Most dog foods on the market today are meant to be the only source of nutrition for our dogs. You will find the words “complete and balanced” printed on back of the bag. Foods must meet nutritional standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). It is important to note that a dog food that meets AAFCO standards is not necessarily precisely balanced. To prove they are healthy, foods must either be made from a recipe that meets certain requirements, or they must be put through a special feeding trial.
Maintenance dog foods contain anywhere between 30-70% carbohydrates. Dogs are omnivores, meaning they can process carbohydrates as a source of energy. Common cereal grains such as wheat, corn, rice, barley, and oats give kibbles structure and texture. An ingredient such as beet pulp, which contains carbohydrates that are less digestible (fiber), helps keep dogs "regular." Fiber also helps keep the animal feeling full longer, decreasing the amount of food needed, and preventing obesity.
One of the most important nutrients for dogs is protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks that create strong muscles and repair body tissues. Because the dog can only make half of the amino acids he needs, the other amino acids (called essential amino acids) must be provided by the diet. Common ingredients such as chicken, egg, beef, turkey, lamb, soybeans, and fish meal provide necessary protein levels.
Dogs require a balance of fatty acids that must come from the food they eat. Fats provide energy, as well as taste and flavor to foods. They also help the animal to absorb certain vitamins. Fat in the diet provides healthy skin and a shiny, healthy coat. Quality fats used in dog foods include poultry fat, vegetable oil, soybean oil, and fish oil. A balanced diet provides about 10-15% fat.
Last, but not least, essential vitamins and minerals must be added to a dog food recipe to maintain good health. Vitamins and minerals are found in many common foods, including fruits and vegetables. This is why these ingredients are often used in dog foods.
Sometimes vitamins and minerals are added in the form of powdered premixes, but they can also come from other ingredients like legumes, grains, meats, fruits, and vegetables.
And don’t forget, a healthy diet is not complete without the addition of fresh, clean drinking water. Water is essential to eliminate wastes from the body, regulate body temperature, transport nutrients around the body, and prevent dehydration. While there is some moisture still present in dry dog food kibbles, dogs should be given a source of quality water available at all times, in addition to a healthy, balanced diet.