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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Frequently Asked Questions About Dog Nutrition

Frequently Asked Questions About Dog Nutrition

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Why does my dog need to have a nutritionally balanced diet?
Dogs require a minimum of 39 nutrients, all in the correct proportion, to maintain their health. These nutrients include amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals. The nutrients must be in a form that can be used by dogs. The food containing these nutrients must also be palatable so dogs can eat the food containing these nutrients. Lastly don't forget the most important nutrient, water. Dogs should always have access to clean water. 

Why does my dog need to have a nutritionally balanced diet?
Dogs require a minimum of 39 nutrients, all in the correct proportion, to maintain their health. These nutrients include amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals. The nutrients must be in a form that can be used by dogs. The food containing these nutrients must also be palatable so dogs can eat the food containing these nutrients. Lastly don't forget the most important nutrient, water. Dogs should always have access to clean water. 

How important are proteins to my dogs diet? Are some proteins better than others?
Proteins are made up of amino acids and these amino acids are the building blocks the dog uses to make muscles, hair, skin and enzymes. Since each protein has a unique mix of these amino acids, proteins differ widely in their value to the dog. Generally, egg protein is regarded as the best, with animal proteins generally being higher quality than plant proteins. Many foods blend just the right mix of animal and plant proteins to provide the optimal mix of amino acids. 

How important are carbohydrates to my dogs diet? Are some carbohydrates better than others?
The carbohydrates found in pet foods usually come from plant sources like corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, barley and oats. While not absolutely necessary, carbohydrates are usually found in most pet foods because they are an excellent source of energy. Cooked carbohydrates from the grains listed above have all been shown to be readily available to dogs. A recent research report shows the more commonly used grains (rice, corn, wheat and barley) to be highly digestible while sorghum was less digestible.

Another class of carbohydrates provides bulk to the food and small amounts are generally regarded as being beneficial in helping promote the proper digestion and movement of food in the animal. These carbohydrates are referred to as fiber and common sources include beet pulp, rice bran, wheat middlings, corn bran and cellulose. Since these fiber sources are not well digested, they are commonly found in lite dog foods to decrease the calories in the food. 

How important are fats to my dogs' diet? Are some fats better than others?
Fats have three important roles in a pet's diet. First, they provide energy and there is more than twice the amount of energy in an ounce of fat than an ounce of protein or carbohydrate. Second, they help in making the food more palatable, as long as the fat is of high quality and is properly protected from spoilage. Finally, fats provide essential fatty acids to your pet, which they need for a healthy skin and shiny coat. Some researchers believe the right balance of fatty acids is as important as the actual levels of fatty acids. 

Do all dog foods include all the vitamins and minerals that my dog needs?
Any pet food which is labeled as complete and balanced as regulated by AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) must, by definition, contain all the vitamins and minerals required by the pet for good health. Check the label to make sure the pet food you are using meets these standards. These nutrients are carefully balanced to provide just the right amount of nutrition for your pet. 

Should I give my dog vitamin and mineral supplements?
For most dogs fed a complete and balanced commercial diet, vitamin and mineral supplements are unnecessary and in fact could be harmful. In fact dogs fed commercial diets are more likely to suffer from diseases of nutritional excesses than deficiencies due to the indulgent owner who adds vitamin or mineral supplements to their dogs' diet. Since most commercial diets contain a careful balance of nutrients, additional supplements of one or two nutrients can upset this balance. In some cases such as stress, illness or a particular medical condition, supplements may be beneficial when given under the direction of your veterinarian. 

How much should I feed my dog?
An excellent place to start is to look for feeding guidelines on the package. Remember that these are guidelines only and that your pet's age, activity level, environmental temperatures all have an effect on how much your pet needs. It is best to weigh your pet regularly and increase the amount if your pet appears to be losing weigh and decrease the amount if your pet appears to be gaining weight. Many pet stores and most veterinarian offices have scales you can use to weight your pet. 

How often should I feed my dog?
Young, growing dogs should be fed two or three times per day; feed newly weaned puppies three times a day and older growing puppies two times a day. Adult dogs can be fed once or twice a day depending upon owner preference. Adult dogs that are overweight and are being fed to lose weight should be fed twice a day to help minimize the risk of begging. 

I have been told that feeding dogs table scraps is not good for them. Why not? Isn't human food okay for my pet?
While an occasional piece of popcorn certainly won't hurt your dog, it is generally not recommended that you feed your dog table scraps for the following reasons: First, too many table scraps can add nutrients which would upset the balance of the commercial dog food you are using. Second, your dog will assume he should always have human food along with his regular dog food. Lastly, feeding table scraps encourages a dog to beg for food. 

Is there a correct amount of vitamins and minerals for my dog? What happens if my dog gets too much vitamins or minerals?
Both vitamin and minerals have certain levels that are required for optimal health and either too much, or too little, generally can lead to health problems. For some nutrients the range where optimal health can be maintained is quite wide and the safety factor is quite high. Examples include Vitamin E, manganese and the B-vitamins. In contrast other nutrients have a relatively narrow range and careful attention must be paid to these nutrient to ensure the pet gets enough for proper health, but not so much that signs of nutrient excess develop. Examples here include zinc, selenium and copper. 

Is dry food better than canned food?
Dogs can thrive on any diet, dry, canned or semi-moist as long as it is complete and balanced. Dry diets are generally less expensive to feed than canned diets and in addition, the crunchy texture of dry diets will help keep your pets' teeth clean. However even pets fed dry diets still need periodic cleaning and can benefit from the many treats and toys, which help clean teeth. 

My dog really likes canned foods. Will he be harmed if I only feed him canned food?
Your dog will do fine on only canned food as long as it is complete and balanced. If you feed your dog only canned food you should probably make sure you buy extra rawhides or teeth cleaning chew toys as well as take your pet to get it's teeth brushed regularly. 

My veterinarian recommended feeding my dog a "premium" food. Why is that food better?
Premium foods typically contain higher quality ingredients than standard foods. Because higher quality ingredients are used (more real meat) the foods are more nutrient-dense, which means they contain higher percentages of protein and fat so your pet eats less to obtain the same nutrition. In addition, premium foods tend to contain natural additives (natural preservatives like Vitamin E) and avoid the use of artificial colors and flavors. Many perceive premium foods to be healthier due to the use of natural additives. Premium foods also feature high quality carbohydrate sources like rice, one of the most digestible grains.

Due to the nutrient density and quality of ingredients, the average premium food is more digestible than the average standard food. This results in less backyard clean up for you. Since the ingredients are of higher quality, the cost of premium foods tends to be higher on a per pound basis. However the fact that they are of higher nutrient density and digestibility means the amount of food fed is less, so while overall feeding costs are higher it's not as much as you may think. 

Some people leave food out all day long for their dog. Is that good? Won't your dog eat too much?
Dry pet food can be left out all day as long as your dog does not overeat and gain excessive weight. Even when given food all day, most dogs will generally only eat once or twice a day. However, if your pet gains too much weight, it's a good idea to feed your dog using discrete meals once or twice a day. 

I am afraid to change my dog's food? Will he get sick?
Once your dog adjusts to a particular food, the dog's system, including the bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal, establish a careful balance. Because different foods contain different ingredients and nutrients, too quick a change can upset his system. For this reason a gradual change is recommended. Mix the old food with the new food as shown below and after ten days your pet will be eating his new diet. Don't be afraid to change, simply do it slowly.

 

New Food

Old Food

Days 1-3

25%

75%

Days 4-6

50%

50%

Days 7-9

75%

25%

Day 10

100%

 

My dog won't eat his food anymore? Why?
There are lots of reasons a dog might not eat his food and many dogs eat only sporadically, so your dog not eating for one day is usually not cause for concern. If your dog does not eat two days in a row it's generally a good idea to take him to your veterinarian and make sure he is okay. Dogs like consistency, so sometimes feeding him in a new place, at a different time or in a new bowl may cause him to not eat. Occasionally a food may not be stored properly or might be too old and the fats have started to go rancid, which can lead to feed refusal. Sometimes when the weather is too hot your dog might not want to eat. Lastly, think if your pet may have had too many treats or may have gotten into the pantry or garbage and so may already have eaten his daily meal. 

Are there things I shouldn't feed my dog?
Yes. Leading the list is chocolate. Chocolate contains a substance called theobromine, which is toxic. Never feed chocolate or food containing it to your pet. Also, never feed an onion to your pet as large amounts can destroy your pets red blood cells causing anemia. While many people give their dogs raw meat, fish or poultry products these meats contain bacteria or possibly parasites, which are killed in the cooking process. For this reason raw meats are also not recommended. Softer bones such as those from pork or poultry should not be fed as they can splinter and puncture the intestines. Lastly, some people add fat to a dogs diet for a shiny coat. Sudden introduction of large amounts of fats can cause pancreatitis, so this should be avoided. One would be better off to switch to a high quality diet. 

Is it okay to give my dog treats? He really likes them.
There are a large number of high quality treats available for your dog. The first thing to remember when using treats is the 10% rule. Never let treats comprise more than 10% of your dogs diet. Most commercial pet foods contain enough nutrients that feeding up to 10% treats won't upset an otherwise balanced diet. Second, just like changing diets too fast can upset a pet digestive system, so can a large amount of treats all at once. Lastly, remember that treats contain calories so make sure to cut back on your pet's regular food if you feed treats every day. 

Are some treats better for dogs than others?
Generally speaking, treats can be divided into two categories, dry and semi-moist. Semi-moist treats contain 20-30% water, real meat or chicken and are highly palatable, making them valuable training treats. Dry treats and biscuits are usually not as palatable as semi-moist treats, but are less expensive and often can be used to help clean teeth. 

How long will dog food keep? How can I tell if the food is still good?
Most pet food has a relatively long shelf life and most manufacturers are code dating their products in a manner that is consumer friendly. Usually this results in a statement on the package that says "Use before xxxx", where "xxxx" represents the last date the product should be used. As a rule of thumb, dry food is generally good up to one year from date of manufacture, while can foods are good for two years. After that, certain components of the diet start to break down resulting in a product that smells bad, is unpalatable to your dog and which is not nutritious. While a can food is good for two years when unopened, once it's opened it should not be allowed to sit out for more than a couple hours because bacteria will quickly grow on moist pet food. Dry food can be left out all day as long as it stays dry and is protected from crawling insects.

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