Dietary Needs of a Dog

Today, I am going to be the dietary needs of a dog. What should a dog eat, and how much?

Feeding For Growth

When considering how much food to give your dog, you may feel tempted to promote its growth by giving it large quantities. Seeking maximum growth, particularly in large and giant breeds, can cause serious growth abnormalities. There is evidence that rapid growth and weight gain can aggravate diseases like hip dysplasia.

Heavy feeding and supplementation carried out by owners of giant breeds seeking to boost their dog’s growth may contribute towards the shorter lifespan of these breeds.
Labrador Eating from Dog Bowl

It isn’t a good idea to give your dog as much food as it will eat. In practice, the quantity which seems to produce the best results in terms of growth is about 80% of what a dog would eat if unchecked. More than this can cause obesity, and less may curb growth potential.


The “Raw Materials” of a Dog

The statement “we are what we eat” applies to dogs as well as people. Just like the food it eats, a whole dog can be considered in terms of raw materials. This helps us to understand what’s needed for the dog’s growth and maintenance.

In the same way, a diet can be considered in terms of various nutritional components. The raw materials of the average dog is: Protein-16%, Fat-23%, Carbohydrate-1.7%, Minerals-3.5%, Water-56%.
Theme of dog's feed

The Value of Protein

All animal tissue contains a relatively high level of protein, so your dog needs a continual supply of protein in its diet to maintain itself and grow. The “building blocks” of protein are amino acids; about 25 are involved in protein. Ten of them are essential in the diet and cannot be made from others. It is to get enough of these that the needs of the body for dietary protein are so high.

The dog’s ability to digest protein is variable. Although offal and fresh meat is 90 to 95% digestible, dogs only digest 60 to 80% of vegetable protein. Too much indigestible vegetable protein can cause colic and even diarrhea.


The Value of Fat

Fats are present in the diet as molecules called triglycerides which are basically three fatty acids linked together. Some fatty acids are essential to a dog. A deficiency of them causes a dog’s skint to become itchy and it may develop a harsh, dry coat with dandruff, often leading to ear infection. Fatty acid deficiency can make a dog dull and nervous, too.

Apart from being necessary for very important metabolic processes, fat is an important energy source for dogs. If a dog can obtain most of its energy from fat, intake of protein be reduced, lessening the demands on the liver and kidney. Fat increases the flavor of food for a dog and is an essential carrier of fat soluble vitamins.


Fats are virtually 100% digestible in a healthy adult dog, even puppies.


Feeding of hungry dog

The Value of Carbohydrates

These are sugars, starch, and cellulose. The simplest sugars are the easiest to digest. Adult dogs can’t digest lactose, the sugar natural present in milk (excess milk causes diarrhea)_ although they can cope quite well with ordinary sugar.

It is interesting to compare the carbohydrate levels in terms of energy in foods commonly fed to dogs. Very high levels are contained in boiled potatoes, rice and carrots, with dry dog food and wholemeal bread a little lower on the list.

All meat canned food, fresh meat and fish have no carbohydrate derived energy, but meat/cereal canned dog food and complete dry food contain 30 to 50% and 40 to 50% respectively.


The Value of Vitamins

Many vitamin disorders have been recognized in dogs, but these are now rare because the vitamin level in prepared dog foods is carefully balance. For dogs needing extra, there are very good commercial supplements on the market.

The Value of Calcium and Phosphorus

Dogs need some minerals in large amounts and others in trace amounts. Calcium and phosphorus are closely related are two of the most important minerals in a dog’s diet. An optimum balance minimizes the need for Vitamin D.

Calcium and Phosphorus are needed for bone formation and development. (At birth, puppies have relatively low levels of these elements.) It is important to supply enough but not too much; over-supplementation in larger breeds can cause bone deformities and diseases like rickets.
Two dogs behind the table

The Functions of Fiber

High fiber diets are popular for humans. How helpful is fiber to a dog? In general, a dog should be given about 5% of its total diet as fiber (dry weight). Fiber is valuable in several ways because it: Increases the rate of food passage through the gut which can reduce problems of diarrhea, or breaking wind.

Fiber also seems to aid digestion even though food is passing through the system more rapidly.

Eases metabolic stress in liver disease (absorbs toxic by-products of digestion.)

Acts as a bulking agent for obese dogs (rather like slimming tablets for humans.) Use as ten to 15% of the diet.

In diabetic dogs, fiber controls and eases absorption of glucose after a meal. Use 10 to 15% of the diet.

In Summary

Dogs have basically the same nutritional needs as people. Protein, fat, carbohydrates, calcium and phosphorus, and fiber. Don’t over supplement or overfeed your dog because it can cause problems. You can feed a little more to puppies, because they need it for growth.

Please feel free to leave a comment, I will respond!


You and Your Dog by David Taylor

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2 thoughts on “Dietary Needs of a Dog”

  1. Thank you for the great article on doggie nutrition.  I learn something every day.  I have always heard sugar was not good for dogs.  I did not know they could process it.  I never knew lactose was un-digestible by adult dogs either.  My local ice cream stand gives away tiny ice cream cones free for dogs!  I have offered my dogs many of them over the years; from puppy-hood to adulthood.  Sounds like I may want to ease off the free doggie cones!  Everything else about what I feed my dogs however seems to be on point.

    • Thank you for your comments.  Dogs can process sugar, but it’s probably be a good idea not to give too much sugar.  As to the lactose, I never used to know either.  No ice cream might be a good idea.  I enjoyed going over the material needed for this post.  Since I’ve started posting, I’ve learned a lot about dogs that I didn’t know before.  Have a good night!


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