If you’re a new dog owner like I was, wondering what food your dog needs to have a healthy development, I’ve been there. As a pet owner, it is frustrating getting a dog and realizing that there is very limited quality information on dog nutrition available online. Most dog nutrition-related guides are mere lists of top 10 dog food for dogs of different breeds. To really learn dog nutrition requirements and what to look for in dog food, you can rely on this extensive guide on what you need to know to be an effective and conscious dog owner.
Table of Contents
What I have provided in this article
In this article, I will provide detailed information on what is a balanced diet for dogs according to their stage of life, what the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) feeding guidelines are, and how to determine your dog’s energy requirements. I will also explain the importance of protein in dog food, the different sources of protein available, and how much protein your dog needs according to their weight. In addition, I will touch on fat- its sources, benefits, and how much your dog needs, as well as carbohydrates- the types of them available, their role in a dog’s diet, and how to determine the amounts needed. Finally, I will explain the importance of vitamins and minerals in your dog’s diet and what constitutes adequate water intake for your canine companion.
Dog Requirements for Dogs at Different stages
Whether you are a new dog owner or an experienced one, understanding your dog’s nutritional requirements is essential for their overall health and well-being. So let’s start by taking a look at the different stages of life that determine what your pup needs to eat:
When it comes to feeding puppies, it is important to remember that their growth rate is much faster than that of an adult dog. As such, puppies need more energy and a higher concentration of nutrients in their diet. At the same time, it is important to remember that puppies’ bodies are still developing, so the food they eat should be easy for them to digest without being too rich or sugary.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has developed a set of guidelines for feeding puppies. These guidelines are based on whether your puppy is a large breed or small breed, and take into account the type of food you choose to feed them with as well. For instance, if you are going to feed your puppy kibble, the recommended amount of protein will be different than if you were to feed them a raw diet.
2. Adult dogs
Once your puppy has reached adulthood, they need significantly less food in order to maintain their weight and health. However, their metabolism is still fairly high, so they still require plenty of nutrients to support their everyday functions.
When it comes to feeding an adult dog, the AAFCO guidelines are again based on whether your dog is a large or small breed. For instance, a large breed dog will need more food than a small breed dog, and the type of food you feed them (kibble, raw, etc.) will also play a role in how much they need to eat.
3. Senior dogs
As your dog enters their senior years, their metabolism will start to slow down and they may become less active. As such, their food intake should be reduced in order to prevent them from becoming overweight or obese. Additionally, senior dogs often require a different balance of nutrients in their diet, to ensure that their bodies are getting what they need for old-age-related ailments such as arthritis, heart disease, and kidney problems.
What makes up a balanced diet for your dog?
When it comes to feeding your dog a well-balanced diet, there are several important components that must be considered. These include adequate protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and of course water.
The process to determine the exact nutrient composition required for dogs is complex as it involves taking into account the different factors such as age, activity level, and health condition of your pet. However, there are general recommendations that can be followed in order to ensure that your furry friend is getting everything they need.
What you can rely on are the AAFCO guidelines which have been put together by animal nutrition experts. According to the AAFCO, a well-balanced diet for dogs must contain the following:
What is AAFCO?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a nonprofit membership association that sets standards for the animal feed industry. The organization provides guidance to pet food manufacturers on how to formulate their products and labeling requirements. Additionally, the AAFCO also regulates pet food companies to ensure that they are adhering to these guidelines.
The AAFCO has developed a set of minimum requirements for the nutrients that must be included in dog food. These guidelines are based on the latest scientific research and are designed to ensure that dogs receive a well-balanced diet. However, it is important to note that the AAFCO does not test or certify pet foods. Therefore, it is up to the pet food companies to ensure that their products meet the AAFCO standards.
AAFCO Label Requirements
In order to help consumers choose the best food for their dogs, the AAFCO has established guidelines for pet food labeling. These requirements include specifying the product’s name, giving a brief description of the contents, and providing an ingredient list. The label must have these eight things printed on the dog food bag;
- Brand and product name
- Name of species for which the food is intended (ex. “Dog Food”)
- Quality statement
- Guaranteed analysis: minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat, maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture
- Ingredients statement
- Nutritional Adequacy Statement tha mustt state that the product is “complete and balanced for the intended life stage”
- Feeding Instructions
- Contact information for the pet food company providing
AAFCO Nutrient Requirements
In order to ensure that dogs receive a well-balanced diet, the AAFCO has established guidelines for the minimum amount of certain nutrients that must be present in their food. These nutrients include protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
These AAFCO nutrient requirements are based on the latest scientific research, and they take into account a dog’s age, size, activity level, and general health status. By following these guidelines, pet owners can be sure that their dogs are getting everything they need to stay healthy and active.
What are the energy requirements for dogs?
Dogs require energy in order to support their daily activities and body functions. This energy comes from the calories in their diet, which are typically provided by carbohydrates and fats.
The number of calories your dog needs will depend on a number of factors, including their age, size, and activity level. Typically, large breed dogs require more energy than small breeds in order to support their body weight and high activity levels.
Fortunately, the AAFCO has set guidelines for the amount of calories that dogs need based on these factors. According to these guidelines, a large breed dog may require anywhere from 1200 to 1800 calories per day, while a small breed dog may need as few as 500 calories per day.
How much protein does a dog need?
Protein is an essential nutrient for dogs and is required for the growth and repair of their muscles, bones, skin, and coat. Additionally, protein is also necessary for the production of enzymes and hormones.
When it comes to the AAFCO guidelines, senior dogs are not given any specific age of reference, but rather are considered “mature.” This means that adult dog foods can be fed to them, but the amount should be adjusted according to their weight and activity level.
Now that we’ve gone over the different stages of life that determine your dog’s nutritional needs, let’s take a more detailed look at each nutrient and what role it plays in your dog’s diet.
Protein is essential for all dogs, regardless of their age or life stage. Protein is responsible for building and repairing muscles, organs, bones, skin, and hair. It is also necessary for producing enzymes and hormones, as well as aiding in the absorption of nutrients.
There are many different sources of protein available for dogs, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. Plant-based proteins, such as soybeans and legumes, can also be used, but are not as easily digested by dogs.
What are the different types of protein in dog food?
There are two main types of protein in dog food: animal-based proteins and plant-based proteins.
- Animal-based proteins: Animal proteins in dog food can come from a variety of different sources, including muscle meats, organs, eggs, dairy products, and fish. These proteins are considered to be of higher quality than plant-based proteins because they contain all of the essential amino acids that dogs need for growth and development.
- Plant-based proteins: Plant-based proteins, such as soy protein or pea protein, are often used in commercial dog foods as an alternative to animal-based proteins. Although these plant-based proteins do not contain all of the essential amino acids that dogs require, they can still be a part of a balanced diet.
Some sources of good animal protein include;
- Raw chicken meat: This is an excellent source of protein for dogs and is also easy for them to digest. Raw chicken meat has about 74% moisture content once cooked, which means that the actual percentage of protein in kibble made from chicken meat will be significantly lower than 73%.
- Chicken Meal: This is one of the best sources of protein for dogs, as it is highly concentrated and contains a large amount of nutrients. Chicken meal starts off with cooked chicken meat that has been boiled so that the water content evaporates out. This results in a product that is about 60% protein, 30% fat, 5% fiber, and 6% moisture. Because chicken meal contains quite a bit of protein in such a small package, it is highly digestible and an excellent source of energy for dogs.
- Chicken by-products: These are made from parts of the chicken that are not typically eaten, such as the feet and beaks. Although many people prefer to avoid by-products because they may contain undesirable parts of animals (such as feathers or hair), most by-products used for dog food are actually quite nutritious and have a large amount of protein per serving.
- Chicken by-products meal: This is similar to chicken by-products, but it is made from cooked chicken by-products that have had the water removed. As a result, this product is very concentrated and contains about 54% protein, 35% fat, 5% fiber, and 6% moisture.
- Raw turkey: This is another excellent source of protein for dogs, as it is very easy for them to digest and contains many beneficial nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids.
- Whole egg: Raw eggs are an excellent source of protein for dogs because they contain all the amino acids that they need, some vitamins and minerals. However, raw eggs may also contain salmonella, so it is important to cook them well before feeding.
- Fish: Fish is a good source of protein for dogs and contains many beneficial vitamins and minerals. Some fish that are especially good sources of proteins include herring, salmon, codfish, tuna, pollock, haddock, tilapia, catfish, lake trout, shrimp, lobster, and clams.
- Salmon oil: This is another excellent source of protein for dogs because it contains omega-3 fatty acids that can help promote healthy skin and a shiny coat. However, you should only give your dog small amounts of salmon oil to avoid excess fat intake.
- Lamb meal: This is made from cooked lamb meat that has had the water removed. It contains about 65% protein, 18% fat, 4% fiber, and 8% moisture.
- Bison: This is a leaner alternative to beef that provides many nutrients including protein, vitamin B6 and niacin, calcium, phosphorus, selenium and zinc.
- Beef: This is a good source of protein for dogs and contains many nutrients including iron, vitamin B12, niacin, and phosphorus.
- Raw beef organs: These are an excellent source of protein for dogs because they contain all the amino acids that they need, as well as many vitamins and minerals. However, raw beef organs may also contain harmful bacteria, so it is important to cook them well before feeding.
- Beef by-products: These are made from parts of the beef that are not typically eaten, such as the bones and organs. Although many people prefer to avoid by-products because they may contain undesirable parts of animals (such as hair or feathers), most by-products used for dog food are actually quite nutritious and have a large amount of protein per serving.
- Beef by-products meal: This is made from cooked beef by-products that have had the water removed. As a result, this product is very concentrated and contains about 48% protein, 35% fat, 4.5% fiber, and 8% moisture.
- Pork: This is a good source of protein for dogs and contains many nutrients including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and zinc.
- Raw pork organs: These are an excellent source of protein for dogs because they contain all the amino acids that they need, as well as many vitamins and minerals. However, raw pork organs may also contain harmful bacteria, so it is important to cook them well before feeding.
- Pork by-products: These are made from parts of the pork that are not typically eaten, such as the bones and organs. Although many people prefer to avoid by-products because they may contain undesirable parts of animals (such as hair), most by-products used for dog food are actually quite nutritious and have a large amount of protein per serving.
- Pork by-products meal: This is made from cooked pork by-products that have had the water removed. As a result, this product is very concentrated and contains about 50% protein, 35% fat, 4.5% fiber, and 8% moisture.
- Duck: This is a good source of protein for dogs and contains many nutrients including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and zinc.
- Raw duck organs: These are an excellent source of protein for dogs because they contain all the amino acids that they need, as well as many vitamins and minerals. However, raw duck organs may also contain harmful bacteria, so it is important to cook them well before feeding.
Plant-based protein examples
- -Soy protein: Soy protein is a popular plant-based protein that is used in many commercial dog foods. It is high in fiber and low in fat, making it an ideal ingredient for dogs that are overweight or have gastrointestinal issues.
- -Pea protein: Pea protein is another popular plant-based protein that is often used in commercial dog foods. Pea protein is a good source of the essential amino acid lysine, which is often lacking in plant-based proteins.
- -Rice protein: Rice protein is a less common plant-based protein that is sometimes used in commercial dog foods. Rice protein is hypoallergenic and easy to digest, making it a good option for dogs with food allergies or sensitive digestive systems.
- Lentil protein: Lentil protein is a plant-based protein that is high in fiber and low in fat. Lentil protein is also a good source of the essential amino acid lysine.
- Bean protein: Bean protein can come from a variety of different types of beans, such as navy beans, black beans, chickpeas, or lentils. Like other plant-based proteins, bean protein is typically low in fat and high in fiber.
What does crude protein mean?
Crude protein is a measure of the total amount of protein in a food or diet. This measurement can be obtained through a number of different methods, including chemical analysis or spectrometry. The crude protein value provides an estimate of the amount of protein present in one serving of a food or diet, and is often reported as a percentage.
The average adult dog needs about 18% of their diet to be made up of crude protein. Puppies and nursing mothers need more, at around 22%. Senior dogs may need as little as 12%.
Crude protein info does not provide any information about the quality of the protein. It’s possible for a food to have a high crude protein content but be low in one or more essential amino acids.
Quality of protein:
There are a number of factors that can impact the quality of protein in a dog’s food, including;
Source: Protein from animal sources, such as meat and eggs, is considered to be of higher quality than protein from plant sources, such as soy or peas. This is because animal-based proteins have a complete amino acid profile, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids that dogs need in order to stay healthy.
Number of amino acids: The quality of protein is also determined by the number of amino acids it contains. A protein that has all 20 of the amino acids required by dogs is considered to be of higher quality than a protein that is missing one or more of these essential amino acids.
Essential amino acids: Dogs require 10 essential amino acids in their diet, which means that they cannot produce these amino acids themselves and must obtain them from their food. These essential amino acids include:
Amino acid profile: The amino acid profile of a protein can be used to determine its quality. Proteins that have a balanced blend of all the essential amino acids are considered to be “high quality” proteins, whereas those that are missing one or more of the essential amino acids are considered to be “low quality” proteins.
How much protein does my dog need?
The amount of protein that a dog needs depends on their age, activity level, and health condition.
Puppies: Puppies need more protein than adult dogs because they are growing and developing at a rapid pace. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), puppies should be fed a diet that contains at least 22% crude protein, with puppies that are especially active or under stress requiring an even higher amount.
Adult dogs: On average, adult dogs only require around 18% crude protein in their diet, which is why most commercial dog foods are formulated to meet this protein level.
Senior dogs: Older dogs may need less protein than adult dogs, as their activity levels tend to be lower and their metabolism slows down. According to the AAFCO, senior dogs should be fed a diet that contains at least 10% crude protein.
Dogs with certain health conditions: Dogs with certain health conditions, such as liver disease or kidney disease, may need to limit their protein intake. Your veterinarian can help you determine the right amount of protein for your dog’s individual needs.
Plant vs animal-based protein in dog food: what’s best for your pup?
When it comes to choosing a protein source for your dog, it is important to consider the quality of the protein. This is determined by the amino acid profile, which is the building blocks of protein. Animal-based proteins are generally higher in quality than plant-based proteins, as they are more easily digested and provide a more complete amino acid profile.
When it comes to choosing a protein source for your dog, it is important to select one that is appropriate for their life stage. For instance, puppies need a diet that is higher in protein in order to support their rapid growth. Adult dogs, on the other hand, do not need as much protein and can actually be harmed by consuming too much.
Fat is another essential nutrient for dogs, and is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, the production of hormones, and the regulation of body temperature. There are different types of fat, including saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans fats. Some sources of fat are healthier than others, and it is important to select a food that contains primarily healthy sources of fat, such as fish oil or coconut oil.
Types of fats in dog food
- Saturated fat: This is a type of fat that is found mostly in animal-based products, such as meat and dairy. Saturated fat is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and the production of hormones. However, too much-saturated fat can lead to health problems, such as obesity and heart disease.
- Unsaturated fat: This is a type of fat that is found in both plant and animal-based products. Unsaturated fats are considered to be healthier than saturated fats, as they can help to reduce cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
- Trans fat: This is a type of fat that is created when food manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oils in order to make them solid at room temperature. Trans fats are considered to be very unhealthy, as they can increase cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease.
How much fat does my dog need?
When it comes to determining the appropriate amount of fat for your dog, you should consider factors such as their life stage, weight, and activity level.
- Puppies: Puppies need more fat in order to support their rapid growth, while older dogs do not require as much. Similarly, active dogs have higher energy requirements and therefore need a diet that is higher in fat.
- Adult dogs: Adult dogs generally require somewhere between 10-20% of their total calories from fat. This amount can vary depending on factors like size and weight, as well as activity level.
- Overweight or obese dog: If your dog is overweight or obese, they may need a diet that is lower in fat in order to promote weight loss. In this case, you should consult with your vet about the appropriate amount of fat for your pup.
Overall, when choosing a food for your dog, it is important to select one that contains primarily healthy sources of fat. This will help to ensure that your dog gets all of the nutrients they need without putting their long-term health at risk.
Carbohydrates are a type of nutrient that is found in both plant and animal-based products. They are necessary for the proper function of the nervous system, as well as for the production of energy. There are different types of carbohydrates, including simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.
Simple carbohydrates: Simple carbs are found in foods that have been processed or refined, such as white flour or sugar. They are quickly absorbed by the body and can cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbs are found in whole grains and fruit, and are generally considered to be healthier than simple carbs. They provide a slower release of energy and can help to regulate blood sugar levels.
Fiber: Fiber is an important part of any diet, as it helps to maintain digestive health by promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Dogs need both soluble fiber, which is found in fruits and vegetables and insoluble fiber, which is found in whole grains.
4. Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that are necessary for the proper function of the body. They can be found in both plant and animal-based products, but are also available in supplement form. Some common vitamins and minerals include vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.
For a nutrient to be considered a Vitamin, it must meet these conditions;
- It must be an organic compound that is not fat, carbs, or protein
- It cannot be produced in the body, so it must be obtained from the diet.
- It is required in small amounts for normal metabolism.
- Its deficiency will result in a specific disease.
Types of Vitamins
Vitamins can be broadly classified as water-soluble or fat-soluble.
- Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are not stored in the body, so they need to be consumed on a daily basis. The water-soluble vitamins include all of the B-vitamins, as well as vitamin C.
- Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fatty tissue and do not need to be consumed every day. The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Which vitamins do dogs need?
There are several different vitamins that are essential for dogs, including vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin C. These nutrients are necessary for healthy skin, coat, eyesight, and immune function. Dogs also need adequate levels of calcium and iron in order to build strong bones and maintain a healthy red blood cell count. Additionally, some dogs may benefit from taking vitamin supplements or adding nutritional additives to their food in order to ensure that they are getting all of the vitamins and minerals that they need.
Let’s take a look at each Fat-soluble Vitamins;
- Vitamin A: This is one of the most important nutrients for dogs, as it plays an essential role in skin health and vision. Vitamin A can be found in both animal-based products, such as meat and eggs, and plant-based products, such as leafy greens and carrots. AAFCO recommends that you give your dog 5,000 IU/kg on Dry-matter-basis for dogs for all life stages.
- Vitamin B: There are several different types of vitamin B that are essential for dogs, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12). These nutrients are necessary for a variety of functions in the body, including metabolism and digestion.
- Vitamin C: This is another important vitamin for dogs, as it plays a role in immune health and tissue repair. Dogs can get vitamin C from both plant-based products, such as bell peppers and broccoli, and animal-based products, such as liver.
- Vitamin D: This is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be obtained from sunlight. It is necessary for calcium absorption and overall bone health. Dogs can get Vitamin D from oily fish, eggs, and dairy products. AAFCO recommends that you feed your dog 500 IU/kg dry-matter basis to dogs for all life stages.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant helps to protect the cells against oxidative damage, which may reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Dogs can get vitamin E from plant-based sources, such as leafy greens and sunflower seeds. AAFCO recommends you feed 50 IU/kg of dry matter(DM) of Vitamin E to dogs.
- Vitamin K: This vitamin is necessary for blood clotting and bone health. It can be found in leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale. AAFCO recommends that you feed 1.64 mg/kg of Vitamin K to puppies and adult dogs.
Let’s take a closer look at each water-soluble vitamin:
Also known as vitamin B1, thiamin is necessary for proper brain function and energy metabolism. Its sources are whole grains, yeast, and liver.
A deficiency of Thiamin can lead to heart and nervous system ailments such as decreased appetite or anorexia, weight loss, muscular weakness, epilepsies, ataxia, and cardiac enlargement.
AAFCO Recommendation to give dogs Thiamin: 1mg/kg DM regardless of their life stage.
Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin is important for the growth and development of cells. A deficiency of riboflavin can lead to skin and mucous membrane problems, such as dermatitis, cheilosis, and stomatitis.
Food sources of riboflavin are milk and milk products, meat, poultry, fish, and leafy green vegetables.
AAFCO Recommendation to give dogs Riboflavin: 2.2 mg/kg DM for dogs.
Also known as vitamin B3, niacin is important for metabolism, digestion, and nervous system function. A deficiency of niacin can lead to digestive problems, such as vomiting and diarrhea, as well as dermatitis and seizures.
Food sources of niacin include meat, yeast, poultry, fish, cereals, nuts/oilseeds, and legumes.
AAFCO Recommendation to give dogs Niacin: 11.4 mg/kg DM for adult maintenance.
Also known as vitamin B5, this nutrient is necessary for metabolism and immune function.
Deficiency of B5 results in a weakened immune system, weight loss, and heart issues. AAFCO recommends 10mg/kg DM for dog s of all life stages.
Pantothenic acid can be found in meat, poultry, fish, egg yolks, legumes, and whole grains.
This nutrient is involved in amino acid metabolism and red blood cell function. A deficiency of pyridoxine can lead to decreased eating or anorexia, weight loss, stunted growth, anemia, convulsions, weakness, and kidney issues.
Food sources of pyridoxine include meat, poultry, fish, egg yolks, cereals, and legumes.
AAFCO Recommendation Amount: 1mg/kg.
Also known as vitamin B9, folate is important for the synthesis of DNA and purines. The synthesis of DNA is necessary for cell division and proper development. A deficiency of folate can lead to anemia, as well as birth defects such as spina bifida.
Folate can be found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, liver, and yeast.
AAFCO recommendation to feed your dog: 0.18mg/kg DM for dogs.
This nutrient which is found in cell membranes is necessary for the proper function of cells and the nervous system. It does functions such as decreasing the absorption of fat in the liver and helps in clotting and inflammation.
Though not really considered a Vitamin, AAFCO recommends that you give your dog 1,200 mg/kg on a Dry-Matter basis.
Biotin: Also known as vitamin B7, biotin helps the body convert food into energy. AAFCO does not have feeding recommendations for B7.
Also known as vitamin B12, cobalamin is important for the production of red blood cells and the maintenance of nerve tissue. This vitamin plays an essential role in a variety of functions in the body, including immune function and metabolism. It is the most complex of all classes of Vitamin B.
The AAFCO requires that dog food must have 0.022 mg/kg.
It is not common for dogs to have Cobalamin deficiency but when they do occur, it is usually due to poor diet. Common effects of deficiency include anemia, poor dog’s growth, and neurologic issues.
Does my dog really need vitamin supplements?
The answer is: it depends. If your dog is eating a complete and balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs, they should not need vitamin supplements. However, if your dog has a specific health condition that requires additional nutrients, or if they are not able to absorb nutrients properly, vitamin supplements may be necessary.
Most commercial brands such as Purina, Buffalo, Nulo, and Nutri Dish meet the AAFCO requirements and should be fine if you are feeding your dog these commercial brands.
If you plan to introduce some supplements, make sure they have a seal of quality from National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), and that they are approved by a veterinarian. Always consult your vet before giving your dog any kind of supplements, as they can lead to side effects or interactions with other medications. In general, it is best to get all of your dog’s nutritional needs met through their diet, without the need for additional vitamin supplementation.
Please check back soon as we add more dog food nutritional requirements on minerals and water.