Part One: Nutrition Fundamentals
The purpose of this series is to provide information regarding diet and nutrition facts and misconceptions. This is the first in the series that will cover, what is proper nutrition, how requirements may change, fad diets and misconceptions. In order to begin the task of addressing diet misconceptions, let’s first ask the question “What is animal nutrition?” Once we understand what it is our pets need, it can make it easier to wade through the misconceptions and choose a food that is healthy for them. It is up to you to weed thru all the information and choose the right diet/food for your animal.
Animal nutrition begins with the seven major classes of nutrients for animals. Nutrients are substances obtained from food and used by an animal as a source of energy and as part of the metabolic machinery necessary for cell maintenance, growth and overall health, barring any special needs or illness-related deficiencies. The components of a well balanced diet consist of a balance of seven classes of nutrients. These nutrients are: carbohydrates, fats, fiber, minerals, proteins, vitamins, and water, all of which are vital components of a balanced diet that keep our pets healthy. Poor health can be caused by a lack of required nutrients or, in extreme cases, too much of a required nutrient. For example, salt provides sodium and chloride, both essential nutrients, but will cause illness or even death in too large amounts. It is the balance of all the essential and nonessential nutrients that will provide the best nutrition for your pet. Let’s take a look at the seven major classes and how each provide an important nutritional component for our pets.
The most vital of all, WATER, is ESSENTIAL to life, water accounts for between 60 to 70% of an adult pet’s body weight. A deficiency of water may have serious repercussions for pets. A 10% decrease in body water can cause serious illness, while a 15% loss can result in death. Commercial pet foods typically contain 10% moisture in dry kibble and up to 78% moisture in canned food. When you consider water to be the most vital of essential nutrients, it makes sense to insure our pets have access to clean fresh water at all times.
The next nutrient to discuss is protein. What is a “protein?” Proteins supply the essential building blocks for cells, tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones and antibodies, and are essential for growth, maintenance, reproduction and repair. The fundamental components of proteins are nitrogen-containing amino acids. The body requires these amino acids to produce new proteins, a process known as protein retention and to replace damaged proteins or maintenance. Since there is no protein or amino acid storage provision internally, amino acids must be present in the diet. There are two classes of amino acids, essential and non-essential. An essential amino acid is not produced internally by the animal, and must be obtained from the proper diet. A non-essential amino acids can be produced by the animal from other nitrogen-containing compounds. Excess amino acids are discarded, typically in the urine. Simply put, amino acids are the components necessary for protein management inside the body. In order to maintain a healthy system, essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are a necessary component of any healthy diet. Protein along with carbohydrates and fats provide necessary energy for our pets.
Next let’s talk about carbohydrates and fats. Carbohydrates and fats along with protein, provide our pets with energy, not only physical energy but internal energy. Carbohydrates include simple sugars such as glucose and more complex sugars such as fiber. They also play a vital role in the intestinal health of our pets. Although there is not a minimum requirement of carbohydrates for dogs, there is a minimum requirement for glucose to supply energy internally to critical organs such as the brain. Specific fats called fatty acids play an important role in regulating the inflammatory response and are important for healthy skin and coat. Fats are the most concentrated form of food energy, provide insulation and protection of internal organs and are essential for cell structure, production of hormones and aid in the absorption of certain vitamins.
Vitamins in small amounts play a necessary role by acting as a catalyst for necessary chemical reactions and vital metabolic functions that occur within the dogs’ body tissues and cells. Most vitamins cannot be synthesized in the body and therefore must be present in the diet. It is typically unnecessary to supplement their diet with vitamins unless there is a specific vitamin deficiency diagnosed by a veterinarian that requires supplementation. Unfortunately, over supplementation or poisoning due to excess vitamin levels can occur, this is known as hypervitaminosis. For example an excess of vitamin A may result in bone and joint pain, brittle bones and dry skin and and excess vitamin D can result in very dense bones, soft tissue calcification and kidney failure. This condition is more common than hypovitaminosisis (vitamin deficiency). Again it is important to stress a balance of vitamins and this is usually found in most dog foods along with a balance of minerals.
Minerals, much like essential amino acids are nutrients that cannot be synthesized by animals and must be provided in the diet. In general, minerals are most important as structural components of bones and teeth, for maintaining fluid balance and for their involvement in many metabolic reactions. Dietary minerals are the chemical elements required by living organisms. A few of the elements to be familiar with are Calcium, Chlorine as chloride ions, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium, and Sulfur. Mineral are also found in ash, an ingredient in most pet foods. Ash contains minerals, therefore if a food is high in ash it may very well be providing too many minerals to your animals. This is why it is important to understand what a balanced diet is and what it isn’t.
Fiber is a kind of carbohydrate that alters the bacterial population in the small intestine, which can help manage chronic diarrhea in dogs. For dogs to obtain the most benefit from fiber, the fiber source must be moderately fermentable. Moderately fermentable fibers—including beet pulp, which is commonly used in dog foods—are best to promote a healthy gut while avoiding the undesirable side effects of highly fermentable fibers, like flatulence and excess mucus. Other examples of moderately fermentable fibers include brans (corn, rice and wheat) and wheat middlings. Again refer to the terms balanced nutrition and it makes sense that high fiber foods are not good for dogs with high energy requirements or who are young and growing. Moderation and balance of fiber as well as all the nutrients will help our pets maintain good health and growth.
Maintaining good health in our pets requires us to make decisions regarding their diet, exercise and care. Nutrients in the diet are supplied by the ingredients that make up your pet’s diet. Because each ingredient is necessary to balance the diet, no one ingredient is any more important than any other. But, each ingredient in your dog’s diet brings a unique set of nutrients and, added together, all of the ingredients provide a complete and balanced nutrient profile. It is the awareness of our pets’ requirements and adapting their diet accordingly so that we provide proper well-balanced nutrition throughout their life.
Just as people go through life stages, our pets do too. At each stage of our pets life, their nutritional needs change. We must take into consideration, puppy nutrition, a working dog’s required nutrition as well as our couch potato dog and senior. All these different stages of life have different nutritional needs.
Talk with your veterinarian and make a plan to feed and nourish your pets the proper diet throughout all stages of life. A well balanced diet is not an easy task, there are many misconceptions and fad diets that claim to be the best nutrition. In the 2nd of the series, we will continue the discussion on nutrition and cover how the requirements of nutrition change as our animal goes through different stages of life.
https://www.petmd.com/, T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM, Lorie Huston, DVM