Like all other living creatures, dogs need a balanced diet to stay alive and healthy. A balanced diet is a diet, which is nutritionally complete and contains just the right amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals, based on the right calorie intake of your dog. These nutrients must be present, not only in the correct amounts, but also in the correct proportion to each other to provide a nutritionally complete and balanced food. These amounts and proportions may vary depending on the dog’s age, level of activity and physiological state, such as being pregnant or lactating.

A diet of muscle meat alone is not suitable for any dog – the main problem with this type of diet is that muscle meat contains relatively little calcium and relatively high levels of phosphorus, supplying the dog with an inadequate calcium to phosphorus ratio. The ancestors of our pet dogs would have consumed not just the muscle, but whole body of their prey including the bones, internal organs, intestinal contents, skin and hair. These would have provided the essential nutrients which would be missing from a purely muscle meat diet.

Many dog owners like to give their pet treats and snacks. This is not only an important part of the special relationship between dog and owner, but certain snacks can also have positive health benefits, for example the chewing of a specially designed dental chew to exercise the jaw and help to keep teeth clean. It is, however, important that snacks and treats are used for the purpose described and do not exceed 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake.

Calories

As in humans, it is important for dogs to have the right balance between calorie intake and calorie expenditure. This balance is influenced by a number of factors, such as age, physiological state and level of activity. Growing puppies, pregnant and lactating bitches and working dogs need relatively more calories compared to normal adult dogs, whereas inactive individuals will need less.

The best way to assess whether your dog’s calorie intake is appropriate, or too high or too low, is by regularly checking his weight and ensuring that he is neither gaining nor losing weight and body condition. If a dog receives too many calories, these will be stored as body fat and he will become overweight, if he receives too little he will burn his body fat resources and lose weight. Dietary calories are also often referred to as ‘energy’.

Protein

Proteins are large molecules, which are made up of long chains of their smaller sub-units, amino acids. There are about 20 different amino acids commonly found within the animal’s body. These may be arranged in many different combinations to give an almost infinite variety of naturally occurring proteins with different characteristic properties. Proteins are essential components of living cells with a number of important functions including the regulation of metabolism, supporting the structure of cell walls and forming muscle fibres. Proteins are therefore essential for body tissue growth and body tissue repair. They are also an important source of calories in the dog’s diet.

Dogs need dietary protein to provide specific amino acids, which their body cannot synthesise at an adequate rate. These are called ‘essential’ amino acids and must be provided in sufficient amounts in the dog’s diet. The dog therefore has a minimum requirement for his overall protein intake, as well as for the intake of the individual essential amino acids, which must be met by the chosen diet. Protein requirements are highest during tissue growth and repair, such as in puppies, pregnant and lactating bitches, working dogs and convalescent animals.

Despite some popular belief, high protein levels can be fed to normal healthy dogs. Some people believe that changing a dog’s diet, specifically his protein intake, can modify his behaviour. However, a recent study of protein intake and behaviour in dogs suggests that changes in the protein levels fed within the range normally found in pet foods does not seem to alter the behaviour of most dogs and is therefore not useful in the treatment of behavioural problems. Changes in behaviour may be seen in dogs, who show an allergic reaction to a food component. Various proteins, such as beef, lamb, fish and others can cause allergies in rare individual cases. In the affected patient, the allergic response can lead to extreme itchiness of the skin. Excessive scratching and licking of affected skin areas may be reported as strange behaviour by the individual dog’s owner.

Historically, there has also been a belief that reducing protein intake, particularly in older dogs, will relieve “stress” on the kidney function and thus may help to prevent kidney disease. Recent research has, however, shown that this is not substantiated and that protein intake in normal, healthy dogs has no harmful effects on the kidneys.

Fat

Dietary fat serves as the most concentrated source of calories in the diet and lends palatability and texture to foods. Chemically, fats consist of fatty acids and glycerol. There are many different fatty acids found in foods, such as saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. There is one fatty acid – linoleic acid – which is essential for the dog and needs to be provided in his diet in order to ensure good health. Studies by WALTHAM have shown that the intake of adequate levels of linoleic acid, in combination with the mineral zinc, can also significantly improve the skin and coat quality in dogs. Linoleic acid is found abundantly in sunflower oil, which is a high quality ingredient of many pet foods.

Fat also carries the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which are crucial for the dog’s health and well-being. As fat is very calorie dense, a high fat level may be appropriate in dogs with a poor body condition or very high calorie requirements, who need a concentrated source of energy. In normal, moderately active animals, fat levels should, however, be well controlled in order to avoid excess weight gain and obesity.

Carbohydrate

There is no known dietary requirement for carbohydrates in dogs, which means that the dog can live well on a carbohydrate-free diet. Carbohydrates are, however, an excellent source of calories and thus an important ingredient in most dog foods.

Dietary fibres are a specific group of carbohydrates, which are known to play an important role in the digestive physiology and health of humans, as well as pets. Studies by WALTHAM have shown that the inclusion of certain dietary fibres, such as sugar beet pulp, can help to support gastrointestinal health in dogs and therefore play an important role in the dog’s nutrition.

Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds, which help to regulate the animal’s body processes. Most vitamins cannot be synthesised within the body and must therefore be present in the diet.

Vitamins can be divided into 2 categories, the fat-soluble and the water-soluble vitamins. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K can be stored in the fat tissue within the body and there is therefore less of a risk of the dog developing a deficiency when the intake is limited, e.g. when the dog is in appetent for a period of time. However, because these vitamins are stored, there is a higher risk of accumulation within the body when their intake is excessive. The feeding of high amounts of fresh liver can, for example, lead to an excessive intake of vitamin A with typical symptoms of vitamin A-toxicity. In healthy animals, there is no need to supplement a commercially prepared balanced dog food with further vitamins, there may even be a risk of supplying too many consequently leading to vitamin toxicity.

The water-soluble B-group vitamins cannot be stored over longer periods of time and need to be supplied on a regular basis, ideally daily. Whereas humans require vitamin C in their diet, the dog is able to synthesise vitamin C within his body and does not rely on its dietary intake. Vitamin C is, however, an important dietary antioxidant, which may help prevent cell damage from free radicals, such as seen in the ageing process. The B-group vitamins, such as vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 (cobalamin), are however essential and must be supplied in the dog’s diet.

Minerals

Minerals are inorganic nutrients, which can be divided into macro- and micro-minerals (also referred to as trace elements). There are many different minerals, which play very different roles in the metabolism and function of the body.

Calcium and Phosphorus

Calcium and phosphorus are the major minerals involved in the structure of the bones and teeth. Both the levels, as well as the proportions of calcium and phosphorus (or the ratio of calcium to phosphorus) within the diet are of great importance. This ratio is particularly critical in growing puppies, and here particularly in large and giant breeds. A deficiency, or an excess of these minerals, as well as an imbalance can cause severe skeletal deformities. Supplementing a diet balanced for growth with bone meal and the like must therefore be strictly avoided. Fresh muscle meat is sometimes seen as a healthy and natural diet for a dog, however, muscle tissue is very low in calcium and relatively high in phosphorus and does not meet a dog’s calcium requirement when fed alone.

Recommended Ca:P Ratio
Adult

0.5:1 – 2:1

Growth

1.0:1 – 1.5:1

Gestation/Lactation

0.80:1 – 1.5:1

The requirements for calcium and phosphorus, in particular the required calcium to phosphorus ratio, change as puppies grow older and become adult. All dog foods supported by WALTHAM ensure that you feed the appropriate calcium to phosphorus ratio during all your dog’s different life stages.

Other Minerals

Other important minerals include potassium, sodium and magnesium. Important trace elements are iron, copper, manganese, zinc and selenium – to name just a few. They play a variety of different roles within the body and its metabolism, and all need to be provided within the dog’s diet on a regular basis.

Water

Water is easily forgotten in the list of nutrients, but is a vital part of the dog’s diet and is indeed essential to life. The need for water is second only to the need for oxygen; life may continue for weeks without the consumption of food, but only a few days or even hours – depending on the environmental conditions – without the supply of water.

Water fulfils many roles within the body; it is a solvent and is thus involved in the complex chemistry of cell metabolism. Water is the principle constituent of blood and therefore plays a crucial role in transporting nutrients to the different body tissues and removing metabolites from the dog’s system.

Water also contributes to the body’s temperature regulation. Firstly, blood transports heat away from the internal organs thereby preventing dangerous temperature increases, redirecting the heat to the skin surface where it is absorbed by the environment. Water also plays a role in temperature regulation through the evaporation of water from the skin.

Additionally, water is essential for the digestion of nutrients, as well as the elimination of undesired substances through the kidneys.

This information is referenced from the Waltham website which can be located at www.waltham.com

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