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Dog Food basics?

The food you feed your dog is the single most important thing you can do for its health. Dogs like all other mammals need a wide range of nutrients to maintain healthy body function. For optimal health, your dog needs a diet which is nutritionally balanced and palatable.

It is important to remember that the nutritional needs of a dog are distinct and different to humans.

FACT.. A dog is an omnivore and requires 38 essential nutrients which are classified into 6 main nutrient groups.. WATER – PROTEINS – FATS – CARBOHYDRATES – MINERALS - VITAMINS.

To achieve a good nutritional balance, pet food manufacturers blend ingredients which include fish, meat, cereals, vegetables, minerals and vitamins, to produce various foods to satisfy the nutritional requirements of your dog.


With brand loyalty very much based and grown upon experience with certain foods, your dog will certainly let you know what he does not like, something which the manufacturer will follow through surveys and sales reports etc. You can therefore be quite confident that the manufacturer will be addressing the needs of your dog as well as specific breeds, sizes, ages and gender.


Over the decades pet food manufacturers have developed the nutritional expertise to ensure they incorporate the latest advances in pet nutrition. Pet food manufacturers produce products in line with the FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry Federation) Nutrition Guidelines and the NRC Guidelines (National Research Council).

These guidelines detail the nutritional requirements of dogs at varying life stages and they are regularly reviewed by independent nutrition experts throughout Europe and the United States.


There is also strict legislation governing the ingredients that can be used in the manufacture of pet food. This legislation is laid down by Europe and also applies to pet foods that are commercially prepared and imported into Europe.

Pet nutrition and food technology has transformed the pet food industry over the years. It is recognized even by the veterinary profession that dogs live longer, live healthier lives and enjoy a better quality of life in general, as a direct result of improved food nutrition.

Characteristics of a satisfactory Dog Food:

Complete– provides adequate amounts of all the required nutrients
Balanced – the nutrients are present in the correct proportions
Digestible–  your dog is able to digest the food and absorb the nutrients
Palatable– appealing enough to be eaten
Safe – free of toxins or anything which could harm a pet


Meats are generally a good source of protein, essential fatty acids, iron and some B group vitamins. They also increase the palatability of a product and are highly digestible.

The animal based materials used in pet foods come from animals which are veterinary inspected and are passed as fit for human consumption but which are often surplus to the requirements of the human food industry. These materials meet the very high safety and quality criteria laid down in the Animal By-Products Regulations 2005.

The quality of meats used in dog foods is often on a par with that used in the preparation of foods for humans.

Fish is a good source of high quality protein. Fish muscle contains iodine, and because bones are frequently ground down when preparing the fish, a good source of calcium and phosphorus is also provided.

The flesh of oily fish contains vitamin A & D and omega 3. Fish are commonly divided into two groups; white fish - haddock, plaice, cod, whiting and sole; oily fish - herring, pilchards, mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon and trout

Dairy products and eggs provide high quality and digestible protein. Dairy products also provide calcium and a number of vitamins..

Vegetables provide a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Soya beans also provide a source of protein and energy, omega 6, B vitamins fibre and minerals.

Cereals provide an important source of energy, a proportion of protein and other nutrients including thiamine and niacin.

Although dogs have no absolute dietary requirement for carbohydrates, they present an excellent energy source in an easily digestible form.

Good sources of carbohydrates in pet foods are usually cereal based such as corn (maize), rice, wheat, barley or sorghum. Certain fibres for example, moderately fermentable fibres such as beet pulp or rice bran) can also have additional beneficial effects on the health of the digestive tract.

Fats and oils provide a supply of energy and essential fatty acids. They are important for optimal health, including kidney function, reproduction and a glossy coat. There are 2 different types of essential fatty acids (EFAs) – omega 3 & 6. Some fats also supply a source of vitamins A, D, E & K.

A supplementary supply of vitamins and minerals may be added to ensure dogs are receiving the required daily dietary intake.

Sodium is an essential nutrient for dogs and along with chloride is important for fluid balance in the body. Good sources of sodium in dog food include meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Sodium may also be included in prepared pet foods in the form of table salt (sometimes listed on the ingredients panel as salt) to enhance taste.

NB The National Research Council lays down guidelines on sodium levels for dogs and cats. Although sodium levels in human food can present a human health issue due to the risk of hypertension, sodium levels in prepared pet food are not a cause for concern in healthy adult dogs and cats.

The physiological make up of a pet animal is quite distinct from that of a human. Healthy dogs and cats are actually able to consume diets with higher sodium levels than those found in most prepared pet foods without any adverse effects such as increased blood pressure or gain in body water.

Various Sugars is a category description, which can refer to sucrose (cane sugar, commonly known as table sugar), fructose and glucose, all of which are natural products present in fruit, vegetables and cereals.

Some manufacturers may add sugar to pet foods as an energy source. Dogs can easily convert sugar in to usable energy through normal digestion.

Manufacturers may also add very small amounts of sugar to assist with the cooking process. When sugar is cooked along with meat it results in browning of the meat and the production of natural sugars, this provides a pleasing colour and enhances palatability.

If sugar is included in addition to that which naturally occurs in the ingredients, levels are carefully controlled to ensure nutritional balance and palatability

Additives which can be used in pet foods include vitamins, flavours, preservatives, antioxidants and colours. Most of the additives used in pet food are also used in our foods.

Preservatives can be artificial or natural, but either way they work by preventing the spoilage of food ingredients just like in our food.. It is therefore critical to have methods to prevent this deterioration and maintain high quality, nutritious, and palatable foods.

Canned pet foods are protected from spoilage by their airtight storage in the can, but dry foods, even with modern packaging, must include preservatives to maintain the quality and safety of the food.

Natural preservatives, tocopherols (vitamin E) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), are the most commonly used in pet food. All preservatives either artificial or natural must be included in the ingredient list on the food's label.

Antioxidants Dietary antioxidants play a substantial role in the long term health and well being of dogs. Some manufacturers may add biological antioxidants e.g. vitamins C & E and selenium, to pet foods to help support good health and neutralise free radicals.

Any pet owner who is interested in obtaining further information on the ingredients of a specific pet food product should look at the label on the packaging. If there are any additives present this will be indicated by a statement such as, “Contains EC permitted antioxidant”.  There are contact details on the label usually, through which comments and questions can be raised.