Imagine a wolf in the wild: his diet is primarily prey, consisting mainly of meat and bones. When in survival mode and food is scarce, a wolf eats fruits and vegetables in limited amounts. You never see a wolf grazing in a cornfield. Your dog is descended from the wolf, and his diet should be, too.
Meat, Meat, Meat
The most important ingredient in your dog's diet should be meat. And it should not be just any kind of meat, but high-quality muscle meat, organ meat and bones. According to veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker, dogs need 22 different amino acids that can only come from meat proteins. The best protein sources come from fresh, raw meats. If you prefer to feed a canned or kibble food, choose a grain-free food with higher levels of protein (10 percent for canned or 30 percent for kibble). Avoid foods with meat byproducts, corn, wheat and soy. Be sure to also provide fresh water at all times if you feed a kibble food, as protein requires significant moisture in the food to be processed efficiently.
Fats, Especially the Essential Ones
Fats are an important part of a dog's diet. Unlike people who eat too much fat and become obese, dogs need a moderate level of fat to be healthy. Generally, dogs need between 15 to 20 percent in their food for optimum health, although some medical conditions may require lower fats. Puppies need at least 30 percent fat in their diets for proper growth and development. They use fats in the same way humans use carbohydrates, needing the fats for energy. Fats also help dogs absorb important vitamins. Essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, have to be supplied in the diet because a dog's body can't produce them from other ingredients. These essential fatty acids are critical for every cell in the body to function normally. Omega-6 is in found in poultry fats, eggs and organ meats. Omega-3 is primarily found in fish oils and flax. Be sure to pick a food that contains adequate levels of fat for adults or puppies and includes sources of omega-3 and omega-6.
No Carbohydrates Needed
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Dogs don't need carbohydrates. According to the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, dogs have no nutritional need for them. Unfortunately, many commercial dog foods contain more than 50 percent grains. These ingredients are cheaper than more quality ingredients, so dog food manufacturers use them to make their foods less expensive to buy. But carbohydrates are hard for dogs to digest, especially if they aren't processed properly. While a small amount of carbohydrates can be healthy for dogs, try to choose foods with more nutritious sources like sweet potatoes, peas, oats or tapioca instead of filler ingredients like corn, wheat and soy.
If you feed your dog a raw or home-cooked diet, you are already including fresh ingredients. But if you feed canned or kibble, consider adding some fresh foods. Pumpkin and sweet potatoes are good sources of fiber. Carrots, broccoli and spinach add vitamins to your dog's diet. Berries, bananas, apples and pears are good sources of antioxidants. Be sure to use organic whenever possible, and puree or finely chop fruits and vegetables, as dogs don't have the enzymes to break down the cell walls in plants. You can also add cooked meat to your dog's diet, but it's not a good idea to add raw meat to kibble or canned food since the different digestion times could make your dog sick.