Ensuring that the body receives the right amount of nutrients is important for both dogs and humans; it’s only that the proportions are different for each species. Veterinarians are often cautious about endorsing home-cooked meals because they suspect the average recipe may be missing many of the vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. While there are some vitamins and minerals that need to be supplemented, some are actually manufactured within your dog’s body and others can be met through modest servings of fresh foods. The following is an overview of the nutrients necessary for good health, their functions, and examples of how they are met through fresh foods.
While the category of proteins earns most of the attention when talking about dog food, it’s the amino acids that makeup proteins that are truly important. In the digestive system, acids and enzymes break the proteins consumed down into amino acids, which are then utilized by the body to create cells, muscles, hormones, antibodies, blood, and even other amino acids. Of the 22 amino acids that a dog’s body needs, 12 can be synthesized from other amino acids in the diet. The remaining 10 are called essential amino acids and need to be supplied in sufficient quantities for the body’s functions. Protein sources are measured for how readily they are absorbed and utilized on a scale of biological value. Eggs earn the top rating of 94 percent, followed by fish at 76 percent, and beef at 74 percent; most grains earn values in the 60 percent range. The higher the quality of a protein source, the less protein needs to be consumed. When it comes to energy, the body’s preferred source is fat and carbohydrates. When excess protein is consumed, some of the amino acids can be stored, although not to the extent of fat and carbohydrates. Too much protein puts additional stress on the kidneys, so dogs fighting illnesses should follow their veterinarian’s recommendation for protein content. The recommendation for the average adult dog is 18 percent protein, whereas growing puppies, working dogs, and lactating bitches require 28 percent.
While most nutrients have a set requirement, carbohydrates are the one nutrient for which it is really up to you as a pet owner to decide how much your dog receives. Dogs do not have a biological requirement for carbohydrates, and they’re quite happy with a bowl full of meat for dinner. However, there are many reasons why including grains and vegetables are beneficial as part of a meal:
As a source of energy, carbohydrates are more readily used than protein and lower in calories than fat.
Carbohydrates slow digestion, allowing other nutrients more time to be absorbed and keeping your pet feeling fuller longer.
Carbohydrates are a good source of essential vitamins, minerals, and the antioxidants that are not present in proteins or fats. Carbohydrates are less expensive than protein.
The growth and production of grains and vegetables have less of an impact on the environment, requiring less land, water, carbon emissions, and fossil fuels to deliver the same amount of calories as protein sources.
A concern with many commercial foods, especially those of lower quality, is that they are so high in carbohydrates because their protein sources originate largely from plant material as well. The amount of carbohydrates in your dog’s diet is a choice for you to make, incorporating your own values and economics, and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. This book contains a variety of recipes for you to choose from that are grain free, low in carbohydrates, or contain a sensible balance of protein and carbohydrates.
When a pet consumes carbohydrates, fiber rides along. Fiber remains largely undigested and slows the digestive system to balance the water content in the intestines, creating a healthy colon and increasing the amount of flora in the digestive tract to aid in the resistance to bacteria and intestinal disorders. Only a modest amount of fiber (less than 5 percent) is needed because excess can encourage gas depending on the rate at which it is fermented.
Like carbohydrates and proteins, fats can cause obesity when consumed in excess. They have 225 percent as many calories per gram as either protein or carbohydrates. However, it’s important to include fats in a diet because of their role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K; the production of hormones; the health of hair and skin; in increasing immunity; and as a source of energy. There are two types of essential fatty acids:
Omega-6 fatty acids are abundant in most diets that contain vegetable oils or animal fats; 1½ teaspoons of corn oil provides enough of the linoleic acid to meet a 40-pound dog’s daily requirements. Omega-6 fatty acids also partner with zinc to create a healthy coat. However, an excess of omega-6 fatty acids (or more than 4 times the recommended daily allowance) can increase chemicals in the body that cause inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in high concentrations in fish and fish oil; a ¼ teaspoon of salmon oil or as little as 1 tablespoon of mackerel will provide enough to meet a 40-pound dog’s daily requirement. Omega-3 fatty acids are strong anti-inflammatory agents that reduce the risk of heart disease, aid wound repair, and improve immunity. Despite these benefits, no requirement has been set by the AAFCO because there have been no studies to show that a deficiency causes issues. Because omega-3 fatty acids are worth including to aid your dog’s overall health, there are recipes containing fish in each section of this book so that you can provide these nutritional powerhouses to your dog.