Dog Nutrition from A to Z

Last Updated June. 14, 2019
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Having a dog comes with a lot of responsibility, and one of the most crucial elements is making sure that Fido is eating properly.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of information out there about what’s good (and bad) for dogs, and some of it can be a little misleading or conflicting.

Today, we want to break down the various elements of your dog’s nutrition so that you can make the right choices for your pet.

By following this guide, you can be sure that your furry friend will live a long, happy, and healthy life.


Why Nutrition Matters for Your Dog

The fact is that dogs love to eat.

In many cases, they’ll munch on almost anything you put in front of them, which can get them into a lot of trouble if you’re not careful.

How many times have you caught your dog in the act of eating something it wasn’t supposed to?

dog nutrition

However, just because Fido can eat almost anything, doesn’t mean he should.

Instead, you should pay careful attention to all the foods that you feed your dog, whether it’s a daily meal of dried kibble or a meat-filled treat.

Nutrition is crucial for your dog’s health in a variety of ways. A balanced diet can not only help your dog avoid getting sick, but it can help it live longer too. If you want to keep your furry friend around for a couple of extra years, then the right nutrition can help.

Basics of Dog Nutrition: Breaking it Down

If we want to understand which foods are best for your dog, then we first have to know the elements of the things your pet eats.

Overall, you can break down all nutrition into a few different groups: protein, vitamins, minerals, and fats. Let’s see how each one impacts your dog’s health.

Basics of Dog Nutrition: Breaking it Down


The whole point of food is to provide energy and essential nutrients that keep our bodies operating in prime condition.

Proteins are necessary for dogs because they contain amino acids, which canines cannot produce on their own. There are 10 that your dog needs on a daily basis to survive.

When compared to other nutritional elements, proteins are much more significant for your pooch because it will ensure that its body works efficiently.

In fact, proteins are so vital for your dog’s health that some studies have shown that many pups will avoid meals if it doesn’t contain all 10 of the amino acids they need. Also, they will tend to gravitate toward foods that have more protein than those without.

Fortunately, you don’t have to feed your dog tons of meat to ensure that it gets all of these amino acids.

Unlike cats, dogs can survive and be healthy on a vegetarian diet.

That being said, you do have to be smarter and pay more attention to what your dog eats so that you don’t miss any of these acids or other nutritional elements.

For the most part, puppies need about 56 grams of crude protein in their diets.

Since they grow at such phenomenal rates, they need extra nutrition to ensure that they develop correctly. By comparison, adult dogs only need about 25 grams of protein.

Different Proteins, Different Results

Although your dog needs 10 amino acids to survive, not all proteins sources are the same.

Here are some examples of the best and worst options to feed your pup.

    1. Eggs – these are so easy to digest that they are considered a complete protein. All other foods are ranked as they compare to eggs. You can feed them cooked or raw, although some will say that raw eggs pose a health risk. When in doubt, cook them.
    2. Muscle Meats – any cut of meat that isn’t an organ (i.e., chicken breast, steak, etc.) is almost as good as eggs. They have a 92% digestibility rating.
    3. Organ Meats – if you’re cooking a whole bird and you don’t want the gizzards, it can be a tasty treat for Fido.
    4. Milk and Cheese – with an 89% digestibility rating, these dairy products are ideal if you want to limit how much meat your dog eats.
    5.  Fish – although this type of meat is not as digestible (75%), it’s a good option if you already have a lot of fish around the house.

Worst Proteins for Dogs
Corn (54% digestibility)
Wheat (60%)
Yeast (63%)
Oats (66%)

Overall, avoid giving your dog bread, and try to keep your pet away from any brands that use corn or complex carbs as filler ingredients.

Instead, stick to healthy proteins, and your pup will be in much better shape for it.


Best Vitamins for your Dog
Unlike us, dogs don’t need much in the way of vitamins. However, they can serve a crucial role in your pup’s diet as they can facilitate digestion and ensure that the right nutrients are doing their jobs correctly.

Here are some of the best vitamins for your dog. However, keep in mind that less is more – never try to add extra vitamins to your pup’s diet, as it could do more harm than good.

Vitamin K – helps bones and blood
Vitamin B1 – increases energy and metabolism
Vitamin B6 – helps create glucose and improves many internal systems
Vitamin D – if your dog is on a veggie diet, this vitamin will be essential for balanced nutrition. Otherwise, you don’t have to worry about it.
Folic Acid – helps amino acids break down and get digested


While vitamins are not usually in short supply, minerals are far more necessary for your dog’s nutritional development, especially if it’s still a young pup. However, while minerals can help facilitate a lot of bodily functions (primarily bone health), too much of a single one can create problems as well.

Thus, you want to make sure that you have the right balance, particularly depending on your breed. Some breeds need more minerals than others (or a wider variety), so you’ll want to do some research first.

There are 12 essential minerals your dog needs, including:

Calcium – helps teeth and bones
Phosphorus – bone health and metabolism
Magnesium – helps muscles and nerves
Sodium – balances acids in the system
Potassium – nerve-balance transmission
Iron – blood health
Zinc – protein and carb metabolism


All too often, fat gets a bad reputation. However, fats and fatty acids are necessary for your dog, as they can provide lots of concentrated energy, as well as promote healthy skin and fur. If your dog doesn’t get enough fat in its diet, the results can show immediately, creating dry patches and coarse hair. If left untreated, they can create lesions that could get infected.
The key is balancing the amount of fat your dog eats with both its overall diet and how much it exercises. Just like going to the gym can help you burn off that cheeseburger, a dog that runs and plays regularly will need fats and fatty acids to stay healthy.

As a rule, puppies will need roughly 21 grams of fat in their diet, while adult dogs only need about 14 grams. Just like with protein, young pups are energetic and growing, which means that you have to provide more nutrition and food to keep up with their metabolism.

Fats are Necessary for your Dog

How Age Can Affect Nutrition Needs

We’ve touched on this already, but the fact is that as dogs grow up, their nutritional needs change. As you can imagine, a newborn puppy shouldn’t be eating the same things as a five-year-old dog, and as your pooch gets into old age, it won’t be as active, meaning that you should adjust its diet even further.

To help you understand the best ways to feed your dog in all stages of its life, let’s break down each phase.


For the first four weeks of life, pups will be getting all of their nutrition from their mom. If you are taking care of a pregnant and lactating dog, you’ll have to supplement her diet with additional fats, calories, and nutrients because she’s passing them down to a bunch of babies. You should talk to your vet to find out more about what to feed her during this time.

After four weeks, then you can start weaning your puppy and feeding it regular food. This shouldn’t happen immediately, but it can take a couple of weeks before the transition is final. To help facilitate weaning, you can mix dry food with milk, or get it wet so that it’s easier to chew and digest. Over time, you can lessen the wetness of the food until your pup is used to eating dry kibble.

When finding food for your puppy, you want to search for options that are formulated for that specific age and (ideally) your dog’s particular breed. Since puppies need more protein, fats, and nutrients than adult dogs, you shouldn’t be feeding them the same food.

With that in mind, you should avoid overfeeding. The size of your dog will depend solely on the breed, so adding more food than necessary can lead to obesity if you’re not careful. Even if your pup gulps down its meal in seconds, you shouldn’t add more than recommended.

Adult Dogs

Once your dog reaches full maturity (which varies based on the breed), then you can switch to regular, non-puppy dog food. Ideally, you’ll stick with the same brand and flavor profile so that your pooch won’t have to get used to a whole new type of food. Fortunately, many dog food companies provide options for dogs of all ages, so that shouldn’t be much of an issue. Also, if you can find food designed for your pup’s breed, that will be better than generic options.

When feeding an adult dog, the most crucial thing to pay attention to is how active it is. If you walk your dog three times a day, then you’ll want to feed it a little more. If your dog lays around the house all day and you only go for a walk once, then it won’t need as much food.

The weather can also impact how much to feed your dog, as colder temperatures require more calories to help it stay warm. Thus, you may want to add a little kibble during the winter months.

Finally, the other thing to consider is setting your dog on a feeding schedule. Since pooches will generally eat whenever they’re fed (not necessarily when they’re hungry), you want to be relatively disciplined with how and when you feed your dog.

Generally, there are two ways to do this. Either you can portion the food out and give it to your dog whenever necessary, or you can have set times when your pup eats. The benefit of the latter route is that your dog will adapt to the feeding schedule and won’t beg for food outside of those times (depending on how well it’s trained).

However, if you don’t think that you can stick to it with your own schedule, then portion-controlling is probably the better option. This way, you can be sure that your dog won’t overeat, and you can feed it whenever is most convenient for both of you.

Senior Dogs

Since canines age much faster than humans, you will have to pay attention to your dog’s age and adjust its diet accordingly. As with everything else, the breed will matter, particularly because smaller breeds don’t experience as many aging problems as larger ones.

Some issues that your pooch will experience with old age can include chronic diseases, infections, and weight loss. Overall, your goal should be to maintain an optimum weight and control your dog’s nutrition to keep it as healthy as possible.

For most breeds under 50 pounds, you can usually wait until about seven years of age before starting it on a senior diet. For dogs between 50-90 pounds, six years will be considered “old.” For dogs above 90 pounds, you should make the transition at five years.

At first, you may think that because your senior dog isn’t as active, it doesn’t need as much protein. However, you should maintain protein levels throughout your dog’s life, as the amino acids are what’s most important. If anything, you can cut fat and treats from your pooch’s diet, but keep the protein where it is.

One thing to keep in mind is that some breeds will start to put on weight, even if they’re eating the same or less. If your senior dog starts to get a little chubby, consult your vet before cutting down on the kibble – it may be an unavoidable side effect of aging, so you don’t want to exacerbate things by starving your dog as well.

Vitamins like Vitamin E and Beta-Carotene will become much more valuable for senior dogs as they serve as antioxidants and can reduce the effects of diseases. However, because dogs can process vitamins easily, you should consult your vet before adding them to your pet’s diet.

Overall, when caring for a senior dog, the most valuable thing is care and attention. Most dogs do well when they follow a routine, and you should increase vet visits to ensure that everything is working well. Also, frequent visits will help you spot any new conditions or diseases early before they become a significant issue.

Finding the Right Foods for Your Dog

Finding the Right Foods for your Dog
With so many brands out there, it can be a little overwhelming to find the best option for your dog. Also, many of these companies slap labels on their food like “high-protein,” “low grain,” and buzzwords like “premium” or “select.” In many cases, these terms don’t mean anything, and following them could put your dog in a bad position.

Instead, you’ll have to be a lot more discerning when choosing foods for your pet. Not all brands are alike, and some will use more nefarious marketing tactics than others. Here are some things to consider when shopping and comparing different options.

Top Ingredients are Most Prevalent
In case you weren’t aware, the first ingredients listed on a food label (any label) are the ones that are most prevalent in the package. Thus, if meat is listed first (i.e., beef or chicken), then there is more meat in the food than anything else. Pay attention to where ingredients are listed, and that will give you a good idea if it has a lot of fillers.

More Protein = Better Stools
Remember our chart above that showed how digestible certain proteins are? In case it wasn’t apparent, the more that your dog can digest, the less that will come out in its stool. Thus, if your dog is pooping a lot, then you probably need to switch to a meat-based food. Too many grains like corn and wheat will mean that your dog needs to eat more to get the same number of nutrients, and you’ll have a lot more to pick up on walks.

Better Food is More Expensive
When you compare prices of vegetable-based foods to meat-based ones, the difference can be staggering. However, consider the health and well-being of your pet. You care about your dog, right? Isn’t that worth the higher price tag? If not, think about how much poop you’ll have to clean if you get the cheap stuff, and the better brands will look much more appealing.

Whole Meat Has More Water
When looking at different meats in your dog’s food, you may notice the term “whole” or “meal.” While whole chicken may seem more tempting, the fact is that it can contain up to 75% water, which reduces the overall protein inside. By comparison, chicken meal may only have 10% water, which ensures that your dog is getting more protein in each bite.

Dry Dog Food vs. Wet Dog Food

Dry Dog Food vs Wet Dog Food
This is going to be one of the most challenging debates you’ll encounter among dog owners, but, for the most part, dry food is going to be better than wet. Let’s break down some of the different elements of each type.

Cost Per Serving – when you consider how many cans of dog food you’d have to buy to match how many servings are in a big bag of kibble, the cost difference could be massive.
Tooth Decay – if your dog only eats wet food, then it could lead to deterioration of its teeth. You can combat this by letting you pooch chew on bones, but it may still be an issue. Also, you’ll have to brush its teeth more often.
Hydration – wet food has more water in it. While this can lower the concentration of proteins and nutrients, it may help your dog stay hydrated better.
Taste – almost all dogs will prefer wet food, which is why some pet owners love giving it. Thus, if your pooch is having a hard time eating the dry stuff (either because of illness or old age), then mixing in some wet food can make it much more appetizing.
Shelf Life – dry food can last for months, even when sitting out in the open. Wet food has to be consumed immediately after opening, and it won’t last as long on the shelf. Simply put, you have to pay attention to “use by” dates.

Overall, you may decide that a mixture of both types of food are best for your dog. However, we highly recommend picking one over the other and supplementing only on rare occasions. If you switch back and forth, your dog may stop eating one or the other, which can create a lot of headaches and wasted food.

Dog Treats

Dog Treats
All dogs love treats, and pet owners love giving them.

However, treats should be just that – a reward for good behavior, or because you want to add a little zest to your dog’s diet.

When looking at treats, here are some guidelines to follow.

Take Care When Choosing Them
If you get commercial dog treats, you will want to look at the label as carefully as you would your dog’s regular food. If a treat has mostly grains in it, then it could throw off your pooch’s digestive system.

Inspect Bones
While feeding your dog something like a chicken leg may seem like a good idea, the bones can splinter easily, which can wreak havoc on your pup’s intestines. Instead, you’ll want to get bones that are made specifically for dogs. Also, avoid any foods that come with bones, just to be safe.

Double Check if It’s Safe For Eating
Some pet owners like to give their dog a nibble of whatever they’re eating. However, some foods can be harmful, if not downright poisonous. Grapes, for example, can make your dog sick. If you weren’t aware of that, you might allow your pup to nosh on some of them, especially if they fall to the floor.

When in doubt, don’t feed your dog. Instead, stick to things you know are safe, and don’t give them too often. This way, you can avoid spoiling your dog and training it to beg for food.

Bottom Line - Your Dog’s Diet Matters

No matter what you feed your dog, make sure that it’s safe and healthy. The more thought you put into your dog’s nutrition, the better off it will be. You love your pet, and you want to enjoy many years with your pooch by your side. Make sure that you’re doing right by your pup.
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