Understanding the nutritional needs of dogs

A hungry dog with its bowl in its mouth

It’s difficult to generalize the nutritional needs of dogs. This is because characteristics such as their age and their morphology can have an influence on these needs. In this article, we will go over the nutritional needs of dogs and the various factors that influence their needs.

What factors influence the nutritional needs of dogs?

While it’s true that all dogs are part of the same species, it’s important to remember that so many different dog breeds exist. Depending on the dog breed, certain characteristics need to be taken into account to fully understand their daily nutritional needs.


Most estimations of a dog’s nutritional needs take into account an adult dog’s weight and lifestyle. For a personalized calculation, other characteristics such as breed, age, where they live, and the temperature should be taken into account. The size of the digestive system should be taken into account as well.

Your dog’s digestive capacity depends in some way on the size of their digestive system. Small dogs need a rich and concentrated diet. On the other hand, large dogs need a more easily digestible diet because their meals stay longer in the digestive system.


Many experts such as veterinarians, nutritionist, and breeders agree that primitive dog breeds have adapted to their environment. A few examples of primitive dog breeds include Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes. Because they have lived in environments that are difficult to live in, these breeds have learned to use less calories than other dogs in the same situation.

The same goes for Labradors and Retrievers that were used for hunting in environments with marshes and running water. These dog breeds have the particularity of loving to eat and stock their meals, which can make them easily become obese.

However, you should not focus solely on the dog breed when determining your dog’s nutritional needs. It depends on the characteristics of each individual as well as on their level of physical activity.


The color and length of a dog’s coat can also impact their nutritional needs. A dog’s coat is composed almost entirely out of proteins in the form of keratin. Keratin is made up mostly of sulfur-containing amino acids, notably cysteine.

Dogs with long coats and dense undercoats have particular nutritional needs, especially when it comes to protein. They require much more protein than short-haired dogs. If your dog’s diet isn’t rich enough in high quality proteins that are easy to digest, your pet could risk losing some of their fur or at least start to have drier and brittler fur.

The absence of certain amino acids, such as phenylalanine and tyrosine in particular, negatively influence the pigmentation of your dog’s coat. According to a study conducted on Newfoundland puppies and black Labrador puppies by Busch-Kschiewan and another study conducted in 2004, the level of amino acids necessary to guarantee the correct pigmentation of a dog’s coat is twice the amount of minimum needs to ensure the healthy growth of a dog.

Individual characteristics

Each dog possesses characteristics that are unique to them. Therefore, other factors that go beyond the breed and the coat, such as where they live, their level of physical activity, and their physiological characteristics need to also be taken into account.

For example, for puppies that are still growing, they need to have food that is richer in proteins than food for an adult dog of the same breed. In addition, the digestive capacities of a puppy are limited, their diet needs to be easier to digest and rich so that they can efficiently absorb the nutrients. You should also keep an eye on the amount of minerals that your dog absorbs. Even though they need a good amount, an excess can cause joint problems.

Based on your dog’s size as an adult, the amount of time they take to grow will be more or less long. For example, it takes around 4 to 5 months for a Chihuahua to reach the size of an adult Chihuahua. On the other hand, Alaskan Malamutes need to wait until they are around 10 months (or 12 months at most) to reach the size of an adult Alaskan Malamute. On top of that, they need to wait a few more months after that for their muscles to fully develop.

A dog eating out of its bowl for their nutritional needs
Multiple factors need to be taken into account when determining your dog’s nutritional needs.

Respecting your dog’s nutritional needs

Dogs are omnivores, meaning that they can eat any type of food. However, this does not take into account shoes and other objects that your dog likes to chew on. The different nutrients that your dog needs to grow fall into six categories. A balanced diet is the key to a healthy pet.

Water to keep themselves hydrated

For a dog to grow and live healthily, they need to drink water. Water makes up 60 to 70% of an adult dog’s body weight and on average they need to drink about 50 to 75 ml of water a day and per kilogram of their body weight.

Canned dog food provides dogs with around 78% of the water that they need. Kibble, on the other hand, provides around 10% of the water that they need. Therefore, you need to make sure that your dog always has access to water. When the temperatures rise, dogs can quickly become dehydrated. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that your dog drinks enough. When it’s hot, you can give your dog an ice cube instead of water so that your dog will absorb the water more slowly.

Protein to help their body develop

Protein digestion allows your dog to obtain the amino acids necessary for the optimal development of their body. Animal protein is more beneficial for a dog’s body than plant-based proteins. When it comes to protein, your dog needs to consume between 2 and 6 grams of protein per kilogram of their body weight.

Minerals for a healthy body

While minerals do not have any nutritional value, they actively contribute to your dog’s well-being. Iron, magnesium, zinc, and calcium keeps your dog’s bones healthy, strong, and solid. It also guarantees good metabolic reactions for the correct functioning of their body. Dogs need around 0.25 grams of calcium and 0.2 grams of phosphorus per day and per kilo of their body weight.

Fat for your dog’s enjoyment

Dogs love fat. While it’s important to meet your dog’s nutritional needs, it is also important to make sure that they enjoy themselves as well. However, avoid giving your dog foods with too much fat. Too much of a good thing is never a good thing. For this reason, make sure to keep an eye on how many treats you are giving your dog. Too many treats is not healthy for your dog because they contain too much fat.

Other than the enjoyment that fat provides your dog, it also promotes a healthy coat. Industrial food usually contains just the right amount of fat for your dog’s needs.

Vitamins for lots of energy

Just like us, dogs need vitamins to grow and live healthily. The presence of vitamins in a dog’s diet facilitates the various vital exchanges inside of their body.

Similar to minerals, dogs are not able to produce the different vitamins that they need. However, no need to worry. If your dog’s diet is well-balanced, they will have all of the vitamins necessary to meet their nutritional needs.

It is also important to not give your dog more vitamins than needed. Contrary to what one might think, an excessive intake of vitamins can be dangerous.

Fibers to facilitate gastrointestinal transit

While carbohydrates have been put in a negative light, they are integral to a dog’s nutritional needs. They keep their small intestines healthy and prevent issues such constipation and diarrhea.

Complex carbohydrates are fibers that also provide energy to the rest of the body and allow dogs to retain and use their proteins properly. Just like with fats, the amount of carbohydrates that your dog’s body absorbs needs to be monitored. Dogs need around 7 to 10% of fiber in their diets.