Nutrition 101: A Guide To Ensuring Your Dog Eats A Healthy Diet

Nutrition 101 A Guide To Ensuring Your Dog Eats A Healthy Diet


Woman preparing a healthy diet for her dog

Every animal has certain dietary requirements to live a long and healthy life. As humans, we know that we need variety in our diets, and from school we learn how we should maintain a balanced diet with our meats, carb heavy foods and fruits and vegetables, while also monitoring fat intake and sugars. 

But what about our pets? We do not learn about their diets when we are children, and there is no easy guide for exactly what dietary requirements and nutritional needs our pets have. So, how can you know exactly what you should feed your dog to ensure they have a healthy diet? 

This is why you are here, and why we have covered all the essential information here so that you can ensure Fido feeds well. Just like us, animals need a balanced diet with quality foods and plenty of nutrition to give them the energy that they need. 

So, the big question is, what should you be feeding your dog?


Energy Needs & Diet: A Connection

Energy Needs & Diet A Connection

Most people will know that energy and diet are one and the same, the right foods will give us energy to face the day, and this is no different with dogs. As we know, if you do not get the right foods in your diet you can feel tired, lethargic, and down. Dogs love to run around and play, and so their diet needs to be enough to provide them with the energy they need to be able to do so.

The amount you feed your dog should always be based on size/energy

The ideal method to determine just how many calories your dog should be eating is to know what your dog’s weight should be, and then feed them in accordance with that weight, however, this would require constant monitoring, and it just is not ideal. Therefore, a good way to understand how you can gain this knowledge is to seek out your vet. A veterinarian can give you an estimate on how many calories your dog needs to eat every day based on their lifestyle and the condition of their body. 

The typical formula for doing this for an average adult dog that lives in your home and gets regular light exercise each day, and if they are spayed or neutered, is; 30 x kg weight (lbs divided by 2.2) + 70. 

However, it is important to note that few dogs are “average” and this formula is basically just guidelines. Many dogs will require fewer calories, whereas others will require more. Age and breed also need to be taken into account, a Blue Heeler will have higher energy requirements than a Labrador, and a young Blue Heeler and an elderly Blue Heeler will also have different requirements. As each dog is different, it is best to consult your veterinarian on your dog’s needs. 

And remember that your dog’s daily calorie needs do not just mean their meals, but also snacks and treats. So, if your dog were to need to lose some weight, then you could expect your veterinarian to suggest a caloric restriction which is often around 70- 90% of the calculated amount for weight maintenance. 

Important for growth and normal energy requirements

Each dog will have different energy requirements, and these can be affected by multiple varying factors, however, meeting these requirements are vital to sustain their lifestyle. The factors that can affect the requirements of your dog can include; growth, reproduction, age groups, activity level, breed, and medical and behavioral conditions. 

A vast majority of energy in any diet will come from fats and proteins, followed closely by carbohydrates. The energy content of a diet will determine the quality of the food consumed, and how much of it should then be consumed daily. The diet should meet daily energy requirements of your dog’s individual needs. Of course, this doesn’t just stand for dogs, but for any animal, including you. It is important that diet should meet energy requirements whether you are a dog, cat, horse, human, or even an insect. 

All nutrients in a diet should be balanced to ensure that they are able to be absorbed properly by the body and that the body can then use them appropriately. If the diet doesn’t get the energy it needs, then you will discover that your dog’s gastrointestinal tract will be physically incapable of consuming enough of the diet to get their required nutritional value. 

What do we mean by this? Well, for example, dogs that eat a diet that is very high in energy will eat a smaller amount. It is important in cases like this to ensure that the percentage of other required nutrients is high enough to meet the smaller volume of food consumed. The only way to determine the diet is enough is to study the food and ensure that these ingredients are enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle for your dog. 

Nutritional Requirements

Nutritional Requirements

Before you go to make any decisions around your dogs’ food, you need to have a basic understanding of what makes up a healthy canine diet. The nutrients we and our pets consume, will provide our bodies with the necessary ingredients for optimal functioning. 

For most animals, these are typically the same, with the number one nutrient being water for every living creature on the planet. 

Five basic nutrients- water, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins

Water is the first nutrient you need to consider. It is very important in the diet of every living thing on the planet. You should ensure that your dog always has access to fresh water from a clean bowl. Some people may limit a dogs’ water supply or remove it in the evenings to avoid late-night bathroom needs or to assist in training your dog, however it is not fair, nor is it healthy for your dog in the long term. Water allows the body to stay hydrated, regulate body temperature, aid in digestion, lubricate muscle tissues, flush away bacteria that can cause UTI’s, easy constipation and transport oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. 

You should also consider the cleanliness of the water that you give your dog. A majority of tap water will contain chemical additives, such as fluoride and chlorine, as well as the potential for heavy metals such as lead and cadmium, these can be harmful to your dog and their health. It is true that dogs will drink from ponds, puddles, and disgustingly, the toilet too. These are filled with bacteria and parasites, so it is best to reduce the potential for any infection by providing your dog with only bottled or filtered water and trying to minimize any access to other water sources, which could be dangerous. 

Next is fats, these are the main source of energy and calories, and in a dog’s diet that provide the most concentrated source of food based energy. We will talk about these later, but it is important to consider the usefulness of these nutrients.

Carbohydrates are one of the three major nutrients you get in food, and they are another main source of energy. Dogs who are sedentary will have a lower energy requirement than other more active dogs. A majority of commercial dog food will contain as much as 30 to 60% carbohydrates, as a minimum proportion of starch is needed in the formula. Dogs cannot digest uncooked grain as easily as meat, and therefore if grains are fed to your dog, they need to be cooked to be digested properly. With rice or other grains, it is important to simmer them until they are soft and add a little extra flavor with broth. Good carbohydrates for dogs include rice, corn, potatoes, barley, and whole grain breads. 

We cannot forget vitamins and minerals, as one thing a dog’s body cannot do on its own is make any vitamins, although, vitamin C is an exception to this. Vitamins like iron, magnesium, and calcium are all essential and can be found in; bread, dairy, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk. 

A majority of commercial pet food manufacturers will claim that their products are complete and balanced. However, they may lose vitamins and minerals in the heating process. There is much debate around whether a dog’s diet should be supplemented with vitamins and minerals, therefore if you wish to do so, you should consult a holistic veterinarian before you do. 

Proteins and amino acids

Proteins are a vital part of a dog’s diet, they build and maintain muscles, organs, bones, body tissues, hair, nails, blood, and the immune system. There are a lot of foods that contain protein, however, the best sources are beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, grains, and soy. 

Adopted dogs may have a history of poor nutrition, and if this is the case, then they may be at risk for developing a protein deficiency. You should watch out for this as it can be dangerous. Signs of this can include several symptoms such as; dry and brittle fur, poor muscular development, anemia, growth problems, and a weakened immune system. 

If your dog is adopted, and they come to you with one or more of these symptoms, it is important that you speak to your local veterinarian. 

If your dog has protein levels that exceed their minimum requirement then this does not pose a problem to them as long as they are healthy, however, if your dog has impaired kidney or liver function, or an allergy to a particular source of protein then this is something to be cautious of. You can discover if this is the case as your veterinarian can monitor their organ function with regular blood tests. 

Unlike you may expect, it has been found that healthy senior dogs may actually need significantly more protein than their younger counterparts, as they will metabolize protein less efficiently. As we noted, age can be a factor in the dietary requirements, and this can be one of them. 

Fats and fatty acids

We mentioned fats before, and now we will get into more detail about them. We know that this is the main source of energy in your dog’s diet, and they provide the most concentrated source of energy in foods. One gram of fat contains more than twice the amount of energy of one gram of protein or carbohydrates. Fats are needed for healthy skin, a healthy coat, brain, eyes, and other bodily tissues. 

You can get fats such as; chicken fat, lamb fat, sunflower oils, and herring oils. 

Fatty acids on the other hand can be classified as both essential and nonessential. Nonessential fatty acids can be synthesized within a dog’s body at a level that meets their requirements, on the other hand, essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized, and therefore they have to be supplied in your dog’s diet. 

Dogs do require one essential fatty acid, which is linoleic acid, a type of omega-6 fatty acid. This is a fatty acid that helps the body do several things. Including; 

  • Clot blood after an injury. 
  • Maintain a healthy coat and healthy skin. 
  • Respond to injuries and infections by boosting the immune system. 
  • Aids in normal reproduction. 
  • Regulate blood flow to body tissues.

This is a fatty acid that can often be found in grains and animal fats, and it is provided at appropriate levels in higher quality commercial dog foods. It is always worth checking if this fatty acid is in your dog’s diet. 

Foods to Feed Your Dog

Foods To Feed Your Dog

Knowing your dog’s nutrient needs is part of the way to ensuring your dog has a perfect and healthy diet. However, to really provide your dog with all the nutrients and dietary fulfillment, you really need to know exactly what you should be feeding your dog.

We know that dogs are carnivores right, so this will have us assume they need a diet that is meat based. As a species, dogs are a member of the scientific order ‘Carnivora’, which is a large group of mammalian animals that share a similar tooth structure. The dietary needs of animals in this order varies. Some members will have an absolute requirement for meat in their diet, whereas others can meet their requirements through eating plant materials, or in some cases a mixture of both. Cats are an example of an obligate carnivore- eating meat and only meat. Cows are herbivores eating only plant matter, and then humans and dogs are both omnivores. 

Due to the dietary requirements that dogs have, their tooth structure and their intestines have become adapted to eating an omnivorous diet. This means that dogs will meet their nutritional needs by eating both plant based and animal based foods.

So, what should you be feeding Fido?  

Humans and dogs can share several common foods that are packed with nutrition 

There are plenty of foods which you and your dog can share. While there are plenty of foods that you should not share with your dog, such as chocolate, you can share other foods with your pup. Sometimes these foods, in reasonable amounts, can be very beneficial and provide both you and your dog with nutrition. 

Rice is a good example of this. It is rich in carbohydrates and can alleviate stomach upsets. It can help in weight management in the case you’re taking a weight loss journey with your dog. Furthermore, it also contains iron, vitamins B3 and D, and it is also suitable for daily eating as it doesn’t contain cholesterol or sodium. Just make sure you boil the rice, so it is well cooked beforehand and do not give them water right after rice meals. 

Yogurt is also good, be it cold or at room temperature. Sugar-free yogurt is the perfect treat, being rich in calcium and loaded with probiotics to fight off infection, it enhances digestion and assimilation of food. It also helps to promote bone health as well. 

Apples are also suitable, rich in vitamins A and C, they are a source of antioxidants, and have a high fiber content. They also protect your dog’s skin and coat as well. 

Oatmeal is also fantastic, loaded with carbs. They are also rich in vitamin B5, Omega 6 fatty acid and soluble fiber. This is great if your pooch is allergic to wheat as it can help them to meet their daily fiber intake, and it is actually a very common ingredient in dog foods. 

Fruit and vegetables

Dogs can also eat fruits and vegetables. There are some super foods that lay in this category that you can share with your pup and get healthy and fit together. 

One of these is Kale, it is a supercharged leafy vegetable that is high in multiple vitamins including Vitamins A, E, and C. It is also a great source of antioxidants and helps the liver detoxify the body. However, if your pet has any bladder stones or kidney disease, it is best avoided. 

Carrots are also a great crunchy snack, they are crunchy and naturally sweet. As well as this they also have plenty of fiber, vitamin C, K and potassium. They also have magnesium, manganese, and most of the B vitamins and phosphorus, which is a requirement for the production of energy. 

Pumpkin is also a great dog snack. It is low in calories and high in soluble fiber. Pumpkin helps to maintain a healthy digestive tract. Being low in sodium and high in carotenoids, potassium, and vitamin C, it also has calcium and B vitamins. If you try to get some organic puréed pumpkin, be sure that it is pure and not to be used as a pie filling with sugar and spices added. If you cannot find decent puréed pumpkin, just wait for Halloween, and you will see how much Fido loves it!

Remember that dogs do not require fruit and veg in their diet and that for the most part these are snacks and treats and should be given in moderation. The main part of their diet should be proper dog food. 


Fish is great for both people and dogs. Oily fishes such as herring, sardines, salmon, anchovies, and mackerel, are all bursting with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 does wonders for the skin, coat, and brain, and they also limit inflammatory processes that cause arthritic pain and other similar chronic canine problems. If your dog does suffer with any of these conditions, ask your vet if fish oil in a capsule form may also help. 

Fish are also an amazing source of protein too, with many essential vitamins and minerals. This is a super food for both you and Fido to feel fighting fit. 

Top Nutritional Tips 

Top Nutritional Tips

A balanced diet is imperative for us and for our pets. Having the right nutrients can help us stay as healthy as possible and always have the energy we need to face the day. Your pup is no different. So, we have some top tips for you so that your dog is always ready and raring to go, thanks for being full of good nutrients. 

Feed your dog the highest quality of food you can afford. 

It may seem like stating the obvious, but you should always try to buy the highest quality food you can for your dog. Obviously, not everyone can afford top of the line food for Fido, but buying the best you can afford is a good starting point. 

Similarly, while you may think that there is a difference in dry and wet food, there is not. The only consideration between what is best is down to your dog. If your dog has specific dietary needs or needs more water, then wet food is best. However, if not dry kibble will do well, in fact, some dry kibble rations have been specially made as a dental diet and can help to remove plaque from their teeth. 

Always refill your dogs’ water bowl. 

Your dog should always have enough water available to drink. Just like us, dogs need to stay hydrated, and while this can call for some unpleasantly timed toilet breaks, this is better than letting your dog become dehydrated. 

Always ensure that your dogs’ water bowl has plenty of water in it, and be sure to have good filtered water for this, so they have the best quality of water that will not be harmful to them. 

Feed your dog at least once a day. 

You should ensure that your pet eats every day. At least once a day is the bare minimum. One meal a day itself is generally not enough. Dogs should realistically have at least two meals each day, around 12 hours apart. However, the absolute best option is to have your dog eat with you, no we do not mean set a place for them at the dinner table. What we do mean is that your dog having the same meals as you; breakfast, lunch, and dinner is the best option. When you cook your meal, make sure your dog has something too. This is the best way to run food times for your dog and give them a schedule. 

While one meal a day is the bare minimum, this is still not good. A dog should have food at least once every 12 hours, if any more than 12 hours passes between food times this can make the stomach become hyperacidic which will cause nausea. 

If your dogs prefer grazing, meaning they do not finish all their food at once and return throughout the day, this is okay, however it is still good to involve them in the eating schedule, so that in the event that you got another pet there is a family routine and everyone gets their fill. 

Contact your vet if your dog’s eating/drinking habits change. 

In the event that you notice your dog’s eating and drinking habits change, you should contact your vet as soon as possible. When dogs typically eat on a regular schedule this becomes a strong habit, it will be easy to see at a mere glance if all the food is consumed. If food is left when it is not usually, or there are any changes in their typical eating behavior, this can be a signal that something is wrong. 

A break in eating habits in dogs can be a warning sign that there is illness. If this should happen, contact your vet as soon as you can and schedule an appointment. This is another good reason to have a strict routine, as routine will make it easier for you to notice if behavior changes, and therefore you can catch out any potential illness quickly. 

Foods To Avoid

Foods To Avoid

While dogs are considered to be omnivorous, and they can share much of the foods that we have, they cannot eat everything. We are sure that it doesn’t need to be said that you should feed your dog the leftovers from your super spicy curry, and almost everyone knows that chocolate is harmful to dogs. 

However, there are some other, less considered, foods that you should not feed to your dog. And there are also some foods that you can, but only in small amounts. 

While dogs can eat bananas in moderation this is a treat and not a main part of their diet, similarly, while you may like them do not give your dog avocado. 

It is also important that you remember that while we do consider dogs to be omnivorous, fruit and vegetables are not a requirement in their diet, and they do primarily consume meat, vegetables and fruits are simply treats that work as a good way to help them get more of the nutrients that they need.  

There are many foods that dogs can eat including blueberries, cantaloupe, cranberries, cucumbers and so on, these should all only be had in moderation and as a treat, your dog does not need to be eating a fruit salad. 

However, the things you need to avoid stringently can be toxic. 

Remember: Some foods are harmful to your dog

There are many foods that can be toxic to dogs, cherries are a good example of this. Something you may not consider but cherry plants actually contain cyanide, which if you’ve watched enough TV, you will know is toxic and very dangerous. While we can eat them, dog’s cannot. If your dog eats cherries, the cyanide will disrupt their cellular oxygen transport, and they can get cyanide poisoning. 

Similarly, dogs cannot eat grapes, grapes and raisins are toxic for any dog, they can even lead to acute and sudden kidney failure, so keep grapes and dogs far apart.  

Dogs should also not eat mushrooms or onions, so sorry Fido cannot lick the plate leftovers from your stir-fry. While only 50 to 100 of the 50,000 mushroom species are known to be toxic, the ones that are poisonous can go so far as to kill your dog. While most mushrooms at the supermarket should be fine, it’s best not to risk it. Onions, leeks, chives are all off the list, they come from a plant family called Allium and this is poisonous to most pets, especially cats. Eating onions can cause severe sickness in dogs too, while it is more serious in Japanese dog breeds it can be dangerous for any dogs. 

More foods you need to avoid include; Chocolate, macadamia nuts, artificial sweeteners  (found inside many goods including baked goods, candy, gum, toothpaste and some diet foods), alcohol, garlic, coffee, tea and other caffeinated food and beverages, milk and some dairy (especially in dogs with allergies), bones and fat trimmings, persimmons, peaches, plums, raw eggs, raw meat and fish, salt, sugary food and drink, yeast dough, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg and spices.


Kids feeding their dog

Ensuring your dog is healthy is key to any owner of a pup, but understanding their dietary requirements can be tricky, the best thing you can do is consider where they get their energy from and purchase the best dog food you can, rather than trying to whip something up yourself. When it comes to treats, be mindful of what they can and cannot have, and if you give them human food, be sure to do so in small amounts. 

The most important thing of all is to ensure that they are hydrated, with a full water bowl at all times, and that they don’t eat anything they shouldn’t.

Avatar photo
Written by Vanessa

Read more of 's articles.