Much like their owners, dogs benefit from healthy diets in a variety of ways. A healthy diet provides the energy dogs need to be active, and that activity allows them to maintain healthy weights. Dogs that eat healthy diets also are less susceptible to illness.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes that many high-end commercial dog foods already boast the nutrients dogs need to live long and healthy lives, but dog owners may not know which ingredients to look for when reading pet food labels. According to the ASPCA, the following are a handful of essential nutrients that should be included in dogs' diets.
• Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are a valuable source of energy for dogs' body tissues and play a role in intestinal health. Fiber is a good source of carbohydrates for dogs, but the fiber must be a moderately fermentable fiber, such as beet pulp, for dogs to get the most benefit. Highly fermentable fiber can lead to flatulence and excess mucus, while low fermentability can lead to poor development. The ASPCA recommends that dog owners avoid feeding high-fiber foods to dogs with high-energy requirements, which include young and growing dogs.
• Fats: Fats are a great energy source for dogs, providing more than twice the energy of proteins and carbohydrates. Fats also play an essential role in the production of hormones, and they are necessary to absorb and utilize fat-soluble vitamins. A dog's diet must include essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, as dogs cannot synthesize them in sufficient amounts on their own. Replacing some omega-6 fatty acids with omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation resulting from allergies, arthritis, intestinal issues, and kidney problems. The ASPCA notes that the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is between 5 and 10 to 1 and that it is impossible to determine this ratio when feeding dogs homecooked foods, as only fixed-formula foods can guarantee an appropriate ratio.
• Minerals: Minerals help dogs develop strong bones and teeth and maintain fluid balance. Dogs cannot naturally synthesize minerals, so minerals must be provided in dogs' diets.
• Protein: The ASPCA notes that proteins are essential to dog health, playing a vital role in their growth, ability to reproduce and ability to repair and maintain their bodies. Numerous food sources can provide dogs with adequate protein, but the ASPCA warns against giving dogs raw eggs, which contain a potentially harmful anti-vitamin known as avidin, which can interfere with a dog's ability to properly metabolize fats, glucose, amino acids, and energy. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and those known as essential amino acids cannot be synthesized by dogs, meaning they must be provided in a diet.
• Vitamins: Vitamins promote normal metabolic function in dogs, and most vitamins cannot be synthesized in dogs' bodies. While vitamins are essential, the ASPCA notes that vitamin supplements should only be given to dogs on the advice of a veterinarian, as excess vitamins in the body can weaken dogs' bones and result in bone and join pain as well as dry skin.
• Water: Fresh, clean water should be available to dogs at all times. Dogs will get some water from the food they eat, as the ASPCA notes that dry dog food has up to 10 percent moisture and canned dog food has up to 78 percent moisture. But an adult dog still needs more water than its food can provide. Water accounts for anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of an adult dog's body weight, and a 15 percent decline in that body water can cause death, making it imperative that owners routinely refill their dogs' bowls with fresh, clean water.
More information about healthy dog diets is available at www.aspca.org.