Dog Nutrition Guide

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

A lot has been written about dog nutrition and dog food, with a dizzying amount of differing advice and opinions. There are also many questionable pet foods on the market (to put it mildly), which many pooches (and their parents) have sadly paid a high price for, in some cases with their very lives.

The numerous pet food recalls and years-long controversy surrounding jerky treats made in China bear testament to this.

Furthermore, dog obesity, along with a host of residual dietary-related ailments, is now epidemic. Pet food authorities all agree about this.

However, after years of researching pet foods and nutrition, I have discovered widely divergent opinions about dog nutrition among the experts.

Below are the most hotly debated views, which dog parents need to be aware of.

Do Dogs Need Fruits and Veggies?

This has long been a hot button issue among dog nutrition experts, with widely varying opinions. For example, proponents of the raw diet insist that dogs need meat and meat products (including raw bones and organ meats), period.

Conversely, fans of the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (B.A.R.F.) diet swear that pooches benefit from diets that contain not just meat, raw bones and offal, their food sources should also include raw veggies and, to a lesser extent, fruit.

This said, I have found that veggies and fruits – with the exception of those that are known to be toxic to canines, such as onions, grapes and raisins – don’t hurt dogs. And some dogs do love veggies and fruit. So, at the end of the day, it really is a matter of preference.

However, I am of the mind that these should only be served in small quantities.

Do Dogs Need Grains?

Once again, there are widely differing opinions about this. Many experts agree that processed and cereal grains, such as wheat gluten and corn (which are often used as fillers in lower quality pet foods), have absolutely no place in a dog’s diet. They are especially disdainful of genetically modified grains.

There are those experts who are of the opinion that dogs should not have grains in their diets, period. In fact, grain- and gluten-free pet foods now represent a large and growing market.

Then there are those who counter that cooked whole natural grains, such as brown rice, oats and barley, are acceptable in small amounts, and can serve as sources of fiber and complex carbohydrates for energy.

Regardless, many dog nutrition experts agree that grains − and any carbohydrates, for that matter − should be kept to a minimum.

The Bottom Line: Dogs Need Meat, First and Foremost

This is one factor that virtually all of the experts agree upon. However, they agree about this for different reasons.

There are those who classify dogs as omnivores (in that they benefit from diets that contain both meat and plant matter), while others insist that they are carnivores (primarily meat eaters).

Unlike cats and ferrets, which require diets that exclusively consist of meat, dogs are not “obligate” carnivores.

However, on the basis of my research, they are mainly carnivorous in that they need meat, first and foremost. Everything else is gravy, as it were.

Why Dogs Need Meat

Meat contains a wide array of nutrients, vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are essential to dogs’ optimal health, most notably protein for energy. Other benefits of high meat diets include iron (for red blood cell health), essential fatty acids, B vitamins and other good stuff that pooches require.

A number of holistic pet food experts also recommend a certain amount of offal (organ meats) for a dog’s diet, as liver, kidneys and such are high in zinc, vitamins A and D, a wide array of B vitamins, manganese, iron, taurine and others.

As pooches require a host of essential amino acids that they cannot manufacture on their own, such as tryptophan, valine and lysine, and can only obtain these through the foods they consume, they must have animal protein in their diets to prevent health issues.

What Dogs Definitely Don’t Need

No matter how wildly divergent their views may be, all dog nutrition mavens agree that the healthiest dog foods are free of such ingredients as artificial fillers, flavors, mysterious by-products, colors, dyes and preservatives.

The first and primary ingredient on the label should be meat – the real McCoy – not corn, soy, wheat, meal or other non-meat products. Rather, this should be beef, chicken, lamb, rabbit, venison, etc.

Grains should be whole, not products like corn or wheat gluten.

Dog food should be free of such chemical additives and preservatives as BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, propyl gallate and propylene glycol, which have been identified by the World Health Organization, the FDA and other such authorities as potentially carcinogenic.

What Dogs Definitely Do Need: Water!

This is one factor that virtually all of the experts agree upon: Like all living beings, pooches require water! While this might seem like a no-brainer, this is often overlooked. And too many dogs don’t get enough H20, which can lead to serious health issues.

So this cannot be overemphasized. Canines must have fresh water, replenished several times a day.

Bowls must be cleaned regularly, to prevent the accumulation of germs and bacteria. The right kinds of bowls are also important. I prefer heavy stainless steel ones, because they are less likely to tip over and – unlike plastic – they are more sanitary and do not contain BPA, a chemical present in plastics that is potentially toxic.

The Dog Nutrition Bottom Line

Despite the differing, often confusing opinions about dog food, the truth is that dogs require diets high in fresh, quality, natural ingredients, with meat topping the list. So I strongly advise that pet parents do their homework, because your furry babies’ lives depend on this. 

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