Selecting the right food for your dog

We all know that our food choices affect our health and quality of life, and this also holds true for your dog. A nutritious diet will go a long way toward keeping him healthy and happy from puppyhood through old age.

In contrast, a poor-quality diet can contribute to health and problem behaviors, including dry skin, itchiness, hot spots (sores), large or loose stools, hyperactivity or lack of energy, and a host of other problems. Poor nutrition can ultimately shorten your dog’s life.

Deciding how to satisfy your dog’s taste buds can be tough. Stores these days offer a mind-boggling variety of commercial dog foods, while many websites, magazines, and books promote a range of homemade options. If you have more than one dog and they differ in size, age, or energy level, the decision can be even more difficult. No matter what diet you choose for your dog, someone will undoubtedly tell you you’ve chosen poorly. What’s a loving, conscientious dog owner to do? A basic understanding of canine nutritional needs and the ingredients that support those needs will help you make an informed choice that will keep your dog well fed without breaking the bank. Let’s take a look at the basics.

Canine Food Sources

Like his wild cousins, domestic dogs are carnivores. Their long canine teeth are designed for slashing and holding onto prey. Unlike humans, dogs have sharp and serrated molars that are perfect for tearing chunks of meat. While dogs do require some non-meat nutrients, their stomachs struggle to break down the tough cellulose walls of raw vegetables. In the wild, carnivores obtain some nutrition from partially digested plants in the stomachs and intestines of their prey, and wild canines occasionally consume berries and fruits. However, cooking serves as a substitute for predigestion in domestic dogs.

What a Healthy Diet Looks Like

The most important factor in determining the quality of your dog’s diet is your dog’s overall health and appearance. If your dog has healthy skin, a shiny coat, a healthy weight, and the appropriate energy level for their breed and age, then their diet is likely providing the necessary nutrients in the correct proportions. However, if your dog is lacking in any of these areas, it may be necessary to reevaluate their diet. According to the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), a well-balanced canine diet, whether it is commercial or homemade, should include specific components to promote optimal health.


To ensure a healthy diet for your furry friend, it’s recommended that 18 to 22 percent of their food intake should consist of high-quality protein. However, it’s important to consider factors such as age, size, activity level, and health status when determining individual needs. Good sources of protein include meats, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, soy beans, and dehydrated plant extracts.

Vitamins and Minerals

Ensuring that your dog receives the proper amount of vitamins and minerals is crucial for their overall health and wellbeing. These essential nutrients play a vital role in building and strengthening bones and cell tissues, as well as helping organs function properly. Good commercial dog foods are typically fortified with the necessary amounts of vitamins and minerals, but it’s important to consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog any supplements. Both a deficiency and an excess of these nutrients can lead to serious health problems, so it’s best to seek professional advice to ensure your dog’s optimal health.


The AAFCO does not establish a specific minimum dietary requirement for carbohydrates in dogs. However, it is important to note that properly cooked vegetables can provide the necessary glucose from carbohydrates for the brain and certain tissues to function properly. On the other hand, dogs may experience digestive issues and become flatulent if they consume raw or undercooked starchy foods.


Approximately 5 to 8 percent of a dog’s diet should consist of dietary fat from various sources such as meats, milk, butter, and vegetable oils. Dietary fat not only enhances the taste of food but also offers energy, protects internal organs, insulates against the cold, and aids in nutrient transportation. It is worth noting that lower-quality dog foods often contain excessive fat due to its lower cost compared to protein. While dogs may initially seem to do well on high-fat diets, their overall health will eventually suffer due to insufficient protein, vitamins, and minerals.


Water is not considered food, but it is crucial for maintaining a healthy diet. Your dog should always have access to clean water, except during housetraining.

Commercial or Homemade

Now that we understand the fundamentals of canine nutrition, let’s explore the two primary methods of feeding pet dogs: commercial foods and homemade foods. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to select a nutritious choice that suits both you and your furry friend.

Commercial Food

Commercial dog foods come in various forms and cater to different needs, such as age, size, allergies, and activity levels. Some even target specific breeds. However, the nutritional quality of the food is determined by the basic nutrients mentioned earlier. To find a good commercial dog food, read the label carefully and look for animal proteins as the first ingredients, within AAFCO guidelines. Avoid foods with corn, wheat, and soy if your dog has allergies. Opt for foods with fewer chemical preservatives, dyes, and fillers. While price may vary, remember that it often reflects the quality of the ingredients used. Take the time to research and compare labels before making a decision.

Homemade Food

If you find that commercial options aren’t suitable for your dog, you may want to consider a homemade diet. The advantage of this diet is that you have control over what your dog eats. However, it does require time for research, shopping, and food preparation, as well as the need for refrigerator and freezer space and proper storage containers. It’s important to use reliable sources of information when planning a homemade diet. Ultimately, the success of the diet will be determined by how your dog reacts to it.

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