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4 nutrients dogs need – according to aafco

by Jenya Rubanova |

“What nutrients does my dog need to be healthy?” is what every pet parent wants to know when I talk to them. They know a healthy and balanced diet is important, but what does that mean? Surprisingly or not, most of the nutrients our dog's need are the same ones that our human body's demand as well in order to stay healthy.

With the help of AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, we have put together a quick guide to make sure you are feeding all the nutrients dogs need.

While AAFCO outlines the % of each nutrient dogs need that must be present in the daily diet, we believe that feeding your dog a variety of healthy, fresh foods will reach or exceed that amount over time. Thus, just like feeding yourself or your kids, you do not need to accurately measure each and every ingredient as long as there is a variety.

If you follow these basic guidelines, your dog will be off to a good start. We suggest keeping this list handy and making sure you are not missing something important in your dog’s diet.

protein for dogs

1. protein

Proteins are digested by acids and enzymes in the stomach and intestines and are converted to amino acids. The amino acids are then absorbed by the dog’s body to make its own proteins. Protein is the major structural component of hair, skin, nails, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. It helps your dog’s body build cells, break food into energy, fight diseases, and carry oxygen. High sources of protein include:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Beans*
  • Soy*

*Vegetarian sources of protein might not contain all essential amino acids your dog needs.

2. healthy fats

Fat has numerous benefits to the dog’s body. It is a great source of energy for the dogs and plays an important role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamin A, D, E, and K. Great sources of fat include:

  • Fish Oil
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Vegetable Oils
  • Nuts and seeds (avoid macadamia)

minerals for dogs

3. minerals

Minerals are nutrients that a dog’s body needs in order to function properly. They have a variety of functions in the body, such as providing skeletal support, aiding in nerve and transmission and muscle contraction, and help maintain water and electrolyte balance. A deficiency can surface when your dog’s body does not obtain or absorb the required amounts of the mineral. This is often seen with calcium deficiency because it is difficult to get enough of it from food. Mineral deficiencies can lead to a variety of health problems, such as weak bones, fatigue, or a decreased immune system.

Calcium helps your dog build and maintain healthy bones and teeth, and support nerve, muscle and heart function. A good rule of thumb is to add approximately 800 to 1,000 milligrams of calcium, or ½ teaspoon ground eggshell, per pound of fresh food for adult maintenance. You can read more about calcium for dogs here.

Phosphorus lends structural support to the skeleton and is involved in almost all of the body’s metabolic processes. Dogs with kidney disease can have trouble removing phosphorus from their blood, thus limiting their intake is important.

  • Fish, Meats, Poultry and Organ Meats
  • Dairy & Legumes (both calcium and phosphorus)

Chloride is needed to keep the proper balance of body fluids and is an essential part of digestive juices. It is found in the table and sea salt.

Magnesium is essential for the cellular metabolism of both carbohydrates and protein. Generally widespread in many food sources and abundant in the below.

  • Whole Grains and Legumes
  • Dairy Products

Iron helps dogs build healthy blood that carries oxygen to cells. Many animals are very efficient at conserving iron, so losses of this mineral are minimal.

  • Organ Meats (Liver and Kidney)
  • Meat
  • Egg Yolk
  • Fish
  • Legumes and Whole Grains

Copper is necessary for normal absorption and transport of dietary iron.

  • Liver
  • Bran and Germ portions of grains
  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale and Swiss chard)

Manganese is necessary for normal bone development and reproduction in dogs.

  • Legumes & Whole Grain cereals

Zinc is the second most commonly used mineral in your dog’s body. It is a powerful antioxidant that aids in various metabolic processes in the body.

  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Seafood (Halibut and Sardine)

Iodine is required by the body for the synthesis of hormones by the thyroid gland.

  • Seaweed
  • Kelp
  • Iodized Salt

Selenium helps protect your dog’s cell membranes from oxidative damage. Abundant in most foods, so naturally occurring deficiencies are rare.

  • Cereal Grains
  • Meat
  • Fish

Potassium is an electrolyte that keeps kidneys and heart functioning normally.

  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Whole-Grain cereals
  • Most Vegetables

Sodium helps maintain proper nerve and muscle cell function.

vitamins for dogs

4. vitamins

Dogs need vitamins for most of their metabolic reactions, for preventing disease and helping improve growth and reproduction. With a few exceptions, most vitamins cannot be synthesized by the dog’s body and must be supplied in food. Deficiencies in vitamins can cause a variety of problems, such as slow growth, impaired reproduction, skin lesions, hair loss, and lack of energy.

Vitamins are generally divided into two groups:

  • Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, & K)
  • Water-soluble vitamins (vitamin C & members of B-complex vitamin group)

Vitamin A, D, E and K are fat-soluble vitamins needed to perform a variety of functions in the body. Fat-soluble simply means that they get stored in the body’s fat tissue and are used over time. For this reason, it’s best not to over-supplement.

Vitamin A supports vision, bone growth and reproduction.

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Leafy greens
  • Fish oil
  • Egg yolks

Vitamin D helps regulate the balance and retention of calcium & phosphorus.

  • Marine fish & fish oils
  • Freshwater Fish
  • Egg Yolks

Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant.

  • Wheat Germ, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils

Vitamin K is best known for its blood clotting mechanism. However, a large portion of this requirement is synthesized by bacteria in the large intestine.

  • Spinach, kale, cabbage & cauliflower
  • Liver and Eggs


B vitamins are a class of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in your dog’s body. Most dogs will get the recommended amounts of these vitamins through their homemade diet. However, factors like age, dietary preferences, medical conditions, and genetics can increase the body’s demand for B vitamins. In these circumstances, supplementing with additional B vitamins may be necessary.

B-1 (Thiamine) is vital in its support of carbohydrate metabolism and healthy growth and function of organs. B-1 is a heat-liable vitamin (if you are worried, we suggest supplementing with wheat germ or nutritional yeast).

  • Lean Pork, Beef, Liver
  • Wheat Germ, Nutritional Yeast
  • Whole Grains, Legumes

B-2 (Riboflavin) is responsible for a number of bodily functions, such as breaking down fat. Because there is little storage of B-2 in the body, daily intake is critical.

  • Dairy Products
  • Organ and Muscle meat
  • Eggs
  • Green Plants
  • Yeast

B-3 (Niacin) helps dogs maintain healthy skin, nerves, and digestion.

  • Meat
  • Legumes and Grains

B-5 (Pantothenic Acid) occurs in all body tissues and in all forms of living tissue.

  • Organ Meat (liver and kidney)
  • Egg Yolk
  • Dairy
  • Legumes

B-6 (Pyridoxine) helps the body make new red blood cells.

  • Organ meats
  • Fish
  • Wheat Germ & Whole Grains

B-9 (Folic Acid) is used to make DNA and genetic material. It is synthesized by bacteria in the intestine and largely meets the daily requirements for dogs under normal circumstances.

  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Organ meats (liver and kidney)

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) plays an important role in intestinal health and brain function. Only found in foods of animal origin.

  • Meat, Poultry, Fish
  • Dairy
  • Nutritional Yeast

Choline is necessary for normal fatty acid transport within cells. Dogs are capable of making adequate choline sources and do not require a dietary source.

  • Egg Yolks
  • Organ Meat
  • Dairy
  • Whole Grain

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