biological evolution of dogs as hunters has given them specialized digestive and gastrointestinal adaptations that allow them to eat a large meal followed by days without eating. However, for most pet dogs, feeding once or twice a day is recommended. Many dogs will benefit from eating equally divided meals two to three times a day. See the "Feeding Your Dog's Feeding Times and Frequency" handout for more information on feeding times and meals.

Regardless of the feeding schedule you choose, avoid allowing your dog vigorous exercise after consuming a large meal, especially if he eats quickly. This will help minimize problems with bloating, intestinal obstruction, or other serious digestive disorders.

Make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Is dry or canned food better?

In terms of nutrition and digestibility, there is simply no difference between dry and canned (wet) food. You should make your decision based on your lifestyle, preferences, and budget. For dogs that need to consume more water or have certain special dietary needs, canned food may be a better option. Otherwise, most dogs will be fine on dry food.

Some dry kibble have been specially formulated as dental diets and can help mechanically remove plaque. For more information, see the handout "Dental Disease in Dogs."

Are there differences between breeds in terms of nutritional needs?

Over the past several decades, nutritionists and veterinary researchers have identified that there are definite variations among breeds in metabolism and nutritional requirements. Dog breeds that developed in specific locations, such as the Arctic Circle breeds and some of the aquatic breeds, may have adapted to specialized diets common in their place of origin. Inbreeding and genetic differences between individuals of each species may result in an additional need for individualization of the pet's diet to optimize health.

In addition to considering your dog's breed, you should also consider his lifestyle. Working pets (hounds, field dogs, herding dogs) require different ratios of protein and fat in their diet than lap dogs or sedentary house dogs.

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What is meant by nutrition in the life stage?

Dogs have different nutritional needs during different stages of their lives, and feeding them a diet formulated for all life stages is not necessarily appropriate. An all-purpose dog food may not provide enough nutrients to meet the needs of a growing puppy or a pregnant or nursing mother. On the other hand, this same versatile diet can provide an excess of nutrients to an elderly or inactive dog. Respected nutritionists now recommend feeding your dog according to its life stage (puppy, adolescent, pregnancy, adult, senior) to maintain your dog's overall health and well-being and to improve the quality and quantity of your dog's life. This information can be found on your dog's food label as the AAFCO Statement.

Feeding life stage for puppies.Early in life, puppies need to eat often and a lot! They need relatively large amounts of food because they are growing rapidly and have limited space in their small stomachs. At 6 to 8 weeks of age, they need to be fed four to six meals a day. At 6 months, the need for food decreases because puppies are about 75% of their adult size and can eat two to three meals a day.

A good quality puppy food has advantages over adult dog food because it is specially formulated for the demanding nutritional needs of a puppy and contains adequate calcium. Due to its rapid growth, any nutritional error made during the puppy stage will have more serious consequences, even irreversible and long-lasting. Since growth is almost complete at around 8 to 10 months of age, the average puppy can be switched to adult dog food at around 12 months of age.

If you have a large or giant breed puppy that will weigh more than 50 pounds (23 kg) as an adult, or is at risk for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, or other growth abnormalities (eg, Labradors and Golden retrievers), German shepherds), a specially formulated food for large breed puppies should be provided. These diets are formulated to contain the ideal ratio of protein and calcium to moderate the rapid bone growth that can lead to joint disorders. Your vet may also recommend a transitional adolescent diet for your pet's "adolescence."

After weaning, most puppies lose the ability to digest milk sugar (lactose). Therefore, although small amounts can be tolerated, feeding milk can cause intestinal upset and diarrhea because dogs cannot digest it properly.

Feeding by life stages for the older dog.Older dogs, especially those over the age of 7, will benefit from a diet formulated for their needs. Senior dog diets are generally low in calories, high in protein, low in sodium, and low in carbohydrates. Many also contain ingredients like prebiotics or probiotics to support healthy gut microbial populations, increased omega-3 fatty acids and other antioxidants to fight inflammation, and glucosamine to promote joint health. Be sure to ask your vet what is the best food for your senior dog. Some diets for seniors include medium chain triglycerides to help slow changes in the brain that can lead to senility problems.

What is my take home message?

Choosing a high-quality food from the hundreds of brands and formulas available can be challenging. The pet nutrition industry is very competitive and most commercially available foods are very good balanced diets. Ask your veterinary health team to help you select a diet that is supported by scientific research and principles and meets your dog's individual needs. If you have a question about a particular food, your best source of help is your veterinary health team.

(Video) Everything You Need to Know About Dog Nutrition

Contributors: Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH


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