The Basics of Pet Nutrition

Nutrient Guidlines

  • The Association of American Feed Control Officials sets nutrient guidelines that most pet food manufacturers follow. Check the package label for a statement saying the food is formulated to meet AAFCO nutrient guidelines for complete and balanced nutrition, or that feeding trials following AAFCO guidelines have substantiated that it provides complete nutrition.
  • Along with that statement, the label should give the life stage the food is suited for. An example is puppies should be eating food labeled for growth or for all life stages.

Basic Nutrient Requirements

  • Protein
    • This provides essential amino acids the body needs. Natural sources of complete amino acids are milk, eggs, meat, and soybeans.
    • The amount required is determined by many factors (see below).
    • Higher amounts are needed during growth and exertion.
  • Fats (Oils)
    • These increase the palatability of the food (makes it taste better).
    • They provide essential amino acids.
    • They also provide essential fatty acids.
    • Fats in the diet help with absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
    • Excess fats will lead to obesity.
    • Higher amounts are needed during growth, lactation, and exertion.
  • Carbohydrates (starches)
    • They are not essential in cat diets but cats can utilize them for energy.
    • Controversial as to the need in dog diets.
    • Breads/Pastas/Grains/Starchy Vegetables/Beans/Milk/Yogurt are some of the more common foods we might feed our pets.
    • When properly prepared, carbohydrates are well utilized by normal dogs.
    • Some starches (like potatoes, oats and corn) may be poorly digested unless first subjected to cooking or heating used in the processing of pet foods.
    • High levels of raw starch can lead to diarrhea.
    • Carbohydrates are an inexpensive source of energy.
  • Fiber
    • Some is digested and used for energy
    • Absorb water and produce a larger stool (pet will defecate less often)
    • Stimulate and maintain intestinal action (important for older and inactive animals)
    • Aids in the prevention of constipation and other intestinal problems
  • Energy (puppy/kitten, adult, & senior)
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins

Nutritional Factors

Consider the following to determine what type and how much food is appropriate for your pet.

  1. Size of pet
  2. Age of pet (puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs and senior pets)
  3. Work performed (house pet versus service dog or working dog)
  4. Temperament of the pet (an anxious dog may require more nutrients than a laid back dog)
  5. Environmental factors (temperature, stress)
  6. Hormonal balance (spayed or neutered because their activity level may decrease)
  7. Health (kidney disease, liver disease, cardiac disease etc.)

Something to keep in mind: Pet foods are recommending feeding guidelines based on an active lifestyle. Most of our pets that spend all or most of their time indoors lead a sedentary life style. This means you should be feeding less than, or the lower end of, the recommended amount of food. Obesity is the most common problem we see with our pets today. Veterinarians grade them on a scale of 1–5 or 1–9. Our pets should fall in the 2.5–3 of 5, or in the 4 of 9 category. Most pet owners feel that their pet is too thin at this weight, but it is ideal. Our culture has become accustomed to thinking that being over-weight is normal for our cats and dogs.

Harmful Foods

    • avocados
    • chocolate
    • grapes
    • raisins
    • macadamia nuts
    • dough made with yeast
    • onion
    • garlic
    • chives
    • milk
    • large amounts of dairy products such as cheese
    • alcohol
    • coffee and caffeine
    • raw potatoes
    • salty food, such as potato chips
    • food sweetened with xylitol, such as gum, baked goods, and candy. Xylitol, also used in products such as toothpaste and some peanut butters can cause liver failure in dogs.

For more information on your pet’s basic nutritional needs, check out these websites:

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