Your Dog’s Necessary Nutrients

The following is an excerpt from's The Adopted Dog Bible

Before you decide among commercial, home-cooked, and raw food for your dog, it's important to have a basic understanding of the building blocks of a healthy canine diet.

Water. Your dog should always have access to fresh water, from a clean bowl. Some people limit a dog's water supply or take it away altogether in the evenings, to avoid late-night bathroom needs. This may be a helpful house-training tool, but it is not fair or healthy for your dog in the long-term.

Water helps the body to:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Regulate body temperature
  • Aid digestion
  • Lubricate muscle tissues
  • Flush away bacteria that cause urinary tract infections
  • Ease constipation by moving stools along more smoothly
  • Transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the body

The quality of your dog's drinking water is also important. Most tap water contains chemical additives, such as chlorine and fluoride, as well as heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, which can be harmful to your dog's health.

While it's true that dogs drink from ponds, puddles and -- horrors -- the toilet, these water sources are teeming with bacteria and parasites. You can reduce the risk of infection by providing your dog with only bottled or filtered water.

Proteins. Proteins build and maintain muscles, organs, bones, blood, body tissues, hair, nails, and the immune system. Many foods contain protein, but the best sources are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, grains, and soy.

Adopted dogs with a history of poor nutrition may be at risk of developing a protein deficiency. Signs of a protein deficiency include:

  • Dry, brittle fur
  • Poor muscle development
  • Anemia
  • Growth problems
  • Weakened immune system

If your adopted dog comes to you with some or all of these symptoms, talk to your vet.

Protein levels that exceed a dog's minimum requirement do not pose a problem to healthy dogs, unless your dog has impaired kidney or liver function (your veterinarian can monitor organ function with regular blood tests), or an allergy to a particular protein source.

Recent research has shown that previous recommendations to reduce protein intake for senior dogs was not sound. In fact, healthy senior dogs may need significantly more protein than their younger counterparts because they metabolize the protein less efficiently.

Fats. Fats are the main source of dietary energy (or calories) in a dog's diet and provide the most concentrated source of energy in foods. One gram of fat contains more than twice the energy than one gram of protein or carbohydrate. They are needed for healthy skin, coat, eyes, brain, and other tissues.

Healthy fats come from sources such as:

  • Chicken fat
  • Lamb fat
  • Sunfl ower oil
  • Herring oil

Carbohydrates. Along with proteins and fats, carbohydrates are one of the three major nutrients in food and a major source of energy for a dog's body.

Sedentary dogs have a lower energy requirement than their more active canine counterparts to produce the energy needed to fuel their brain and muscles. Most commercial dog foods contain as much as 30 to 60 percent carbohydrates because a minimum proportion of starch is needed in the formula for the commercial extrusion process, and, many believe, because carbohydrates are less expensive than proteins and fats.

Dogs can't digest uncooked grain as easily as meats, so if grains are fed, it is important to cook them to increase digestibility. Simmer rice or other grains until they are soft. To add a little extra flavor, cook them in chicken or beef broth.

Good sources of carbohydrates include:

  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Potatoes
  • Barley
  • Whole grain breads and other grains

Vitamins and Minerals. One thing a dog's body can't do on its own is make vitamins (though vitamin C is an exception).

Vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium are essential nutrients that can be found in the following foods:

  • Bread
  • Dairy products
  • Fish
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grains
  • Milk

While most commercial pet food manufacturers claim their products are "complete and balanced," (a claim they substantiate through feeding trials or by meeting certain requirements) these products may lose necessary vitamins and minerals, which may be destroyed by the heating process.

There is some debate as to whether a dog's diet needs to be supplemented with vitamins and minerals so you may want to consult a holistic veterinarian before doing so. Holistic veterinarians have all the same training as a conventional veterinarian but incorporate alternative medicine (this might include homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, herbs, etc.) in their practice, as well.

Fatty Acids. Dietary fatty acids can be classified as essential and nonessential.

Nonessential fatty acids can be synthesized within a dog's body at a level that meets the pet's requirements, whereas essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized, so they must be supplied in the diet.

Dogs require one essential fatty acid (linoleic acid), which is a type of omega- 6 fatty acid. Linoleic acid helps the body to:

  • Regulate the blood fl ow to body tissues
  • Clot blood after an injury
  • Reproduce normally
  • Respond to injury and infection by boosting the immune system
  • Maintain a handsome coat and healthy skin

This fatty acid is found primarily in grains and animal fat, and is provided at appropriate levels in high- quality dog foods.