Feeding and Nutrition, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs, Water, Proteins, Carbohydrates, Vitamins, Minerals, Fats.

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Feeding and Nutrition
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Nutrient Requirements of Dogs

In order to stay healthy, there are six essential nutrients that all dogs in every stage of life need in varied amounts:

WaterLarge quantities of water are needed daily to prevent dehydration and for normal bodily function.
ProteinsProteins are the building blocks of muscle, connective tissue, enzymes, and hormones.
CarbohydratesThese are sources of energy, sugars, and fiber for normal digestion.
FatsFats are essential for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. They provide a storage for energy in times of fasting, provide fatty acids for the coat, and make food more palatable.
VitaminsVitamins are needed in small quantities for bodily functions.
MineralsMinerals are needed for strong bones, cellular function, and cell stability.

1. Water

Water is the single most important nutrient. The reason is, life can continue for weeks without nutrients in the food groups, but without water, clinical dehydration occurs within days. Severe dehydration is terminal. There are two ways to naturally get water: by drinking and by consuming water in foods.

Most dogs self-regulate their water. This means they sense their body dehydrating and seek water. Therefore, water should always be available. Several factors can increase their water requirements and intake: heat, humidity, exercise, salty foods, and water loss from the body (fever, vomiting, and diarrhea).

2. Proteins

Proteins are the building blocks muscle and connective tissues. Dogs get their protein in their diet-usually from animal-based ingredients and certain bean products. Proteins are digested and broken down into amino acids, which are used in the production of muscle fibers, hormones, and enzymes. There are 22 different amino acids. Some of these can be manufactured by the dog's liver. Others must be taken in their diet. These indispensable amino acids are called essential amino acids.

We grade proteins as either low or high quality. High-quality proteins are ones that meet three requirements. The first is that the proteins have a high biologic value, which is the percentage that is absorbed and used by the body. Poor quality proteins are not retained by the body, and they are excreted in the urine. Another feature of a high-quality protein is that it contains many essential amino acids. Digestibility is the third factor to qualify a protein as high quality. This means that the protein is actually digested, and doesn't just pass in the feces.

High-quality proteins can be found in animal-source foods such as beef, lamb, and poultry. Meat by-products and vegetable sources (such as soybean) are not as good. The quality of the protein becomes more important when there is a deficiency of it in the diet. The minimum protein level in a puppy's diet should be around 25 percent. For the body to use the most protein from the food as it can, there has to be a certain amount of calories in the food. In other words, there may be lots of high-quality protein in the diet, but if there aren't enough high-energy calories, the body can't use the protein.

If there is more than the dog can use, the rest will be excreted in the urine. This means that the proteins have to be filtered through the kidneys. All this excess filtering is very stressful to the kidneys. Therefore, when it comes to protein, more isn't necessarily better. Stick to a diet that has high-quality protein that is 23 percent on a dry basis (versus wet food).

3. Carbohydrates

This group of nutrients contains starches, sugars, and fiber. Breads, pasta, cereal, rice, potatoes, vegetables, biscuits, cookies, and grains are all carbohydrates. Carbohydrates supply the majority of energy in a dog's diet. If too many carbohydrates are eaten, they don't get excreted out of the body like protein, they get stored as fat. Carbohydrates are needed for the body to use proteins, but too many carbohydrates leads to obesity. There must be a balance between sugars and fiber for proper digestion. Fiber should be between 3 percent to 4 percent of the diet on a dry basis (versus wet food).

4. Fats

There has been a lot of publicity about fats lately, most of it bad. In people, diets high in fats have been linked to heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer. The saturated fats seem to be more the culprit. Saturated fats are found in animal fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and tropical oils such as palm, seed, and coconut oils. The unsaturated fats found in unprocessed vegetable oils seem to be the healthiest ones.

First, fats are needed in the diet to allow absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (namely, A, D, E, and K). Second, fats contain essential fatty acids needed for the synthesis of cell membranes, hormones, and a healthy coat and skin. Deficiencies of fatty acids lead to skin and coat problems. Third, fats make foods palatable, meaning tasty. Fourth, fats are easily digested and are stored as a quickly mobilized energy source-namely, fat. In other words, if a diet rich in fats and oils is eaten regularly, the excess fats will end up as fatty deposits. Premium puppy foods generally are not less than 20 percent fat on a dry basis (versus wet food), due to the high demands for fats in this age group.

5. Vitamins

Do you need to give vitamins to your puppy? The answer is a bit complicated. Let's start by saying that most of the commercial dog foods on the market are "complete and balanced"-they contain the daily requirements for all nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Most experts agree that it is better to get vitamins from natural sources than from vitamin tablets. If, however, you have a puppy that is very athletic or works every day, he will have a higher requirement for these nutrients. Talk to your veterinarian about supplements in such cases.

6. Minerals

Minerals are fundamental building blocks of bone and teeth and are needed for cellular functions. Minerals are also salts, which are crucial to maintaining tissues and cells. Some are needed in fairly large amounts in the diet, including:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • sodium
  • zinc

Others, like copper and iodine, are only needed in trace amounts, also from the diet.