What Is Dog Food Nutrients All About?

The most frequently asked question among pet parents is, "What should I feed my dog?" To understand how and what to feed your dog, you must first understand your dog's nutritional needs and the importance of supplying the right food to it.

Here's a quick guide to dog nutrition, including what essential nutrients are in dog food.

What is nutritional balanced dog food?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has created nutritional standards for animal feed. The nutritional content of commercial pet meals is generally determined by AAFCO criteria. Find out if your dog food is AAFCO approved by reading the ingredient list.

Nutrients are necessary as part of a dog's regular diet. These nutrients play a role in all of the body's basic activities. A balanced diet for your dog should contain:

  • Water
  • Proteins
  • Fats
  • Carbohydrates
  • Minerals and vitamins
puppy drinking water

Photo by Berkay Gumustekin on Unsplash

Apart from the above, large breed puppies and older dogs' diets may require being supplemented with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate because this will help in strengthening their joints. Remember that these are only guidelines, and your dog may need more or less depending on its condition. You should always refer to your vet if you are unsure about your dog's dietary and nutritional needs.

AAFCO nutrient guidelines

AAFCO established standard guidelines for each dog food category, as follows:

  1. Complete and balanced pet food

This refers to a product that has all of the required nutrients in the correct proportions. AAFCO, on the other hand, has developed two recognised nutritional profiles based on a dog's life stage, which are:

  • Adult maintenance
  • These diets are specifically made for adult dogs. It has 18% protein and 5.5 % fat.
  • Puppies, pregnant or nursing females, and pregnant or lactating females
  • All are eligible for this diet, except large dogs (those over 32kg). Protein can make up to 30% of a meal and fat 9%.
  1. Intermittent diet 

Since this type of food is not intended for long-term usage, they do not meet the standards for complete and balanced nutrition

      2. Treats and snacks

Treats should not be considered a complete and balanced meal for your pet. If the phrases "snack" or "treat" are clearly labelled, AAFCO guidelines do not require pet treats to meet traditional nutritional adequacy criteria. Find out more on "Are Dog Treats and Chews AAFCO Approved?"

treats and snacks

Image by Debbie Miller from Pixabay

How to read dog nutrient labels

Every pet food and supplemental diet should have an AAFCO statement and correct labelling to assist consumers in understanding how much of each nutrient is required daily and for which life stages.

Keep in mind that dog food labels differ from human food product labels. Here are eight points to look for on the label:

  • Brand and product name
  • The name of the animal for which the pet food is made
  • Quality statement
  • Guaranteed analysis of the percentage of each nutrient in the diet. It must be given in a specific order, in specified units, and at a specific minimum or maximum.
  • Ingredient statement
  • Nutritional Adequacy Statement that indicates that the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage, or it is "intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.
  • Feeding directions
  • Name and address of manufacture or distributor 

How do I know whether my dog is getting all the nutrients from homemade dog food?

As a pet owner, you should seek a board-certified veterinary nutritionist or PhD nutritionist to discuss your pet's basic needs. In the meantime, here are some tips to ensure the homemade food that you prepare for your dog is well-balanced nutritionally:

  • You need to begin with a reliable recipe that contains a good balance of all nutrients, particularly protein and carbohydrates.
  • The next step is to follow the recipe precisely; this is to avoid any nutrient drop count. For example, cooking chicken with or without skin and bones will alter the nutrient profile. Also, do not include harmful foods for dogs.
  • Then, you must include the proper amount of supplements because sometimes even the best recipes can be lacking in certain nutrients. Dogs who are fed with a homemade diet require vitamins to ensure that it is not deficient in any nutrients. You should consider wholistic organic supplements as an option for dog supplements. If you are unsure, consult your veterinarian.
  • Last but not least, ensure that the diet is effective. You need to bring your dog to the vet if you notice that your dog isn't gaining or losing too much weight after two or three weeks of eating homemade food. 

How much of each nutrient do dogs need?

When it comes to your dog's health, nutrients are the most important factor to consider. The nutrient requirements by AAFCO on how much to feed your dog and which nutrients are essential are listed below.


Protein in dog food is crucial for health. Dogs require ten essential amino acids to maintain a healthy body. According to AAFCO, the daily requirements for dog diets should include at least 22% dry matter (DM) for growth and 18% DM for maintenance. 


Fat serves a variety of functions in the body, including energy production and aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. The amount of fat required for fat-soluble vitamin absorption is 1 to 2% of the food, but 5% is generally preferred (DM).


Carbohydrates are not important in a dog's diet however are very common in commercial diets. Growing animals and dogs with high energy needs should be fed a diet containing maximum20% carbs. AAFCO does not have a requirement for carbs because commercial dog foods contain enough carbohydrates made from cheap ingredients.


Minerals are structural components of the body's organs and tissues, body fluids, electrolytes, and muscular contractions. They are also involved in the enzyme and hormonal systems. Here is a list of minerals that dogs require, along with the AAFCO-recommended minimum quantity:

  • Calcium (Ca) - 100mg/Mcal
  • Phosphorus (P) - 0.8% for growth and 0.5% for maintenance (adults).
  • Magnesium (Mg) - 0.04% DM for growth and 0.08% DM for maintenance (adult dogs).
  • Potassium (K) - 0.6% DM for dogs in all life stages.
  • Sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl) - between 0.25g/100g and 1.5g/
  • Iron (Fe) - 80mg/kg for dogs in all life stages
  • Copper - 7.3mg/kg DM for dogs.
  • Zinc - 120mg/kg DM for dogs.
  • Manganese (Mn) - 5 mg/kg DM for dogs.
  • Selenium (Se) - 0.11mg/kg DM for dogs.
  • Iodine (I) - 1.5mg/kg DM for dogs.


Vitamins are quite diverse and serve a wide range of functions in the dog's body, including DNA synthesis, bone formation, blood coagulation, normal eye function, and neurologic function. Here is a list of vitamins that canines require, along with the AAFCO-minimum recommended amounts:

  • Vitamin A - 5,000 IU/kg DM for dogs for all life stages.
  • Vitamin D - 500 IU/kg DM for dogs for all life stages.
  • Vitamin E - 50 IU/kg DM for dogs.
  • Vitamin K - 1.64 mg/kg for puppies and adults.
  • Thiamin (B1) - 1mg/kg DM for dogs regardless of their life stage.
  • Riboflavin (B2) - 2.2 mg/kg DM for dogs.
  • Pyridoxine (B6) - 1mg/kg.
  • Niacin (B3) - 11.4 mg/kg DM.
  • Pantothenic acid (B5) -10mg/kg DM for dogs of all life stages.
  • Cobalamin (B12) - 0.022 mg/kg for dogs.
  • Folic acid (B9) - 0.18mg/kg DM for dogs.
  • Biotin (B7 or H) - There is currently no recommended amount for dogs.
  • Choline - 1,200 mg/kg DM for dogs.


Hydration is important for every dog. It needs 1 ounce of water for every Kg that it weighs.

What is the healthiest food to feed your dog?

Fresh dog food

Fresh food contains a variety of essential nutrients, protein and natural antioxidants included in high-quality food, help to prevent diseases in your dog. Do check out the new range of Petcubes gently cooked dog food.

Also, feeding raw fresh foods is a very healthy option...  It provides healthier skin and fur, as well as good oral health. Check out Petcubes raw food for your pup to achieve these benefits.

Bone broth

It supports good digestion, aids healing of the leaky gut, liver detoxification, and is beneficial to joint health.

Fresh Vegetables & Fruit

Cancer-fighting properties are found in fresh, uncooked fruits and vegetables. They are high in phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, proteins, lipids, fibre, enzymes, and moisture.

vegetables and fruits

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

Goat's Milk

Goat's milk contains natural probiotics, providing all of the benefits of probiotics in an easy-to-absorb form. If your dog has stomach problems, try goat's milk.


Kefir, sometimes known as the "grain of life," has numerous health advantages. Kefir is a fermented product high in probiotics and helpful yeasts (30 different strains) that help protect the body from pathogenic yeast and bacteria.


Sardines are a good source of taurine. They're also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed for overall health.


Choosing high-quality food from the hundreds of brands and formulas available can be difficult, and the pet nutrition industry is highly competitive. You can use AAFCO as a guideline to choose the right foods for your dog, or if you have any questions about a specific food, your veterinarian is the best person to ask.

 *Click here for additional info on the AAFCO guidelines*

Reviewed by: 

Dr Francis is one of the top wildlife nutritionists in Asia. Originating from Montreal, Canada, he left at 21 to pursue his Masters and subsequently a PhD in wildlife nutrition at Oxford Brookes University. Instead of taking the path of common animal science to learn about farm animals, or through the veterinarian space and taking a certificate in nutrition, he took the road less travelled to dive deep into the world of animal ecology, metabolism and nutrition.