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Understanding Dog Food Nutrition

Excellent dog food nutrition should be at the top of all pet owner's list of priorities as it is the foundation for a long happy, healthy life.

In fact, many veterinarians and animal experts believe the average life span for dogs could be about 25 to 30 years with the optimal nutrition. In actuality, we as pet owners are considered to be extremely lucky if we have our best friends with us for 13 or 14 years.

And now, thanks to pet food recalls, misleading labels, and questionable ingredients, many people feel like the commercial pet food industry is largely based on profit rather than focusing on the nutritional needs of the canine.

So how can a responsible pet owner know what they should be feeding their dog to ensure they'll be getting everything they need to thrive? The answer lies with educating yourself as much as possible on dog food nutrition and understanding the ingredients used in commercial pet foods, assuming you haven't decided to make all of your own dog food, of course.

Much like a human's nutritional needs changes as we age, a dog's needs change as well, making it important to consider your pet's stage of life before choosing the best food. Selecting a food type is often a quandary faced by dog owners who can't seem to decide between dry, semi-moist, or canned food. Taking factors like your dog's specific needs and recommendations from your vet into consideration is the ideal starting place in the search for optimal dog food nutrition.

What To Look For In Healthy Dog Food


Dogs, who are carnivores by nature, will generally require meat as their main source of protein. Meat listed as the first ingredient is one indicator of a healthy dog food, but it must be actual meat as in beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, or fish, for example. Some type of meat meal, such as chicken meal, is the next best thing for protein but you may want to avoid dog foods that have meat byproducts or non-specific meals listed as the first ingredient.

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), meat byproducts in dog food may include bones, blood, brains, cleaned intestines, stomachs, and udders, all of which, in all reality, a dog would consume in the wild.


Fats are an extremely important part of optimal dog food nutrition, and fat sources should be clear and specific, such as sunflower oil or chicken fat, rather than the vague animal meal or animal fat. Although dogs do need some carbohydrates, watch for foods that contain multiple sources used as cheap fillers that provide no nutritional value and cause your dog's digestive system to work harder than intended.


A carbohydrate should never be the first or main ingredient in a dog food and good choices of carbs include barley, oats, and rice as opposed to the unhealthy corn gluten, corn meal, brewers rice, rice bran, and wheat flour that are often used.

Other Specifics

Dogs also need vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, and phosphorous for healthy organs, muscles, teeth, and bones.

At least 10% of a dog's daily diet, according to weight not volume, should come from protein with roughly 5.5% coming from fats. The guaranteed analysis, which lists minimum amounts of proteins, fats, fiber and moisture in dog food, should be prominently displayed on the label. Also, when reading dog food labels, look for statements such as, "Meets all nutritional requirements for dogs as established by the AAFCO" before buying your dog's food.

You may want to pass on any dog foods that have unnamed sources of proteins or fats, as well as those that include ingredients such as animal digest, colorings, or artificial sweeteners and synthetic preservatives including ethoxyquin, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), or sodium metabisulphite, which are believed by some to be harmful to a dog's health. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the level of these preservatives are safe for dog foods, many scientists and consumers alike question their stance on this issue.

Final Comments

When it comes to dog food nutrition there is no one type or brand of food that will be best for every single pet because as we know, dogs, like people, are individuals, but some brands known to have the healthiest of ingredients include Acana, Blue Buffalo Wilderness, Innova Evo, Orijen, and Wellness Core dog foods.

If you must switch dog foods for your pet, be sure to do so gradually and always watch for signs like a shiny coat, bright eyes, adequate energy levels, a good appetite, and not being too thin or too heavy, all of which are signs of a healthy dog.

The articles in the right column of this page go into more detail regarding the specifics of optimal dog food nutrition.

Dog Food Nutrition Related Articles

How To Read Dog Food Labels - One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to deciding the right food for your dog is learning how to read the product labels.

How To Avoid Bad Dog Food - We discuss how to spot harmful ingredients in dog food.

How To Find Good Dog Food - How do you tell the good from the bad?

What Ingredients Should You Look For? - We discuss the most important ingredients to keep in mind when selecting the right food for your dog.

Making Your Own Nutritious Homemade Dog Food - Learn what to include and what to avoid when making food for your dog.

Dog Food Allergy Symptoms - What are the signs, and what are some solutions?

A Healthy Dog Food Diet - What exactly goes into a great canine diet?

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