Basics of dog nutrition

Before you can make an informed decision about what to feed your dog, you should have a basic understanding of dog nutrition. The more you know about the nutrients that are important for your dog’s diet, the easier it’ll be to choose the right food for him.

What is nutrition

Dog nutrition is all about nutrients, or what your dog eats as food to keep him healthy. There are six families of nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. And within these families there are over forty-five individual nutrients your dog needs on a regular basis. (You can visit the Purina website for a complete list of necessary nutrients for dog nutrition.) The best diet for your dog is one that gives him all of these nutrients in a proper balance that’s appropriate for him.

Nutrients versus ingredients

Nutrients are different than ingredients. It’s the blend of nutrients that determines the quality of your dog’s diet and whether it meets his nutritional needs, not the combination of ingredients. The ingredients in dog food determine the palatability, digestibility, and cost.


This is how the food looks and tastes. You can have the most nutrient rich dog food in the world, but it’s useless if your dog won’t eat it. Most commercial dog foods are made to appeal to people rather than dogs, with colors, shapes, and smells that we find enticing. That meaty gravy may look good on the commercial, but your dog would probably prefer the smelly leftovers in the garbage. Think about palatability from your dog’s perspective.


This is whether or not the nutrients that are in the food can be used by your dog. A dog food can meet all the nutritional requirements according to the label, but your dog may not be able to digest those particular ingredients. Don’t depend on the qualities of your dog’s stool to tell how well he’s digesting his food. Dog food manufacturers often include ingredients like beet pulp to bulk up the stool, but they contain little nutritional benefit for your dog. Instead, keep tabs of his energy level and overall health to know if your dog’s diet is working for him.


The higher the quality of ingredients, the more expensive a dog food will likely be. You should know that terms like “Premium”, “Super Premium”, and “Gourmet” are not regulated. So any dog food manufacturer can use them on any product. Also, just because higher quality ingredients are used doesn’t mean they’re any more digestible by your dog than those that cost less.

Important points for choosing dog food

The point of dog nutrition is to make sure your dog’s diet includes a balance of all the nutrients he needs to stay healthy. And it should come in a form that’s palatable, digestible, and at a price that won’t break the bank. If you want to provide your dog with the best diet possible, keep the following points in mind.

No single food is good for all dogs at all stages

The nutritional needs of a Great Dane will be different than those of a Pug, and even the Pug will have different requirements as a puppy than he does as an adult. Visit the dog nutrition page for general guidelines on what to feed dogs at different life stages.

It’s hard to compare dog foods by looking at labels

A particular food may have ingredients that are nutritionally useless for dogs in general or that can’t be digested by your dog in particular. Of two foods that both seem to meet your dog’s nutritional requirements, one may have a list of ingredients that’s better for your dog. Be sure to discuss your dog’s nutrition with your veterinarian in order to create a diet that gives him everything he needs.


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