While there are a dizzying variety of pet food options available to the average dog or cat owner, all pet foods contain six basic nutrients. Let’s talk about those nutrients.
Protein is a basic nutrient requirement for all dogs and cats. All pet foods must contain protein in one form or another.
Because cats are carnivores, their protein must come from an animal source. They have special protein requirements that cannot be met through plant-based proteins. Animal-based sources of protein include beef, poultry, fish, pork and other forms of meat.
Dogs can be fed a vegan diet that contains only plant-based proteins but many nutritionists and veterinarians feel that the majority of dogs do better with primarily animal-based proteins in their food.
Neither dogs nor cats have an essential need for carbohydrates in their diet. However, carbohydrates can provide a valuable source of energy. This is especially important for pregnant or nursing females and for working dogs that burn a lot of energy during the course of their activities (sled dogs, search and rescue dogs and other athletes).
Carbohydrates can be digestible or non-digestible. Non-digestible carbohydrates are commonly referred to as fiber. Fiber can play a role in keeping the gastrointestinal tract motile and in providing a feeling of satiety for those pets that need to shed some weight.
Certain carbohydrates are also used as prebiotics, food sources for the “good” bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are one example. These can be helpful in maintaining the overall health of the gastrointestinal system and in maintaining a high level of immunity.
Fats are an essential nutrient for both both dogs and cats. All dogs and cats need fat in their food to survive.
Fatty acids are special types of fats that regulate inflammation in addition to performing many other functions. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are essential in both the dog and cat diet. Fatty acids are found in both fish oil and flaxseed oil. Fatty acids such as DHA and EPA have been found to have a host of benefits, from decreasing the pain caused by arthritis to increasing the learning ability of young animals.
Vitamins are a group of organic compounds that are necessary for normal growth and for maintenance. All dogs and cats require specific vitamins, generally in small quantities. Care should be taken that vitamins are supplied in the proper range. Both deficiencies and excesses can have unwanted side effects.
Minerals are inorganic compounds that also are required for both the dog and cat. As with vitamins, minerals should be supplied within the range necessary for normal function. Excesses and deficiencies can be dangerous for your pet’s health.
Water is an often forgotten nutrient but is arguably the most important. Without water, your dog and cat can survive for only a very short period of time. Canned food typically contains much more water than dry, with semi-moist foods somewhere in the middle. Regardless of the type of food you feed your pet, your pet should have a source of clean fresh water available at all times.