Most diets contain a certain percentage of carbohydrates although they are not considered essential nutrients for dogs. Sugars and starches, which formulate the class of digestible carbohydrates, are metabolized during digestion into glucose. Glucose provides energy, dispenses amino acids and helps synthesize fats. Healthy dogs can easily digest cooked starches, while raw starches are more difficult on their systems. Carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen, or animal starch and fat. This excess stored food is often the cause of obesity. Carbohydrates provide an inexpensive alternative to protein and fats. Most commercial dog foods contain a large percentage of digestible carbohydrates.

Although fiber is not essential in a dog's diet, soluble fibers such as fruit or oat bran play a role in helping maintain proper hydration, in regulating nutrient absorption, and in preserving a healthy intestinal tract. Insoluble fibers, such as wheat bran or cellulose are commonly added to dog foods to add bulk without adding calories. The same effect may be obtained by adding fresh, raw vegetables such as carrots, broccoli or cauliflower to your dog's diet.

Dogs can digest and digest high levels of dietary fat, which is considered an excellent and concentrated source of energy. Fats are also highly palatable (tasty!) and break down slowly, satisfying the appetite between meals. However, fats should not constitute more than 20% of the average dog's diet.

Fats provide essential fatty acids and carry the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K, throughout the dog's system. The essential fatty acids help regulate such functions as muscle contractions, blood clotting, allergic reactions and add luster to the coat. A deficiency in essential fatty acids results in a rough, dry coat, dandruff, and retarded growth of puppies, reproduction problems, chronic pancreatitis, gall bladder disease, liver disease, and general poor health.

Fortunately dogs do not suffer from heart disease caused by fats or cholesterol, but a diet high in fats can contribute to another dangerous condition, obesity. High fat diets may also deplete the body's store of fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin E. Such diets increase the risk of gall bladder disease, pancreatitis and diarrhea. Fatty acid supplements, if used, should always be fortified with Vitamin E. A diet high in fats should only be fed to very active working dogs, puppies or lactating bitches and only under the advice of a veterinarian.


Since dogs vary so much in size and activity level, it is difficult to give a generalized statement as to the protein requirements of dogs. However, the higher the activity level, the greater the need for protein. Amino acids is the nitrogen-containing main components of protein. The essential amino acids required by dogs are arginine, leucine, methionine, histidine, isoleucine, lysine, phenylalaline, tryptophan, valine and threonine. Foods and proteins that contain all these nutrients in ideal proportions are called "high quality". The digestibility (ease of digestion) of a protein also affects how the body will absorb the protein. Generally speaking, meat proteins are more digestible than vegetable protein, and thus are a more efficient and valuable source of amino acid.

A diet deficient in either individual amino acids or insufficient quantity of protein can result in poor growth, weight loss, loss of appetite, loss of muscle tone, dull, brittle or rough coat, impaired immune system, blood protein depletion or even death. Dogs with kidney failure or a tendency toward kidney disease may be advised to stay away from protein-rich diets.

There are two kinds of vitamins, fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) or water-soluble (C and B vitamins). Vitamin supplements, except when recommended by your veterinarian during periods of illness, are generally unnecessary and can be detrimental. The best way to meet vitamin requirements is through a carefully balanced diet.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins:
Vitamin A is necessary for normal growth, reproduction, mucous membranes, skin cell surface lining, immune functions and vision. Vitamin A-rich foods, such as liver or other organ meats, must be included in limited quantity in a dog's diet. However, both excess and a deficiency of Vitamin A can cause very serious problems. Deficiency symptoms include lack of appetite, stunted growth, skeletal abnormalities, weight loss, night blindness, skin lesions and brain damage. Excess (such as a diet mainly of liver) can cause a degenerative disease of the vertebrae and loss of teeth.

Vitamin D helps metabolize calcium and phosphorus. It is necessary for maintaining blood calcium levels and for the formation of bones. In puppies, a deficiency of this vitamin causes the bone-deforming disease called rickets. Dogs require controlled doses of Vitamin D added to their diets. Excess dose of vitamin D causes heavy calcium deposits to form on the organs such as kidneys, heart and blood vessels, which can result in death if not corrected in time. Calcium deposits on the kidneys are usually irreversible.

Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant, protecting fats present in the body from oxidation and maintaining the structure of muscle cells. Vitamin E is found in good quantity in egg yolk, wheat germ, soybeans, vegetable oils, whole grain cereals and liver.

Vitamin K, necessary for blood clotting, is generally found in sufficient quantity in the intestinal bacteria of the dog's body. Taken in very large quantities, Vitamin K can cause toxic conditions such as blood abnormalities and anemia.

Water Soluble Vitamins:
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) helps metabolize carbohydrates for energy. When there is a thiamine deficiency, neurological disorders may develop. Such deficiency disorders are treated by dosages of thiamine. Sources of thiamine include: chicken, beef, kidney, liver, egg yolk, peas, potatoes, milk and whole-grain cereals.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) deficiency does not usually occur except in periods of great demand on the body, such as lactation, or severe illness in puppies. Deficiency problems can include weight or hair loss, loss of appetite, reduced fertility or cataracts on the eyes.

Pyridoxine, Vitamin B6, helps enzymes metabolize protein and is necessary for normal immune system functions. B6 deficiency causes symptoms that include weight loss, convulsions, kidney disease and anemia. Foods rich in B6 are fish, liver, legumes, wheat germ, whole wheat, brewer's yeast and milk.

Vitamin B12 contributes to red blood cell production and the synthesis of nucleic acids (genetic components). Feeding dogs raw egg whites impairs absorption of an important component of this vitamin called biotin. Cooking eggs and their whites avoids this problem. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also be a concern for dogs fed an exclusively vegetarian diet, although with care and appropriate supplementation, dogs can do well on this diet. B12 deficiency causes anemia (low red blood cell count), which is easily reversible through injections of Vitamin B12.

Vitamin C is normally synthesized in the liver from glucose, but in conditions of illness or for active, working dogs, supplements are often given. Vitamin C is water soluble and quickly eliminated in the urine.

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