Puppies Eating

A Guide to Meeting Your Dog’s Dietary Needs

Your dog’s health depends as much on his diet as yours does. If his food is full of junk and fillers that provide little nutrients, it’s going to show in his long term health. Unfortunately, many commercial brands of dog food pack their food with nutrient poor fillers that make your dog feel full but do little for his health.

In fact, some of those fillers can actually harm his health and lead to problems and illness. Because of this, it is very important that you put the effort into making sure your dog has a complete balanced diet filled with nutritious ingredients that will help him lead a long, healthy and happy life.

Dog Balancing Food

In this guide, you’ll learn more about what dogs should be getting out of their diet, how to separate the best from the rest when buying commercial dog food, how to make your own all natural dog food at home, and more.

Dog Nutrition and Why Healthy Dog Food Is Important

Dogs have special nutritional requirements that are somewhat similar to humans but differ in some important ways. To make things more complicated, every breed has its own unique dietary needs.

But as complicated as it might be, it’s very important to make sure your dog is getting the right nutrients out of his diet. A proper balanced diet offers many benefits for your dog. Here are a few:

  • Prevent illness: while some conditions are genetic and unavoidable, many can be prevented (or at least managed) through proper nutrition. That’s because with the proper nutrients, your dog’s body will be strong enough to fight off illness and repair damage.
  • Healthier skin and coat: the state of a dog’s skin and coat can tell you a lot about how healthy they are. A thick, shiny coat not only looks better but shows that your dog is getting the nutrients he needs from his diet.
  • Longer life: by helping your dog be healthier and more resistant to illness, you are making sure that you get to enjoy as many years as possible with him. That alone makes it worth it to do everything you can to keep him well nourished!
  • Stronger bones and joints: just like with humans, strong bones and joints are important because they are needed to lead a happy and active life. With a poor diet, his bones and joints will grow weak which will make him less willing to exercise. And that lack of exercise will lead to further health complications like obesity and diabetes.
  • More muscle tone: muscle needs protein and other nutrients to repair itself and grow strong. If your dog’s diet doesn’t have the right nutritional balance, their muscles will suffer which will make them less capable of getting the exercise they need to stay healthy.
  • Prevent obesity: preventing obesity is not all about counting calories. It’s about making sure that your dog is getting all the nutrients he needs so that he feels satisfied and full from his meals and has the energy he needs to exercise and stay in shape.
  • Improve digestive health: a balanced diet promotes healthy digestion and this will go a long way toward promoting his health and making him feel better in general.
  • Stronger immune system: a well-nourished body has the nutrients it needs to build a strong immune system capable of fighting off the bacteria and viruses that try to attack it. That means a happier life for your dog and a lower vet bill for you!

Tips for Finding the Best Dog Food

Even if you know the importance of feeding your dog quality dog food, it can seem just about impossible to figure out what is the best dog food. Determining which commercial brands are actually healthy and which are just packed with unhealthy fillers and other harmful ingredients is challenging but not impossible.

Pug Looking at Food

Many brands use low quality ingredients believing that it doesn’t really matter for your dog either way. Fortunately, there are some brands out there that understand the importance of using quality and nutritious ingredients for your dog.

In order to separate between the good and the bad, use these tips as you shop for the ideal dog food:

  • Learn what your breed needs: every breed is unique. In fact, every dog is unique. Do some research on your breed to find out what it’s unique nutritional needs are and shop for a dog food that provides that balance of nutrients. You can start by looking through some of our guides to the dietary needs of some common dog breeds.
  • Read the ingredients: before buying any food (for yourself or your dog), it’s important to read the full ingredient list. This will help you determine if the claims its making in its advertising are actually true. As a general rule, the shorter the list the better because that usually means its additive free and contains wholesome, natural ingredients. If a dog food claims to be “all beef” or “all chicken” or something similar, it needs to be at least 95% that ingredient. You can check this by reading the ingredient list.
  • Avoid these 4 ingredients at all costs: even if a brand advertises itself as healthy and nutritious, it may be hiding the fact that it contains some potentially harmful ingredients mixed in with those healthy ones. So when you are reading the ingredient list, keep an eye out for 4 ingredients. If you see even one of them, put the bag down and look for a different brand. The 4 to watch for are corn syrup (and corn in general), propylene glycol, ethoxyquin, and BHT/BHA. Corn products contain too much starch and sugar which cause obesity and diabetes. The others are chemical additives that can wreak havoc on your dog’s digestive system.
  • Talk to your vet: your vet is one of your best resources for keeping your dog in optimum health. Not only are they experts regarding dog health in general, they know your dog specifically and can give you highly customized advice based on your dog’s medical history and health.

While dogs are omnivores like us, they generally need more protein than we do. So while our ideal balance would be mostly vegetables and complex carbs followed by healthy sources of protein and fat, it’s almost reverse for most dog breeds.

Puppy Eating Grass

The primary ingredient in a balanced diet for dogs should be protein (preferably from meat). The next most important macronutrient is fat (from healthy sources like fish oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, and so on). Only about 25% of their diet should come from plants and carbohydrates.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Certain breeds require a little more carbs than others. That’s yet another reason to make sure you do your research to find out what your specific breed needs to thrive.

Find the Best Dry Dog Food

The biggest danger when shopping for dry dog food is getting one that is mostly packed with nutrient poor fillers. Many brands like to save money by relying on ingredients like corn syrup or other corn by products to add calories cheaply.

The starchiness and sweetness makes it appealing to dogs even though it provides them with almost no nutritional value and actually leads to long term health conditions like diabetes and obesity.

Exhausted Bulldog Puppy with Food

Many dry dog foods are also too low in fat and protein and too high in carbs. That’s because healthy sources of protein and fat are more expensive than carbs. So even if it’s got healthy and nutritious sources of carbs, it’s still not guaranteed to be providing your dog with the right balance of nutrients.

So look for natural dog food which has quality meat sources at the top of its ingredient list. And as mentioned earlier, the best natural dog food is almost always the one with the shortest ingredient list.

Even after you have found the best dry dog food, you may find that your dog just doesn’t really enjoy it. Before you start the search all over again, consider mixing in some natural ingredients to make it more appetizing.

Here are a few ideas for making dry food taste better for your dog:

  • Mix it with a nutritious wet dog food. Wet dog food is usually more expensive but you can stretch it to get your money’s worth by mixing wet and dry food together.
  • Mix it with chicken broth. Canned chicken broth is inexpensive and nutritious. Pouring a little bit in to wet the dry food will add a rich and appetizing chicken flavor that makes the food more palatable. Make sure to get a low sodium version so your dog doesn’t eat too much salt.
  • Add fresh ingredients and water. Find a healthy fresh ingredient your dog enjoys (like some leftover steak from your dinner) and add it to his bowl. Pouring a little water over it will also provide the moisture that your dog prefers.

Find the Best Wet Dog Food

Wet dog food is an appealing option because it is often more appetizing to your pooch than the dry stuff. Finding the best canned dog food can be challenging, though, because most brands are high in calories which can be a problem if your dog isn’t active enough to burn off those caloris.

Standard Wet Dog Food

While they are often higher in calories than dry food, they also tend to be made up of higher quality ingredients and they usually have more protein and fat (which is what dogs need most).

They are also generally free of fillers or at least contain a lot less fillers. So read the ingredient list and look for the same things you would in dry food. But even the lowest quality canned foods are generally more expensive than dry food so it can put quite a dent in your budget.

Here are a few tips for finding the best wet dog food:

  • The protein sources are named. If it’s lean muscle, it will usually simply state “chicken” or “beef” or whatever kind of meet it is. If it’s an organ meat, it should state which organ (i.e.- beef liver). Avoid brands that have generic protein names like “meat” or “poultry.”
  • Limited grains or vegetables. Wet foods should be almost completely animal protein and fat. If there is plant matter, it should be very low on the list (indicating that there isn’t very much of it).
  • The “complete and balanced” label. This label indicates that the food meets the minimum requirements for a complete and balanced nutrient profile for your dog. If it doesn’t have this label, it is only intended to be a supplement to your dog’s diet, not the main food.
  • Avoid sugar and sweeteners. A good wet food doesn’t need sweet additives to make the food appealing. The quality source of meat adds more than enough appetizing flavor.

Labrador Retriever Eating Its Meal

To make matters worse, your dog often needs to consume far more calories of wet food to reach the same quantity of nutrients they would get in a quality dry food at a fraction of those calories. So wet food is more expensive and you need more of it.

That’s not to say you should skip it altogether. Wet food is usually much more appetizing because dogs prefer moisture in their food and the ingredients are usually of a higher quality. There is a trick to find a balance between cost, nutrition, and flavor:

Mix wet food with nutritious dry food. Since the high moisture content of wet food can make it less nutrient dense. So although it is made from healthy ingredients, there’s simply not enough to meet your dog’s daily needs. So to save money and still provide your dog with nutritious, delicious food, mix a portion of wet food with a portion of a more nutrient dense dry food so that they get the rich flavor of wet food and the higher nutrient density of dry food.

Dog Food for Special Dietary Needs

Beyond the unique needs of different dog breeds, some individual dogs may have special dietary needs due to preexisting health conditions.

Different Sized Dogs and their Food

High Fiber Dog Food

While most dogs can thrive on a diet primarily made up of protein and fat, some dogs need a fiber boost to reach their optimum health. Dogs with conditions like obesity, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, or some digestive conditions require fiber in their diet to help them better breakdown and process the nutrients in their food.

High fiber dog food can also be used temporarily to treat diarrhea and constipation.

High Protein Dog Food

While almost all dog breeds need a diet higher in protein than a human diet, some breeds need even more than that. Large, muscular, and highly active breeds like the Rottweiler or German Shepherd need even more protein than other dogs.

In fact, the more active your dog is, the more you need to make sure he is getting a lot of protein in his diet so that his muscles can repair themselves and grow strong enough to withstand his activity level.

Diabetic Dog Food

If your dog is diabetic, you will definitely need to stay away from a lot of the commercial brands and be even more careful about checking exactly what ingredients are in his food. Many of the fillers used by commercial brands are high in sugars which is extremely dangerous for a diabetic dog.

Grain Free Dog Food – Is It Necessary?

With the rise of the gluten free diet for people, some pet owners have started to assume the same is right for their dog. But before you convince yourself your dog should be grain free, you should learn a little more about how grains affect your dog.

While dogs are omnivores like us, their digestive system is better adapted to digest meat than plant matter. They certainly can break down plant matter (including grains) and absorb nutrients from it but meat is much easier for them.

Dog Stealing Meat from Table

So that means grains can, indeed, form a nutritious part of a balanced diet. But they should definitely not be eating as many grains as we do. Protein should still be the main part of their diet.

To complicate the issue, there are some dogs with sensitive stomachs and since dog digestive systems already aren’t as adapted to breaking down plant matter, too many grains can irritate a sensitive tummy.

So the answer to “is grain free dog food necessary” is “maybe”. The best thing you can do is experiment with different options and pay attention to how your dog responds to it. Pay attention to the health of their skin and coat and the consistency of their stool. Their coat should be glossy and their stool should be firm and compact.

If they are healthy, happy, and active on a diet with grains, there’s no need to put them on a grain-free diet. If they aren’t as healthy and active as they could be, you may want to try eliminating grains to see if that leads to improved health.

When shopping for a grain free option, you need to be just as diligent and thorough about researching the brand as you would with any other dog food in order to make sure you are getting the best grain free dog food.

The Pros and Cons of Organic Dog Food

We all want the best for our furry friends but it’s not always easy to know what the best actually is. And there are plenty of brands out there trying to convince you that their product is the only way to give your dog the nutritious diet he deserves.

One of the big debates right now is whether or not it makes sense to feed your dog an organic diet. As with anything, there are distinct pros and cons to organic dog food. It’s up to you to decide whether or not the pros are enough to outweigh the cons in your case.

Dog Chosing Meat over Vegetables

Pros

  • Quality ingredients: when you buy an all organic brand, you can feel more assured that the ingredients in it are high quality and as nutritious as possible. You still want to check the ingredient list to be sure but it’s much easier to find high quality ingredients in organic foods than it is in nonorganic foods.
  • No additives: in order to be able to claim organic, they can’t use any of the harmful additives that tend to be in the lower quality brands of dog food so you can be sure your dog is safe from those dangerous additives.
  • Wholesome: all natural ingredients are more nutritious than fillers and additives. Plus, organic recipes tend to have a better and richer flavor that your dog will find more appetizing.

Cons

  • Price: possibly the biggest con of organic dog food is that it is much more expensive than nonorganic. You definitely have to pay for the quality. And we understand that for some dog owners, it’s simply not in the budget to spend that extra money every month on organic food.
  • Availability: depending on where you live, organic dog food may just not be available. While the internet can be a great resource for buying those products you can’t find in stores near you, you may not be thrilled about paying additional money for shipping on a product that is already more expensive than its nonorganic counterparts.
  • Some nonorganic brands may be just as good: there’s no research that definitively proves that organic ingredients are more nutritious than nonorganic. If you find a nonorganic brand that is full of high quality ingredients and free of additives, it will be just as nutritious as an organic version of the same recipe. Organic dog food is just more likely to use a healthier recipe and higher quality ingredients since they know their buyers are interested in quality and nutrition.

If these cons are too severe of barriers for you but you still want to provide your dog with the best possible diet to help him live long and thrive, consider making his food yourself at home. Below, we will talk more about homemade dog food and give you a few recipe ideas including some raw dog food recipes.

Homemade Dog Food Recipes

If this is the first time you have heard of the idea of cooking dog food at home, you might think that is a ridiculous and expensive idea. Pug Eating Homemade MealHowever, there are many great reasons to make your own dog food at home:

  • Affordable: making high quality meals for your dog at home can actually end up being cheaper than buying commercial brands. You are getting more value for your money because you are using real, natural quality ingredients and you have the assurance that there are no additives. To get that kind of quality and assurance from a commercial brand, you’d have to pay a high premium.
  • Easy: making homemade dog food is much easier than you might imagine. They don’t need gourmet preparation and many of the ingredients can be left raw so it’s really just a matter of mixing it all together.
  • More nutritious: it’s much easier to make sure your dog is getting the ideal balance of nutrients to meet his needs when you mix those nutrients together yourself. You can customize his diet to suit his specific activity level, breed, and health.

Dog Climbig Counter to Look at Food

There are lots of great and simple homemade dog food recipes out there and we encourage you to get creative and customize a recipe or two that uses ingredients your dog enjoys. To help get you inspired, we’re including a couple of example recipes so you have an idea of how to strike the right balance of nutrients with wholesome ingredients.

Basic Dog Food Recipe

To make a bulk amount of dog food quickly, use this basic recipe. You can modify to suit your dog’s tastes or the ingredients that are more readily available and affordable for you:

  • 10 pounds of raw ground beef
  • 18 hardboiled eggs (with the shell)
  • 15 cups of cooked brown rice (that’s 5 cups of raw rice)

Puppy Chef Making Cookies

Crush the eggs with their shells on and grind it until the shells are ground down to almost a powder (or at least granules). Eggshells are very digestible and a great source of calcium and other minerals.

Mix these ingredients to produce 48 cups of dog food. Adjust the amounts as necessary if you don’t think your dog will finish that amount of food quickly enough.

Each time you serve your dog a portion, mix in 1-2 tablespoons of fish oil or flaxseed oil and a single portion of dog vitamin and mineral supplement to make sure it is a completely balanced meal.

Raw Food Dinner

  • 1 ½ cups raw, chopped beef (including some bone)
  • ½ cup raw veggies (carrots and squash are great options)
  • 2 teaspoons of fish oil (or flaxseed oil)
  • Vitamin and mineral supplement (preferably in powder or liquid form, use as directed on package).
  • Water (enough to moisten and combine all the ingredients)

Simply mix all of these ingredients together in your dog’s bowl. This is a pretty basic recipe that has a lot of room for customization. You can change out the veggies to use whatever your dog prefers. You can even include some fruits.

The beef can be replaced with pork, lamb, fish, or poultry. However, for fish and poultry, don’t leave the bones in as these bones splinter and can cause damage to your dog’s digestive system.

Dog Dreaming about Homemade Meal

Leaving the bone in for beef, pork, or lamb will be an exciting treat for your dog who will love chewing on the bone after they’ve scarfed down the rest of their delicious meal. Plus, the bone provides additional calcium and other vitamins and minerals. And it also helps remove tartar buildup to keep your dog’s teeth polished and clean.

It’s important to note that when using raw meat, you need to buy meat that is approved for human consumption. And if you are at all in doubt about the quality of your meat source, boil it first until it is cooked through.

If you boil your meat first, save the water and use that wherever the recipe calls for added water because that boiling liquid will contain nutrients from the meat. You can also simply serve the liquid (once it’s cooled down) to your dog as a way to rehydrate and replenish nutrients.

The Importance of Water

With all this talk about food, it can be easy to overlook the other most important requirement your dog has: water! You need to make sure your dog is staying properly hydrated.

Dog Drinking Water From Hose

As a rule of thumb, your dog should drink at least 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. So a 50 pound dog needs 50 ounces of water. If he exercises a lot, make sure he has enough water to stay replenish lost liquid.

Final Word

A nutritious diet is just as important for your dog as it is for you. Many dog owners assume their dog can just eat anything and still be healthy and active but a proper diet will go a long way toward giving your dog as many years with you as possible.

Exhausted Puppy After Meal

Hopefully this guide has given you the information you need to navigate the overwhelmingly vast market of dog foods and perhaps inspired you to explore homemade dog food recipes so that you can make sure your dog is getting the absolute best.

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