Why Good Dog Nutrition Matters For Adult Dogs
Step 7 of 10 in the Dogly Life Stage Feeding Channel
with Alicia Boemi of HolisticPetWellness, Wellness Advocate

Pet parents always ask, "Am I feeding the right dog food for my dog's best, healthiest life?

In the previous guide, we talked about maintaining your dog's weight using dog nutrition tools like the calculator for figuring out optimal calories per day and how much food in your dog's daily diet.

Now let's focus on how to feed your adult dog the essential nutrients dogs require for their best energy and health. Fulfilling your adult dog's nutritional requirements is vital to set up healthy dogs to stay healthy as they grow into senior dogs.

How do I know which and how much of the six essential nutrients my dog needs?

If you could use a refresh on what the six essential nutrients are and why your dogs needs them, go here. If not, continue on...

The NRC has established nutrient requirements for dogs and cats that are used to develop AAFCO and FEDIAF’s minimum nutritional requirements for pet food products (you'll see them noted on many commercial dog foods/pet food labels) with the objective of creating a complete and balanced diet for most dogs.

The NRC's nutritional requirement framework enables all of us to understand pet nutrition from the standpoint of nutrients dogs need from dietary protein to fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D to essential amino acids to Omega 3 fatty acids to dietary carbohydrates and other nutrients.

All those things provide the nutritional value a dog's body needs to supply energy and for a healthy immune system, healthy skin, a healthy nervous system, and generally, overall health.

It can sound like a lot for a dog parent who doesn't happen to be a canine nutritionist, but pro tip: there are tools to help simplify your pet's diet.

Try this

There is some technical math you can do to figure out each requirement for your dog's nutritional needs, or you can use a handy calculator like this one from Raw Fed & Nerdy. I encourage you to check out the different nutrient requirements for dogs of different weights and activity levels. It’s super interesting to see the differences.

Really helps to see your whole dog and how these different life stages/lifestyle factors work together.


What changes in your dog trigger the need to change dog food?

Personally, I have seen my dogs change their needs through adulthood a few times. When we feed adult dogs, we cannot assume they will need the same amount of calories or nutrients at age 2 vs age 5. This is something to keep in mind as your dog's needs and metabolism will continue to change through adulthood.

My own adult dogs change their food needs about every 2-3 years as adults. Additionally, winter time is also a time when they get much less exercise so I feed according to that as well. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to feeding for your dog's health and life stage and it can ebb and flow throughout their adulthood.

Why use nutrient requirements for your dog's diet?

Many trendy diets you see for adult dogs like 80/10/10, BARF, PMR or Prey are not meeting nutrient requirements and for that reason can often be cause for concern within the veterinary community. Often they’re lacking in essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

Since certain minerals and vitamins interact with each other, the foundation of good dog food nutrition is that nutrient requirements are the backbone for a complete and balanced diet for your dog to be thriving on a diet and not just surviving. This is what leads me to talking about metabolizable energy (ME).

What is ME (metabolizable energy) & what does it mean for your dog?

ME means how much energy is available to the dog in the dog's food or from food items - otherwise often discussed as bioavailability. Basically, ME is how much of the food item is absorbed and used properly in the body to supply energy and essential nutrients.

This is important to note because that’s part of the controversy with commercial pet foods/ kibble diets - lack of bioavailability and absorption. The ME for most commercial pet foods and common dog food ingredients vs. fresh foods can be very different. Because vitamins and certain amino acids are delicate when heated or processed there is conflicting information on whether processed pet foods are actually nutrient-dense enough and bioavailable to the dogs eating them.


Why fresh food diets - cooked or raw - give your dog more nutrients

This is why I am such a proponent for fresh food diets - whether cooked or raw. Even when our dogs eat cooked foods they are still getting more nutrients than processed foods. They typically include high quality food and human foods that are nutrient-dense whether organ meats or some of your own favorite greens.

When cooked, they might just be a different set of nutrients available but almost always more bioavailable than processed foods.

Okay, but tell me more...

Knowing which nutrients are required and pairing the right foods to meet those needs (balancing essential nutrients like enough dietary protein, dietary fats but not too much fat, calcium and phosphorus levels, etc) is how many of us formulate homemade diets for our dogs.

Feeding your dog the ideal diet

As I mentioned in the previous puppy feeding guide, my choices for ideal diets are fresh food/raw diets first. Now, if you cannot do this, a balanced kibble or dehydrated food is better than one missing nutrients. You can always add fresh foods like eggs, sardines, raw milk, blueberries, etc. to boost your dog's diet beyond dry dog food!

Additionally, adding supplements like omega-3 fatty acid fish oil is great for adult dogs as they enter their senior years. Joint support is also a supplement I would recommend providing to your adult dog. These supplements lower inflammation and can strengthen joints.

Lastly, probiotics (see my Dogly probiotics guide) and prebiotics can be super beneficial for keeping a dog’s gut microbiome as healthy as possible, especially while feeding dry dog food.


And remember - the best dog nutrition is for your INDIVIDUAL dog

Something to keep in mind always is that each of our dogs is an individual, and your dog's individual needs when it comes to complete nutrition or a specific important nutrient can be different for any number of reasons. As in everything with our dogs from training to canine nutrition, at the heart of it is "know your dog."

You'll want to keep in mind things like breed or predominant breed mix dispositions your dog might have that could require more nutrients since some breeds are prone to specific nutrient deficiencies.

Give me an example

Huskies and Malamutes, for example, are more prone to zinc-responsive dermatitis. This is a malabsorption issue, and therefore, the nutrient requirement for huskies or malamutes with this issue would be to supplement zinc above the needed nutrient requirement.

Or, if you have a long, low-rider like a Dachshund or Doxie mixes, who are predisposed to back/spine issues, you'll want to feed your dog and supplement with an eye for strengthening joints.

Tell me more

Supplementing from the get-go (don't wait till you have an issue) with Omega-3's, the star of essential fatty acids, should be on your list. And for all dog parents of long, low-riders, the "best weight/best health" mantra is especially true for you and your pups! You may want to think about fewer calories and maybe a little weight loss, as extra padding around the middle literally weighs down the spine, putting pressure on proper alignment and mobility for your dog's body and can lead to serious problems.

Whatever your dog's individual traits and predispositions, you get the idea. Know your dog and we can create complete and balanced diets for your pet's health to be their best self at every life stage!

Complete and balanced recipe for an adult dog

As pet owners, I know we all want to feed our dogs the best we can. Now that you've learned about adult dog nutrition details, I thought you would enjoy a recipe I formulated as a canine nutritionist for a 35 lb, young, active, adult dog. You can find it below and as always if you have any nutrition related questions, please feel free to ask in the Community discussion in the Life Stage Feeding Channel here on Dogly!


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Next up in the Life Stage Feeding Channel on Dogly

Now that you've learned how to feed an adult dog to thrive, continue adding to your nutritional knowledge with the senior dog feeding guide here. Or you can always jump back to the previous feeding guide for adult dogs or the introduction of feeding for life stage.

Hop over to the Life Stage Feeding Channel if you have any nutrition related questions for the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Puppy Feeding, Adult Feeding, or Senior Feeding. And if you ever need more personalized nutrition guidance, please reach out!


Raw Fed & Nerdy

Nutrient Requirements for Dogs & Cats

Small Animal Clinical Nutrition

Alicia Boemi of HolisticPetWellness

Wellness Advocate
Dogly loves Alicia because she gives dog parents tools to be proactive and feel reassured in their dog's health journey.

Alicia guides you

Basic Nutrition - Home Cooking - Joint Support - Life Stage Feeding - Aromatherapy - Herbs

Alicia is certified

Canine Nutrition & Massage Therapy - Canine & Equine Aromatherapy - Canine Herbalism