Dog food is not exactly the same as people food but many of the ingredients work the same way as those in human food. By understanding the components of the food and how it breaks down in their bodies and why certain ingredients are needed, you can make the best decision as to which brand to purchase.
The purpose of carbs in a dog’s system is to provide energy. Carbohydrates are found in sugar, starch, and some fibers.
Some dog foods use cereal products as fillers or cheaper ingredients but these products are also important in any dog food. A starch is a like a long chain of sugar that needs to be broken down in the body before it can be used; this is unlike simple sugar which doesn’t need that further digesting before it gets broken down and absorbed.
As with humans, when dogs ingest too many carbs that they don’t burn off through activity, these are then converted to glycogen and then fat, which is stored in the muscles and other areas of the body.
As humans can get diabetes from an overabundance of sugar in their system, dogs can contract or develop diabetes mellitus which is when the pancreas produces too little insulin. You can be aware of symptoms such as increased thirst and urination, generalize weakness, and fatigue. When there are low levels of insulin in the system the sugar in the blood cannot be broken down in the muscles for fuel and then builds up in the bloodstream.
Carbs are found in grains such as rice, oats, barley or meal, or high-starch vegetables such as corn or lima beans. These items should make up no more of 50% of dry dog food; if any of these items are listed first in the ingredients then chances are it’s much more concentrated with carbs.
Most dog treats are also made of a high concentration of carbs and sugar, another reason why these treats should be limited to a reasonable amount.
Just like humans, dogs need some fat in their diet in order to be healthy. Fat itself is not dangerous; it is the excessive consumption of it that then becomes a problem.
Fat contains concentrated forms of energy; they are one of the components that is broken down for energy when a dog is active, along with carbohydrates. However fat is very calorie-dense meaning that there is a lot of calories in not a lot of fat, so any animal, dogs or humans, that consume more fat than they burn off by way of physical activity will have that fat stored in the body.
Omega fatty acids.
In both humans and animals, fats are necessary for healthy skin and hair (or fur in your dog’s case). The oils in fats feed the skin to keep it soft and protect it from small cuts and breaking or abrasions. Hair is kept soft and smooth and fed through those omega fatty acids.
Some fats that are essential for health are not produced by the body and need to be ingested through food.
A lack of these essential fatty acids can result in dry and flaky skin and coarse hair. This is not only painful for a dog it also means not being protected from harsh weather and elements.
Watching fat intake.
As with humans, a dog’s body weight is a ratio of calories ingested versus calories burned. Too many calories eaten versus what is burned through physical activity will result in those extra calories being stored as body fat.
So while fat is essential for a dog’s health it’s also important to be balanced. When a dog is overweight it’s time to cut back on the sugar, fat, or both in the animal’s diet.
Protein is one of the most important nutrients that a dog can eat; when you think of a dog in the wild you realize how much protein is in their diet!
This element is needed to feed muscles and tissue, along with the blood and immune functions, as well as providing a good source of energy.
Amino acids are essentially the makeup of proteins; different forms of protein are made up by different links and quantities of these amino acids.
What dogs require by way of protein.
When a dog has inadequate amounts of protein in her system she can suffer from poor muscle tone and anemia. She may also be more susceptible to diseases and sicknesses as her immune system is often compromised.
Most dogs require protein at about 25% of their dietary composition. This is one reason that meats should be listed as a first ingredient in any dog food.
It’s also very important that a dog’s source of protein be from more than one source. Not all forms of protein have an adequate supply of different amino acids that are necessary for her health. Simply relying on one type of meat or high-protein vegetable to provide protein will not be enough. With meats you should also try soybean or corn ingredients.
Fiber is a substance found in plants that is very difficult for the body to digest. It binds to food and helps it move through the digestive system, softening stools and helping with elimination. It also helps to stimulate the muscles of the digestive system when it is time for elimination, keeping a dog regular.
A lack of fiber is one major cause of many gastrointestinal diseases in both humans and dogs. Without enough fiber dogs can be constipated and suffer from hardened stools that are difficult to pass.
Certain fiber elements are used by second-rate pet food manufacturers as filler ingredients and have little benefit, but many of these ingredients are important if used in proper proportion. It is also believed that fiber can slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream which can ward off the condition of diabetes in dogs.
Fiber with weight loss.
Fiber also helps a dog to feel full and allows her to moderate her own portions. This helps to keep dogs at a healthy weight. Many dog foods made for weight loss have a higher concentration of fiber than other products.
Sources of fiber.
There is no fiber in meat so this needs to come from plants and other elements. Good sources of fiber in dog foods include bran of all sorts (rice, wheat or oat), soybeans, apple and tomato pulp (which may be referred to as pomace), or pulp from other citrus fruits.
DOGS NEED VITAMINS TOO
Most humans know that they need vitamins but very few have any idea what each particular vitamin does or why it’s particularly necessary.
Animals too need vitamins and very often for the same reasons that people do.
Fat soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K and need dietary fat in order to be absorbed properly in the system. Water soluble vitamins include B and C and need adequate amounts of water to be absorbed properly.
Most dog foods have a good supply of vitamins for dogs and they typically don’t require supplements if they are eating a complete brand of dog food.
Very often you hear of a food being advertised as high in beta-carotene; this is just a fancy term for vitamin A, which is important for the dog’s eyes, immune system, and growth.
Vitamin D is both a vitamin and technically a hormone, and assists in the body’s absorption of calcium which is important for strong teeth and bones. This is vitally important in humans but especially in dogs as they are usually much more physically active, putting pressure on their bones, and they use their teeth more readily for tearing meat and other foods.
Animals get vitamin D from their foods but also from the rays of the sun; if your dog is indoors quite a bit or if you live in a climate that is not very sunny, you may need to consider a vitamin D supplement.
Antioxidants are those substances that protect the body’s cells from free radicals or those agents that attack healthy cell membranes. Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant and protects the body’s cells from these free radicals. It is also a natural moisturizer that nourishes and protects skin, teeth and fur.
We don’t often hear a lot about vitamin K but this is a substance that appears naturally in green leafy plants and vegetables. Its major function is to work as a clotting agent within the blood so that the body can protect itself from cuts and abrasions and to ensure proper blood circulation.
There are many different vitamins that fall in the B category, including B1, B2, B6, and B12, along with several others. The B vitamins are not stored in the body but need to be ingested every day through one’s food or a supplement. The B vitamins are necessary for energy as they help to metabolize proteins, fats and carbs.
Humans need vitamin C in order to produce collagen in their system, but dogs seem to not have any real requirements for this vitamin in their system.
OTHER DOG FOOD COMPONENTS
People often know that they need their “vitamins and minerals” but rarely do people know what minerals actually are. When taking care of a dog’s nutritional needs it’s important to know what all these minerals are and how important each one is to the dog’s overall health. One of the reasons for this is that dogs are usually much more physically active than even humans, which means that their overall health and ability to
Minerals refer to elements such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese, as well as others. These elements help to grow bones and cartilage, develop the muscles and nerves as well as hormones, and many other important functions.
Calcium and phosphorus.
Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth; many people know this. But what is also important is the level of phosphorus to the calcium as well. Usually it’s good to have one part calcium to 1 part phosphorus. Without phosphorus the bones may not be able to grow appropriately and protect themselves from stress fractures and the like.
Iron is very important for proper blood production in the body and for the blood to transport oxygen in order to supply it to all cells. Too little iron could result in anemia which in turn leads to weakness and fatigue.
The body uses sodium as something of a transporter; it takes nutrients to the cells of the body and removes waste material from each cell as well. Sodium also works to balance the water levels between tissues and organs.
The mineral zinc helps to bolster the immune system and also helps the body to absorb proteins and use them appropriately. In dogs, zinc also helps to protect some cells from damage due to oxidation or exposure to the outside elements.
It may seem actually dangerous to include manganese in a dog’s diet as it is a metal element that gives steel added strength. However, in small amounts manganese actually helps to activate certain enzymes in the dog’s body that produce energy and regulate metabolism. This is especially important in very active dogs.
PUTTING THIS ALL TOGETHER
There just aren’t enough doggy dieticians these days to give you a personal recommendation for your dog and her own particular needs. But now that you understand the important components in any dog’s diet you can then make a better choice when it comes to the brand of dog food you choose.
Read the ingredients; as with food sold for humans, the ingredients need to be listed in order of volume, which means the first item listed makes up most of the food, the second item a bit less, and down the list.
As an example, consider some leading brands of dog food and what recommends them by way of ingredients:
Innova contains no grains but relies on potatoes for their carbs. Meat is also the top four ingredients, including chicken, turkey, chicken meal, and turkey meal. Additional meats are also added in smaller amounts. Apples, carrots, tomatoes, eggs and cottage cheese are also added in.
Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul Dry
Meat is the first four ingredients of this brand; chicken, turkey, chicken meal and turkey meal top the list. Rice is used as their carbohydrates and there are no chemical preservatives used. Additionally, this brand contains no yellow corn or cornmeal, something that many experts say is overused in many brands of dog food.
Canidae Wet Dog Food
Canidae uses only meats that are hormone free for its foods and human-grade meats are the first ingredients, including chicken, lamb, chicken liver, and chicken broth. Rice and barley are also used as it’s carbs.
WHAT TO AVOID
All dog foods advertise that they have “complete nutrition” and are perfect for your dog; whatever you do, don’t believe the hype. Many dogs have suffered a myriad of illnesses because their owners have purchased whatever is the cheapest, whatever they have a coupon for, or whatever brand has nice lettering on the package.
Typically dog food brands that have corn or cornmeal listed as their first ingredient should be avoided as this is a filler and shouldn’t be the main ingredient. Wheat and wheat flour is also a filler and should be listed at the bottom of the ingredients, if at all.
Because your dog needs a variety of sources for its protein, be sure your brand has more than one type of meat as well.
Moist dog foods have a higher concentration of fat and fatty acids. This is good to a certain extent but of course you dog shouldn’t have its main diet be comprised of moist dog foods.