Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Your Dog

We all know that what we eat can have a profound impact on our overall health, but many of us forget that this is equally true for our pets. The nutritional needs of animals vary quite a bit between species, and there is a wealth of difference between what we humans need to stay healthy and what our dogs and cats need. Understanding these differences can help dog and cat owners keep their beloved pets happy and healthy for their entire lives.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when feeding Fluffy or Fido is that dogs are carnivores by nature, while humans are omnivores. While the human digestive tract has evolved to digest all manner of foods, including both plant based and animal based proteins, dogs are designed to eat meat.

This means that when you look at the ingredient list on a package of dog food, the first ingredient listed should be some sort of meat. In most cases that meat will be chicken, beef, or lamb, but it is important that high quality meat be listed as the first ingredient.

Dog food manufacturers will often use meat meals, such as chicken meal, lamb meal, etc. in their formulations. Some amount of meal is acceptable, but it should not be the first ingredient.

Also be on the lookout for unacceptable ingredients on the list. One of the most commonly used ingredients in cheaper brands of dog food is simply listed as meat by-products. In some cases the ingredient list will state chicken by-products or simply meat by-products, but in all cases it is best to steer clear of such additives. Many manufacturers add these ingredients to bulk up the volume of their food at low cost, but some very troubling things can make up those “by-products” of the meat production process.

Some of those “by-products” may include feathers, fur, skin, hooves and even beaks and eyes. You probably wouldn’t want these things in your food, and chances are your dog doesn’t want them either.

While most dog owners can understand the undesirable nature of hooves, beaks and eyes, many are unaware that soy is an undesirable ingredient in dog food as well. That is because many dogs are allergic to soy products, and this type of allergy could cause all kinds of reactions. Some of the many signs of a soy allergy are digestive problems like vomiting and diarrhea and skin problems like rashes and itchy spots. In serious allergic reactions problems with breathing could occur as well. If you see such symptoms in your dog after changing his food, take a look at the label and see if soy could be the culprit.

Canned food can make up part of a healthy doggy diet as well, but most dogs will do better on a combination of dry and wet food or on dry food alone. Dry food is generally considered better for the dog’s teeth as well, and it is a good idea to limit canned food for many dogs.

No matter how much canned food is fed, however, it is important to choose the brand with the highest quality ingredients. As with dry food, the first ingredient on the list should be meat. Many manufacturers will try to trim costs by packing their food with water, and for those brands water will be listed as the first ingredient. Be sure that meat is listed as the first ingredient. Not only will your dog enjoy better food but you will get more dog food for your money.

If you are unsure what brand of food is best, it is a good idea to check with your veterinarian, or with the breeder from whom you adopted your puppy. Many breeders swear by a specific type of food, and it may be a good idea to stick with the food on which your new puppy was raised. If a change is needed, your veterinarian may be able to provide some recommendations. The world of canine nutrition can be a confusing place, but getting some expert advice can make it a bit easier to navigate.

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