Dog Nutrition Center Common Questions

  • Why is it important for my dog’s food to be balanced?

    Balance is vital for your dog’s metabolism and efficiency. Dog food is formulated to be the main nutritional source and the ingredient ratios are essential in making your dog’s diet complete and balanced. If, for example, an essential amino acid is low a pet food company may add another ingredient higher in that essential amino acid. However, too much of a certain ingredient can have an adverse effect. For instance, too much protein and the excess of phosphorus may exacerbate kidney issues. The need for balance is why reputable pet food companies hire trained veterinary nutritionists to select ingredients carefully and find the proper balance for optimal health.
  • What is the difference between manufactured “by” vs. “for” when it comes to my dog’s food?

    According to the FDA, a pet food label or statement that says that the food is “manufactured by” identifies the party is responsible for the quality, safety, and location of the product. A label that reads “manufactured for” or “distributed by” indicates that the product was manufactured by another company other than the one selling the product. This usually happens with private label pet foods. When a pet food company uses their own facilities for production they are able to set high quality control standards and are better equipped to deal with quality control issues that may arise.
  • How important is it for a pet food company to have a veterinary nutritionist on staff?

    Very important. A veterinary nutritionist is someone who has special training in formulating pet foods. This is especially true for a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. Dogs and cats have different nutritional requirements in relation to other species; therefore it’s essential to have someone with a strong background involved in the food development process.
  • Should I follow the feeding recommendations on my pet food?

    Feeding recommendations can be good guidelines, but the pets they are based on get more exercise than the average pet. Evaluate daily food portions based on your pet’s age, body condition, and overall health. And be sure to consult with your vet.
  • How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

    Stand above pets and look down on them. From this vantage point you should be able to feel their ribs but not see them. Both dogs and cats should also have a nice taper at their waist. If they are too heavy, they’ll be oval shaped. Check with your vet to be sure!
  • Do puppies need special food?

    Yes. Puppy foods are designed to provide adequate nutrition for the rapid growth phase without providing too many calories. Optimal nutrient profiles are especially important for large breed puppies, who can develop painful bone conditions when they are allowed to grow too quickly.
  • Why does a puppy “need” toys?

    Puppies have an intrinsic need to chew due to their growing teeth and jaw development. If they are not given dog-appropriate chew toys, they will find (inappropriate) objects around the home to chew.
  • Do senior dogs need special food?

    Yes. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate diet for your dog. For example, diets lower in sodium are sometimes advocated for dogs with heart disease, while diets that help control phosphorus, calcium and other electrolyte levels are given to dogs with kidney disease.
  • What does “natural” mean on a pet food label?

    “Natural” means that, according to FDA guidelines, the ingredients in the pet food have not had any chemical alterations made to them.
  • What is a “minimum nutrition requirement”?

    This means the food formulation has been determined to meet nutrition levels established by the AAFCO using laboratory analysis versus being actually determined by feeding to animals.
  • What is a “body condition score”?

    The body condition score is a system for determining your pet’s weight. The system ranges from underweight to ideal to overweight, and is based on a visual and palpable examination of the pet.
  • How much food needs to be cut from the pet’s diet for weight loss?

    According to Dr. Jim Dobies, cutting your pet’s food intake by 25% along with a gradual increase in daily exercise is a good way to achieve weight loss in the overweight pet.
  • Why does my dog have to be held in by a dog-seatbelt or dog-carrier when we go for car rides?

    One of the leading dangers for pets is injury as a result of not being restrained when a car accident occurs, and escaping from a car that has been in a collision. Seat belts and carriers ensure safety.
  • Are natural ingredients the most important element in a dog food?

    No, proper pet nutrition is not just about which ingredients are used; it's about the balance of nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats/oils, minerals and vitamins) in the formula. An excess of nutrients, as well as insufficient nutrients, can be harmful to your pet's health.
  • What nutrients make up a properly balanced dog food?

    To make sure your pet's health is maintained, there must be appropriate amounts and proportions of carbohydrates, protein, fats/oils, vitamins and minerals in the diet.
  • What do carbohydrates do for my dog?

    Carbohydrates provide a source of energy, fiber and nutrients to your pet. Whole grains are the best sources of carbohydrates, as they have higher levels of fiber that keep your dog feeling full longer, keep blood sugar levels steady, and promote digestion.
  • Just because a dog food is more expensive, does that mean it’s more nutritious?

    Not necessarily. Price should not always be the only consideration when choosing a dog food. One of the most important things to consider is the type of ingredients listed on the label. Ingredients are listed primarily by weight on the ingredient list. The ones that come first are the ones that are present in the greatest amount in the formula.

    What is most important is not just the type of ingredients, but rather how the balance of those ingredients provide adequate nutrients.
  • What should be found in the first several ingredients listed on a dog food bag?

    When looking at the ingredient listing, you should first see one or two quality protein sources (meats or meat meals), one or more source of carbohydrates (whole grain is best), and a quality fat or oil source.
  • What’s in a meat meal?

    Meat meal is the dehydrated product made from animal tissues (by definition without any blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, or stomach contents). Meals contribute a more concentrated amount of protein to a dog food because it contains only about 10 percent moisture.
  • What is a tocopherol?

    The common name for tocopherol is vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is necessary to a balanced diet and helps protect cells against the adverse effects of free radicals. Additionally, Vitamin E is important for normal reproduction and immune function.
  • What does 'complete and balanced' mean?

    The majority of dog food products are formulated to provide the sole source of nutrition for a dog. Products that are labeled "complete and balanced," as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), must meet guidelines to be sure they meet certain nutritional requirements.
  • How can I tell how much of a particular nutrient is in my dog’s food by just looking at the label?

    Pet food labels must meet strict regulations before a product can be sold commercially in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration and AAFCO regulate all aspects of dog food labeling to be sure the consumer is not mislead or misinformed by the packaging. Minimum and maximum guarantees tell consumers the minimum percentages of crude protein and fat and the maximum percentage of crude fiber and moisture contained in the product. When comparing guaranteed analyses, look at the moisture content of the particular product. This is very important when comparing a dry food to a canned product, which has a large amount of moisture.
  • Why is fat an important ingredient in dog food?

    As a concentrated form of energy, fat provides more than twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates. Fat is also required for absorption and utilization of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Fats supply fatty acids, which provide healthy skin and coat, as well as reduce inflammation.

    Fats and oils have many important functions in your pet's healthy body and make dog food taste better. Fatty acids promote heart health and optimal brain function.
  • What are the best sources of quality protein?

    Proteins provide the basic building blocks for growth, maintenance, and repair of body tissues. The highest quality proteins for use in dog foods come from a variety of animal-based sources including chicken, lamb, turkey, beef, fish and eggs.
  • Why is water important for life?

    Water is essential for eliminating waste from the body, regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients, and preventing dehydration. While there is some water in dry dog foods, dogs should have a source of quality water available at all times to go along with a healthy, balanced diet.
  • What is AAFCO?

    Also known as the Association of American Feed Control Officials, the AAFCO is a private organization that defines and establishes regulations for pet food and feed ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. The AAFCO has no regulatory authority; its purpose is to protect consumers while safeguarding the health of humans and animals. The organization ensures a level playing field for manufacturers in the pet food and animal feed industries.
  • What is a statement of nutritional adequacy?

    The AAFCO requires this statement on all pet foods that claim to meet nutritional profiles as established by the AAFCO to ensure complete nutrition. Foods can either be formulated to meet these requirements or be tested in animals according to specific AAFCO-dictated procedures demonstrating that the food is nutritionally adequate. The statement must describe which life stage the product is suited for, such as for "growth," "maintenance," etc.
  • Why are 'human' ingredients like apples and carrots used in dog food?

    Common fruits and vegetables eaten by humans are also very healthy and beneficial for dogs. They provide essential vitamins and minerals that maintain health and prevent disease. Pet food manufacturers are using these ingredients more and more commonly as consumers become better aware of their benefits.
  • How do I know if I am feeding my dog a properly balanced diet?

    Pet owners should work with their veterinarians to determine the correct diet for their dogs and identify the best food choices. Pet owners can also use MyBowl, a great new resource created from a partnership between petMD and Hill’s Pet Nutrition that illustrates how much of each nutrient category needs to be represented in their dog’s food – carbohydrates, protein, fats and oils, minerals and vitamins. MyBowl also includes information to help owners decode the back of a dog food bag and understand which high quality ingredients in what proportions – not too much, not too little – need to be included to achieve properly balanced nutrition.
  • What is a good example of a properly balanced dog food?

    There are many excellent products on the shelves today that are labeled "complete and balanced" and meet the AAFCO’s nutrient profiles. Ask your veterinarian for advice on a particular food that will meet your pet’s particular needs for lifestage and activity level.