We all know how important a balanced diet is for humans. If you don’t eat any vegetables or choose to survive only on tomatoes, there are some serious consequences for your health. But how does this concept of a ‘balanced diet’ break down for our dogs? What nutrients do they need and why? In this article, we explore what a ‘balanced’ diet means for your dog in terms nutritional requirements and its effects.

Why does this knowledge matter?

It’s easy to believe that the companies selling dog food have done their research and all you need to do is pop into the nearest store and buy a packet. After all, they have expensive labs and sink millions into market research. How can you compete?

And that is partly true—most dog food comes carefully mixed and calibrated with the nutrients that your dog needs. But if you don't know what you’re looking for and why, you won’t know what is the perfect fit for your beloved pet. You won't be able to sift through the products to differentiate between good dog food and bad, and you won’t know the right mix of ‘balanced’ to suit your dog’s breed and lifestyle.

A dog is a complex living organism and it takes a range of nutrients to ensure they are perfectly healthy. Knowledge is power—and this is power you need to give your dog the happy and healthy lifestyle they deserve.

Nutrients that your dog needs

So what should you be looking out for? Here are some basic nutritional building blocks you should consider in a diet and how they relate to your dog.

Proteins – All good dog food should have high-quality protein (usually chicken or beef). It is the first thing to look out for when choosing dog food. Proteins are the building blocks of all living organisms and are responsible for repairing cells and making new ones. They are a necessary nutritional requirement to help your dog build muscle and be stronger.

Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are a main source of energy for your dog, which is important if you have a high-powered dog that loves to play. They also provide fiber, which aids digestion. Digestion is responsible for how well your dog absorbs the nutrients they are receiving into their body, so it is a crucial part of the process. Proteins are usually supplied by meats, eggs, dairy products and certain legumes.

Fatty acids – Oils and fatty acids have several positive effects for your dog. Omega-6 fatty acids help circulation and clotting, among other benefits. These acids are found in most vegetable oils, such as sunflower, rapeseed and soy. A steady supply of omega-3 fatty acids as part of a high-quality diet for your dog will keep their skin moisturized and healthy, as well as give them a thick and luscious coat, a sure sign of a well-kept dog. Moreover, omega-3 fatty acids keep your dog mentally agile, which may become more and more important as your pet grows older. These acids can be found in marine sources, such as fish and fish oil.

Vitamins and minerals – Dogs need a complex range of vitamins and minerals to stay at peak health. Vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, calcium and iron, perform a range of tasks. They can help keep arthritis at bay, and gift your dog with stronger bones, better vision and a life that is mostly disease-free. Vitamins and minerals are found in a wide range of food. They can also be provided as supplements .

Defining ‘balanced’

Knowing what goes into a balanced diet is just the first step. Your dog is unique. They are of a particular breed, have a lifestyle that belongs only to them and play routines that won’t be shared with other dogs. It is important to take all of these things into account when considering what ‘balanced’ means for your dog and when deciding their nutritional requirements.

For example, if your dog is a high-energy dog that goes on long weekend hikes with you, you will need a diet that reflects this strenuous activity. Similarly, if your dog’s breed is prone to a certain disease, then you would need to take steps to mitigate the risk early on. For instance, Australian terriers run a greater risk of diabetes and diets that are low in sugar are better for them.

Also consider where your dog is in their life-cycle. Puppies need more high-quality protein because they are growing. A senior dog would require fewer carbohydrates and would need more nutrients to offset the process of ageing.

Possible dangers

Here are some things you should keep an eye out for when choosing a high-quality diet for your dog.

Bio-availabilityBio-availability essentially refers to how easy it is for your dog to absorb the nutrients into their body. If a nutrient has low bio-availability, it would be more difficult for your dog to absorb its benefits into their system.

Dye – Some food products can have dye in them to make the product look more appealing (to humans, not to dogs). This can be harmful for your dog and it is best to steer clear of them.

Low-quality food – Several low-quality foods make up their calorie counts by putting extra fat and grain into the food. This can lead to diabetes and obesity in your dog, which cause a number of related health diseases.

We know the range of nutritional requirements to take into account can seem overwhelming, but simply arming yourself with this knowledge is such a powerful step. Always check with your vet if you are unsure of what your beloved pet needs or if they are experiencing health problems. Expert opinion can guide you to the right shore.