What Nutrients Does Your Dog Really Need?

We all want our dogs to be healthy - that's a no brainer. But with so many dog food brands out there claiming to provide some of the best, top-notch ingredients for nutrient efficiency, it can be hard to know what to believe.

Food labels are always the first thing you should read when deciding whether or not to add a new dog food to your cart. Make sure you know what to look for and what to look out for!

So what nutrients does you dog need for a well-balanced diet? Keep reading to find out more.

The 6 Essential Nutrients

You may already be familiar with the six essential nutrients for humans. Well, the same applies to our canine friends, no matter how big or small!

The essential six are known as protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, fats, and water. These can be further split into Macronutrients and Micronutrients, with the former requiring larger doses of the nutrient and the latter needing less.

For instance, vitamins and minerals fall within the micronutrients, meaning while still vital nutrients, your body requires a smaller dose of these compared to other macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, fats, and of course water.

We break down the six essential nutrients for dogs, sharing important (and perhaps surprising) insights around each that will help you make the best choice in diet for your dog's health.

Protein and Amino Acids

Dogs require high doses of protein to stay healthy and strong. Animal protein is especially important for dogs, as they carry crucial amino acids that help develop muscles, bones, fur, and skin to keep them functioning properly. Dietary protein contains 10 specific amino acids that dogs cannot make on their own, so get a high-quality protein that has a good balance of all of the essential amino acids.

Some popular (pet-safe) protein ingredient go-tos include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey)
  • Red meat (beef, bison, lamb)

Fats and Fatty Acids

We tend to be wary of fats, but getting the right dose of the right kind of fat is an essential part of a healthy diet and can help keep your dog's skin and coat healthy. To follow an ancestral diet fats should consist of about 50% of your dogs diet on a caloric basis, alongside getting exercise in to burn off some of that energy.

Fats are crucial for energy production, as well as the normal development and function of body cells, nerves, muscles, and body tissues. Read food labels to check where fats and oils are coming from.

Tip: We suggest opting for coconut oil, as it provides a variety of health benefits - aside from keeping the skin and coat glossy and itch-free, coconut oil helps to improve digestion and nutrient absorption, boosts the immune system, and increases cognitive functions.


Carbohydrates typically can make up to 30-70% of the dry dog kibble you're buying. Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not actually have a biological requirement for carbs. While they can provide energy, carbs produce it in the form of sugar. Making sure your pup isn't over-consuming glucose and getting the right amount of exercise to balance is important in preventing obesity and other health issues down the line.

Vitamins and Minerals

Did you know? If you're feeding a well formulated & species appropriate diet, you shouldn't have to worry about skipping out on the vitamins and minerals.

Most vitamins and minerals will be derived from the food you are feeding your dog. Companies that truly understand how to formulate fresh foods will have a small list of added trace minerals where the diet is deficient.

Both are essential for keeping your dog's body up and running - they help with growth, body and brain function, as well as boosting the immune system. Feeding them a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins is a great way to make sure they are consuming all the vitamins and minerals they need in each meal. Opting for a rotational diet creates diversity in each meal - it's best to rotate through meats, veggies, and fruits to give them maximum coverage across all nutrients.

Some common vitamins recommended for dogs are:

  • Vitamins A, C, D, E, K
  • B Vitamins (folic acid, thiamine, B6, B12, riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid)
  • Choline

Watch out for dog foods that list macro minerals such as the ones listed below, because that means they may be lacking ingredients that naturally provide them.

  • calcium
  • phosphorus
  • magnesium
  • sodium
  • chloride
  • potassium
  • sulfur

On the flip side, trace minerals are needed in a much smaller amount, and are not cause for concern when listed on dog food ingredients:

  • iron
  • zinc
  • copper
  • chromium
  • iodine
  • selenium
  • manganese
  • fluorine


Yes, water is a nutrient! And an extremely important one no doubt.

Water helps rehydrate the body, cooling it down to maintain normal body temperature, moving nutrients throughout the body, helping with digestion, cushioning joint and muscle movement, and many other important functions for keeping your dog healthy and happy.

Ensuring your dog meets their daily water requirements is twofold. Obviously, the first step is to provide them with fresh, clean water daily and refill their dish whenever empty.

The second step is ensuring they get enough moisture in their food. Kibble is the lowest-moisture food option at just 5-10% moisture content on average. The process to make kibble uses high heat and pressure to pack pet food into burnt brown pellets, thus decreasing much-needed moisture.

On the other hand, options like our raw dog food entrees provide roughly 70% moisture content in each serving. A higher moisture content in your dog's food means less dehydration, and a healthier pet.

Tip: In addition to supplying healthy food and water, a great way to prevent dehydration is to keep your pup active to help stimulate water consumption.

AAFCO vs NRC Nutrient Requirements

Both the AAFCO and NRC contribute important standards for nutrient requirements in pet and animal food. Although similar, they play slightly different roles - you may be wondering, what's the difference?


The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a private, non-profit corporation of local, state, and federal agencies responsible in regulating the sale and distribution of animal feeds.

You may have seen their stamp of approval on dog food labels at the store - they are best known for providing these nutritional adequacy on food packaging, although they also monitor feed for livestock, provide definitions for ingredients, and provide guidelines for testing pet feeds and nutrient efficiency.

AAFCO is based on an industry standard, whereas NRC's guidelines are derived more from a scientific background - AAFCO modifies the NRC recommendations for more practical use.


The NRC, or National Resource Council, was originally used as a basis for nutritional standards, basing their advice around sound scientific evidence. In the context of pet food, the acronym NRC generally refers to the textbook "Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats" that was published by the NRC rather than the institution as a whole.

This text contains an in-depth analysis of all the scientific knowledge concerning the nutrition of dogs and cats that is known today.

Nutrient Requirements for Different Breeds

All dogs no matter the breed need at least some degree of the same nutrients, but the levels can differ based on your dog's age, size, energy levels, and pre-existing health conditions.

There are diets out there specifically tailored to certain dog breeds, however most are redundant and aren't necessary for your dog to have a healthy and balanced meal. Instead, look for requirements based on your dog's specific needs and what might be appropriate for their stage in life or keeping away health risks.

Feeding Puppies the Right Amount of Nutrients

Puppies grow fast and quickly, and their little bodies rely on a sufficient supply of nutrients to keep up with their growth. Nutrient requirements for puppies are highest right after they are weaned from their mother's milk. As they grow and develop, these high level requirements will slow and adjust to fit their adult body.

This is why puppies require separate diets - you'll want to avoid feeding a puppy the same store-bought food marketed towards older dogs. Focus on feeding your pup a diet that is complete & balanced for all life stages.

Regularly assessing your puppy's needs based on growth rate, weight, and body condition can help reduce risks of health issues such as:

  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • hip dysplasia
  • diabetes
  • osteoarthritis
  • heart disease / intolerance

Along with a nutrition focused diet, make sure your pup is getting enough physical activity to promote maximum growth and prevent risks of developing obesity or joint malfunctions later on in life.

Add Raw Food to Your Dog's Diet

The next time you're looking for a new dog food, try out Raw Bistro's raw dog food diet - your dog will gain all the nutritional needs wrapped up with added benefits. Visit your local, independent pet store and pick up a pack today!

Raw dog food diets are a sustainable choice, completely safe, and not to mention much tastier than commercial dog food or kibble! We're working to offer a raw diet with better overall health so you can sit back and enjoy every moment together.

Tags: Nutrition

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