Understanding the Basics of Dog Nutrition

Posted by Jackie Ly on

dog edited with nutritious foods above their head

Just like dog training, specific nutritional needs of your dog will vary depending on its size, breed, and stage of life, among other things. 

You can feed your dog a healthier diet if you have a better understanding of how they use the different nutrients in food and how much of them they require.

There are many different dog diets, and it might be challenging to choose the one that would work best for your dog. When choosing what to feed your dog, keep these factors in mind to help in your decision-making.

Nutrients your dog needs


Without enough protein in their meals, dogs cannot function. There are 10 essential amino acids in dietary protein that dogs cannot produce on their own. Proteins provide the carbon chains necessary to produce glucose. High-quality proteins have a good balance of all of the essential amino acids.

According to studies, dogs can detect when a single amino acid is missing from their food and will choose to avoid those foods. It’s also believed that dogs selectively pick meals that are rich in protein. If this is only a question of taste or a sophisticated reaction to their biological requirements is not yet determined.


Dietary fats are the most concentrated source of energy in a dog’s diet, mostly coming from animal fats and seed oils from different plants. They provide your dog’s body with essential fatty acids that it cannot produce on its own and act as a vehicle for vital fat-soluble vitamins.

Food fats often improve the taste and texture of your dog's diet. Essential fatty acids are needed to keep your dog's skin and coat healthy. 


Carbohydrates provide your dog with enough energy. Some forms of carbohydrates can be transformed into simple sugars that can be quickly absorbed. Before they can be absorbed, more complex carbs must first be further broken down by your dog’s body.

Cereal grains are the most common kind of carbs found in dog food. These grains need to be thoroughly crushed or boiled so your dog’s intestine can easily absorb them. This also enhances the flavour of the raw ingredients. 


Fibre, a form of carbohydrate, is very important for a dog’s regular digestive function and wellbeing. It maintains the health of the colon along with the microbes in the gut.

Total dietary fibre is made up of both soluble and insoluble fibres. 

Dog faeces are often softened by soluble fibre's ability to retain water. Common sources of soluble fibre include fruits and gums– a collective name for a group of viscous, sticky polysaccharides that are found in seeds and plants.

Insoluble fibre is found on grains in a dog’s diet. Although it cannot absorb water, it typically increases faecal volume but does not soften faeces. It is added as a form of cellulose.


Vitamins are organic substances that take part in a number of metabolic activities. A dog's body uses vitamins for a number of processes, such as DNA synthesis, bone development, blood clotting, normal eye function, and neurologic function.

Even in little amounts, dogs require vitamins in their food.

Overdosing on vitamins and other nutrients can cause toxicity and other problems. As multiple vitamins are occasionally required to complete a reaction, vitamin deficiencies can potentially have a domino effect.

Using a vitamin and mineral supplement may be better to guarantee the right ratio.


Water is considered the most essential nutrient as it serves so many purposes. It helps in controlling body temperature, breaking down proteins, carbs, and fats, and giving your dog's body form and structure.Water is also helpful for lubricating joints, maintaining your dog's eye shape, and protecting the nervous system.

In general, dogs' daily water needs are typically 2.5 times more than the amount of dry food they eat. 

How much food your dog needs based on age

The amount of food your dog needs mostly depends on their size, breed, age, and level of activity. The important thing is to make sure your dog isn't being overfed or underfed.

2-4 months

This is the time where most puppies enter their new home. Avoid making major dietary changes at this time since you don't want to upset your puppy's stomach.

Ask the breeder what they have been feeding your dog. Keep doing their former diet and gradually introduce the diet you want to give them over the course of a few weeks, until you're fully giving your pup your chosen diet.

Premium dog kibble is the best meal to feed. This guarantees that your puppy will receive all the nutrients required for growth and development. The crunch alone is good for their growing teeth. 

Don't give them raw food yet since their immune system isn't yet developed enough to handle a high bacterial load.

Puppies can't survive without food for very long as they have a high nutritional need. Little meals should be given regularly.

4 months and above

Gradually add some raw, meaty soft bones (cartilage, chicken neck, no dangerous bones that can break and cause damage to their stomach and intestines) at this point. Big, tough bones (big enough so they can’t swallow it, and hard enough that they can’t break it and swallow shards) are also good so they can chew on it. Perfect timing  as permanent teeth are erupting around this time.

When you're introducing a new food to your puppy, keep an eye out for any signs of illness or distress.  Dogs also have intolerances and allergies. If your puppy experiences a reaction or illness, remember what you fed them to avoid them the next time.

As your puppy ages, you may gradually reduce their meals to twice a day. Make sure you're not feeding them too much or too little.

Adult dogs

Adult dogs should eat once or twice daily. Choose a quality dog food and ensure it's suitable for your dog's age and health status.

Consult your veterinarian and ask when to change from puppy-appropriate food to adult-appropriate food. 

For adult dogs, the same food recommendations apply. Make sure their diet is balanced and sufficient. For variation, you can include cooked or raw meat, veggies, or fish and give them big, raw, meaty bones.

Senior dogs

Keeping an eye on a senior dog's health is important. The nutrition you give your senior dog can alter or improve a number of chronic health conditions.

Some older dogs may remain content and happy with regular smaller meals. For others, they prefer to keep things as they are. Some senior dogs may require additional fibre, protein, or other nutrients. 

Ask your veterinarian about the special needs of your dog.

Dog Food options for your dog

It can be challenging to choose the right kind of dog food. You need to do your research and take into account your budget, way of life, and the type of dog you have.

Kibble vs Wet Food vs Raw Food


Kibble or dry foods are made to supply each nutrient your dog needs on a daily basis. It has a long shelf life and is simple to serve and store. Due to the fact that it doesn't require refrigeration, it is also simple to transport while you're on the go. 

Kibble is also convenient and cost-effective. And since it scrapes against the dog's teeth when chewed, it is also thought to help keep a dog's teeth clean. Yet, there are several red flags to watch out for when choosing a dry food. Don't be fooled by attractive packaging that claims to be the best available, has an alluring price, and is loved by your dog.

Quality of kibble varies greatly from brand to brand, so make sure you buy the highest quality there is. Examine the product itself and try to avoid these things:

  • Gluten - This is typically found in less expensive dog meals (corn, starch, flour) since it's a less expensive source of protein. Not all dogs are allergic to gluten, but if your dog is,  watch out for signs like itchy skin, loose faeces, a bad coat, and weight loss.
  • Colourants - Avoid dog food that offers multi-colored kibbles. Colourants don't contribute any nutrients and are just added to appeal to dogs’ senses.

Wet Food

Wet food is simply that: it comes in pate, sauces, gravy, or broth.  The amount of calories in an ounce of dry dog food is still roughly four times more than in an ounce of wet food. Wet food also usually has less protein percentages than dry food. 

Since they may be cooked at lower temperatures while still preserving nutrition and flavour, wet food typically contains less additives and retains more moisture because they don't need to be dried out to become shelf stable.

However, wet food costs more than dry food, is messier, and cannot be left in your dog's dish for a long period of time. After the initial serving, it must be covered, chilled, and used within a few days.

Raw Food

You no longer have to worry about the ingredients you feed your dog if you feed them raw food. It may seem difficult to provide a raw diet at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s almost as simple as feeding dry food.All you have to do is defrost the food; no need to cook. 

These are some factors to consider when buying a raw food for your dog:

  • No additives - Raw food should give your dog the exact ingredients and nutrients advertised. Avoid those who have extra ingredients you weren't expecting.
  • Bone Content - If you're new to raw feeding, you might think that bones should be avoided– this is untrue. To ensure that your dog gets the nutrients they need, their diet must have the bone content found in raw food. Ground bone is usually added in raw food, in addition to cartilage and soft bones that might be included. 

The downside of raw food is that it often costs more, requires more effort to transport, and has a shorter shelf life than other types of food.

Should you feed your dog table food?

You can give your dog table food or scraps, but the real question is, should you? Honestly, it’s widely accepted that it’s not good to feed dogs scraps or leftovers. Why?

  • They can cause digestive problems. A dog cannot fully absorb a typical human diet which is far too fatty and salty. Note that the spices we use to flavour our food are not all safe for dogs.
  • Certain table foods can be harmful to dogs. Dogs should never consume chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, almonds, onions, or garlic.
  • It may result in gaining weight. Even while you might assume that a few bites here and there won't make your dog gain weight, you could be shocked by how little it takes.
  • It encourages unwanted behaviour. While you might find it cute, hovering around other people's plates may bother other people, and you too, at some point. Don’t waste the obedience training both of you went through just for a piece of table food!

From how they are built to what they eat, your dog has distinct characteristics and functions that can only be sustained with the proper diet.   

Understanding what nutrients your dog needs and what food is not good for them helps you choose the best diet for them for different stages in their lives.

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