By Jeffery Roberts, guest blogger
The food that you feed your dog is one of the primary means available to you to provide a positive impact on your dog’s health. While genetics, environment, exercise and other lifestyle factors affect your pet’s health, nutrition is perhaps the single most important consideration to help your dog be at his or her healthiest.
Regardless of the types of foods and supplements you feed your dog, you should make sure they are getting the correct amounts of macronutrients for their constitution and activity level, as well as certain vitamins, to ensure optimal health.
Feeding the correct macronutrient profile
Just as with human food, dog food is comprised of several macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Your dog’s digestive system is specifically formulated for the utilization of animal proteins, and protein is your dog’s primary energy source. You should check to make sure that protein is the first ingredient in whichever food you choose. Proteins are the building blocks of life and are the most common molecule found in cells. They are made up of 20 amino acids, 10 of which your dog can only obtain through the food they eat. Although most dogs are better able to use the amino acids in animal foods than they are to digest and utilize those found in plant foods, there are a few vegetarian dog food choices that meet or exceed the Association of American Feed Control Officials recommendations. We recommend people consult with a pet nutritionist or their veterinarian before switching to a primary vegetarian diet for your dog.
Fats provide another important energy source for your dog, although he or she needs much lower amounts of this macronutrient than protein. Adequate fat intake is required for the maintenance of lipid barriers in cells, which is important for skin health and coat quality. Healthy fats also support brain health and the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. If your dog is not eating enough fat, he will be unable to assimilate these important vitamins.
Carbohydrates are less important to your dog’s diet, as she can get all of the energy she needs from protein and fat sources. They should therefore be used as more of a supplemental component. For instance, many healthy whole grains can help to provide essential vitamins and minerals.
The value of vitamins and minerals
Most premium dog foods on the market today incorporate small amounts of seeds, grains, fruits and vegetables to add extra vitamins and minerals to your dog’s diet. Most will also be fortified with several important vitamins and minerals to boost your dog’s health. These are the big vitamins and minerals you should be aware of:
1. B Vitamins
There are several different vitamins in the B family, including B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and B5 (panothenic acid), to name a few. B vitamins are essential for many different biological processes in the body, and each one supports different tissues and functions. For instance, B1 helps to strengthen the nervous system and promote a healthy response to stress. B2 is needed to make red blood cells and B5 helps to strengthen the immune system.
Different meat sources are higher in specific B vitamins than others. For this reason, it can be useful to feed your dog a variety of different meat sources, including organ meats such as liver. Eggs and fish also tend to have higher B vitamin contents. Plant sources of B vitamins include alfalfa, which can be found on the ingredients lists of many dog foods.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is just as important for your pet’s immunity as it is for yours. It is also essential for the growth and repair of important tissues in the body, and may help to prevent cancer.
Vitamin C can also be found in organ meats such as liver, heart and kidney.
Calcium is important for building strong bones and teeth, and it also helps to regulate the heartbeat. In the wild, dogs and their ancestors received much of the calcium they needed by eating bones and hair of the animals they killed.
While your domesticated friend can still get a large amount of calcium from animal meats, you might consider supplementing with raw bones or even egg shells. Plant sources of calcium include kelp and oat straw.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a very important nutrient for your dog. It is necessary for your dog to utilize the minerals calcium and phosphorous and therefore helps to regulate the health of bones and teeth. It also helps to prevent rickets, may help to prevent cancer, and improves thyroid function for a healthy metabolism.
Many foods are fortified with Vitamin D, and you can also supplement with small amounts of cod liver oil to provide a dose of healthy fats and the vitamin together. This is beneficial because, as mentioned above, Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin. Eggs and fatty fishes such as salmon also contain this important nutrient.
Magnesium is an important mineral for the health of your dog’s nervous and cardiovascular systems. It also helps to prevent kidney stones. Magnesium can be obtained from many meat sources, and from rabbit and fish in particular. Plant sources include dandelion and parsley.
By choosing a high-quality and varied diet for your pet you will ensure that he is receiving both the correct amounts of macronutrients and sufficient amounts of important vitamins and minerals. Because different foods, including different types of meat, provide different micronutrients, introducing some variability into your pet’s diet can help to optimize their health. Remember to read ingredients lists and research any additional food sources or vitamins you choose to supplement with.
Jeffery is a pet enthusiast and volunteer at his local pet shelter. His passion for animals started at an early age and through his work becoming a veterinary student he understands and cares for pets of all species. Jeffery currently writes for The Happy Pooch and has 2 cats and a dog names Lucy.