Top 5 nutrient requirements in dog food for every life phase

01-03 | |
Top 5 nutrient requirements in dog food for every life phase
Nowadays, many dogs are viewed as family members, and they are being fed and nurtured with the goal of improving their health, welfare, longevity, and quality of life. Photo: Canva

A complete and balanced dog food comprises of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. It is essential to understand the role of each nutrient and the amount needed for a healthy dog at all life stages.

Pet ownership has increased significantly over the past 3 decades. As of 2024, approximately 70% of the US households own at least one pet, accounting for more than 163.4 million pets including 77.8 million dogs. Due to the growing number of dogs in households, the pet food industry is developing dynamically. Nowadays, many dogs are viewed as family members, and they are being fed and nurtured with the goal of improving their health, welfare, longevity, and quality of life. This article will discuss the top 5 nutrients in a balanced dog food.


Proteins in dog food are essential in the formation and maintenance of cartilage, tendons, muscle, skin, hair, nail, blood, and ligaments. Essential amino acids cannot be synthesised in a dog’s body and must be supplied in the diet. Essential amino acids provide the building blocks for various biologically active compounds and proteins and donate the carbon chains needed to make glucose for energy. High-quality proteins contain a proper balance of all essential amino acids. Animal-based proteins have the highest amounts of essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins have a lower digestibility since dogs cannot digest plant fibre easily. Protein quality is defined as the amount of the protein source converted into essential amino acids and used by the body and it depends on the protein source, number of amino acids in the food, and availability. The minimum dietary protein requirement is 18% dry matter for a growing dog, and 8% dry matter for an adult dog.


Dietary fats are mainly derived from animal fats and the seed oils of various plants providing the most concentrated form of energy in pet foods. Fats provide essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesised in the body. Essential fatty acids are necessary to maintain healthy skin and coat quality and to serve as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins.

In addition, fat increases the taste and texture of dog food. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are 2 important polyunsaturated fatty acids. High-fat diets increase the risk of obesity and require an increase in vitamin E supplementation for antioxidant protection. Fat requirement for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins is 1% to 2% of the food.


Carbohydrates are the main source of dietary fibre in dog food, and they provide energy in the form of glucose. Fibres are a form of carbohydrate that maintains gut health and function and the total dietary fibre is composed of soluble fibres that come from fruits, seeds, and plants and insoluble fibres that come from grains. Carbohydrates in dog food generally include barley, oats, brown rice, whole wheat, whole corn, potato, millet, and gluten. Dry dog foods typically contain 30-60% carbohydrates with the majority being starch; however, there is no specific required amount of carbohydrates for dogs.


Vitamins have a diverse function in a dog’s body including,  DNA synthesis,  Bone development, Blood clotting and  Neurologic function.

  • Vitamin A:  is essential for normal vision, growth, reproduction, immune function, and healthy skin. Vitamin A deficiency leads to motor and vision impairment, skin lesions, respiratory ailments, and increased susceptibility to infections.
  • Vitamin D:  helps the intestine with absorption and retains calcium and phosphorus in the bone. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets, enlarged joints, and osteoporosis.
  • Vitamin E: functions as an antioxidant in the body. Vitamin E deficiency causes skeletal muscle breakdown, reproductive failure, and retinal degeneration.
  • Vitamin K: is involved in blood clotting and bone development and vitamin K deficiency causes prolonged clotting times and haemorrhage.
  • Vitamin B
    – Vitamin B1
    is involved in many enzymatic reactions in the body and helps with the nervous system and its deficiency leads to brain lesion, neurological abnormalities, heart damage, and death.
    – Vitamin B6 is involved in amino acid metabolism and its deficiency results in compromised cardiovascular function.
    – Vitamin B3 is involved in many enzymatic and physiologic reactions, and its deficiency leads to lower feed intake, diarrhoea, soft tissue damage, and death.
    – Vitamin B9 is involved in DNA synthesis and its deficiency causes lower feed intake and weight gain, decreased immune function, and blood issues.


Minerals are categorised as macro-minerals and trace minerals, and they are involved in body function and structure.

Macro-minerals including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride are required at greater than 100mg/Mcal in dog food. Calcium and phosphorus are crucial to strong bones and teeth. Magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride are essential for nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction, and cell signalling.

Trace minerals including iron, copper, zinc, manganese, selenium, and iodine are required at less than 100mg/Mcal. Iron is involved in oxygen transport throughout the body, copper and zinc are involved in formation and actions of different enzymes, magnesium is essential for carbohydrate metabolism, selenium plays a role in immune system function, and iodine regulates thyroid function.

* References are available upon request.

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Samaneh Azarpajouh Author, veterinarian
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