It's easy for us to consider whether we are meeting the nutritional needs of our dogs when they are growing (puppies), when they are ageing, or if they are recovering from an illness and especially if they have increased energy needs through work or play, but we often miss that huge area in the middle – when we have a seemingly healthy, non-working dog. Many of us fall into the trap of 'if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it' – but sometimes it pays to stop and take stock.
So, we’ve collected some top nutrition tips for the generally healthy, non-working dog.
1. Dogs Need Protein!
Protein is found throughout the body—in muscle, bone, skin, hair, and virtually every other body part or tissue. Protein is made up of amino acids – there are thousands of these, but canines have what we know to be essential and non-essential amino acids – there are also conditionally essential too!
Essential Amino Acids
Non-Essential Amino Acids
There is no research to suggest that taurine is an essential amino acid for dogs (unlike cats), however, research suggests it is conditionally essential.
Protein is ingested and then digested – the broken-down parts of the protein make their way to the liver, where they are used to create new proteins in the body.
All organisms make proteins in essentially the same way. The process starts with a gene – the ‘instruction manual’ for constructing the protein. For this reason, the process of making a protein is also called gene expression.
Protein is essential for the growth, development, and repair needed throughout the body – but it can also be utilised for energy if required. Dogs can carry out a process known as gluconeogenesis which is the conversion of non-carbohydrate sources into energy.
How Much Protein?
The FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines suggest that dogs require 18-21g protein per 100g dry matter of food.
Signs of Low Protein Intake:
- Reduced growth rate
- Hair loss
- Brittle hair
- Poor coat appearance
A lack of protein supplied in the diet means the body will try to source its own – it will increase catabolism of muscle tissue and other body proteins – this is why there is often weight loss and muscle wastage in low protein intakes.
Protein fed higher than recommendation is rarely an issue in the healthy dog; generally, the excess amino acids from the protein are broken down and waste nitrogen is excreted. However, synthetic amino acids added to foods at high levels can cause toxicity. This is why a whole-food, fresh diet is generally advocated.
2. Dogs Also Need Fat!
Fatty acids can be saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. The difference is in their structure.
Fatty acids are used throughout the body for a range of functions, primarily energy, but if they are not needed, they can be stored in adipose tissue. Here, they are an energy source for a later stage. They also serve as insulation, protecting the body from heat loss and also from injury or trauma to vital organs. The body can synthesise most of the fatty acids it needs, but there are some it cannot, and these are known as essential fatty acids.
In dogs, the body has a requirement for two distinct EFA families. The Omega-6 and Omega-3 series.
Sources of Omega-6:
- Nuts and Seeds
- Meat, Poultry
Sources of Omega-3:
- Seeds – chia, flax, hemp
- Fatty Fish
FEDIAF guidelines suggest the minimum recommendation for fat in a dog’s diet is 5.5g per 100g dry matter. In terms of energy, fat provides more calories per g than both protein and carbohydrates.
- Protein 4kcal per g
- Carbohydrate 4kcal per g
- Fat 9kcal per g
Signs of Fat Deficiency:
- Dry, flaky skin
- Dull Coat,
- Hair Loss
Deficiency is usually associated with dogs being fed over-cooked foods, rancid foods, poorly stored foods, or those with insufficient levels of antioxidants. https://veterinary-practice.com/article/essential-fatty-acids-in-veterinary-dermatology-do-they-have-a-place
3. Do Dog’s Need Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are simply compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
Whilst there is no current dietary requirement for carbohydrate in the dog – fibre is also a defined as a carbohydrate and in the healthy dog – there is an argument for fibre in the diet.
Unavailable carbohydrates include soluble and insoluble fibre.
Insoluble fibre adds bulk to stools and promotes bowel health. But it also attracts water to the stool, making it softer and easier to pass.
Soluble fibre can be broken down (fermented) by the large intestinal bacteria into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are important in maintaining intestinal balance and they also influence the community of microbes found in the gut – and as we know, the microbiome affects immune function, inflammation in the body, musculoskeletal health, and behaviour.
Fibre to add to the bowl: apple, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, spinach, strawberries, broccoli, kale, parsnip, parsley and sweet potatoes. Be mindful, this is for the generally healthy dog (not for the yeasty/itchy dog!)
Dog’s also need a range of vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins are split into two groups -water and fat soluble.
Fat soluble vitamins can be stored in the body’s fatty deposits, making them more resistant to deficiency but also more likely to result in toxicity. They include Vitamin A, D, E and K.
Water soluble vitamins are depleted at a faster rate because of limited storage and are less likely to cause toxicity but more likely to become deficient.
The B complex vitamins are all water-soluble vitamins.
- thiamin (B1)
- riboflavin (B2)
- niacin (B3)
- pantothenic acid (B5)
- pyridoxine (B6)
- biotin (B7)
- folate or 'folic acid' when included in supplements (B9)
- cyanocobalamin (B12).
They are largely involved in the conversion of food to energy.
Vitamin C is also a water-soluble vitamin but research studies in the dog, have shown they do not require a dietary source of vitamin C for normal development and maintenance.
Minerals are defined as a solid, naturally occurring inorganic substance. They are those elements found on the earth and in foods that bodies need, to develop and function normally.
You will find minerals split into macro minerals and trace (micro) minerals.
Macro minerals are required by the animal in large amounts, and micro needed in smaller amounts.
Naturally occurring vitamins and minerals are absorbed in a more controlled manner than synthetic, which is why we would always advocate a whole-food, fresh diet to ensure micronutrient needs are being met, especially in the generally healthy dog.
Written by Lisa Hannaby - Bsc. Psych. Hons, MSc Human Nutrition