How To Check If Your Dog is Getting Good Nutritional Value from Dog Food Diets
Step 4 of 9 in the Dogly Improving Kibble Channel
with Alicia Boemi of HolisticPetWellness, Wellness Advocate

Recorded on
Monday, Jun 14, 6 PM EDT

Choose how you would like to access the recording below

If you're worried about whether you're getting your dog's food right, you're not alone.

So many pet parents ask me how they can choose the best dog foods to not just meet their dog's nutritional requirements but to set them up to thrive and live longer and healthier.

Let's dive into Part 2 in this series - addressing your questions and what you need to know from a canine nutritionist's perspective so you can be confident about choosing good dog food for your dog.

(If you'd like to watch as I answer these questions in more depth in our recorded Live Support Group, please jump to the video above. And if you missed Part 1, you can find it here.)

How to know if your dog is getting the needed nutrients & energy from his/her dog food...


Step #1: Check to see that your dog's diet is complete & balanced

As we discussed in the first part of this series on choosing foods, whether you are feeding your dog wet food, dry food, homecooked, a raw diet, or somewhere in the middle - the best dog food is complete and balanced for your dog at his/her particular life stage. (For more on how to feed your dog for his/her different life stages, check out the Life Stage Feeding Channel here on Dogly.)

What does that actually mean

Complete and balanced in dog food diets means all minimum nutrient requirements are met in the ingredients.

For example, energy needs are met by the calories (kcal/cup or can) in the food; fat requirements are met by the fats (g/cup or can); protein requirements are met by the proteins (g/cup or can) and so on for all required vitamins, minerals, and water.

You will see these minimum requirements on the 'Guaranteed Analysis' (GA) on every pet food label.

What to look for in commercial dog food

For food from a commercial dog food company, look for confirmation on the dog food label that it meets The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) or NRC guidelines for minimum nutrient requirements for a complete and balanced diet. Larger dog food manufacturers usually reference meeting AAFCO guidelines (NRC-based), while smaller, independent dog food brands tend to note meeting NRC/National Research Council guidelines.

If you're in Europe, look for FEDIAF on pet food companies' packaging, the equivalent for European pet foods.

What to look for in homecooked or raw food

For home-prepared foods whether raw foods or cooked, the best way to ensure your dog is getting a complete and balanced diet is to consult with a certified canine nutritionist to either create a nutrition and recipe plan for your dog or advise you as how to do it yourself.

Note: For commercial dog foods, AAFCO, NRC, and FEDIAF guidelines are a good starting point, but are all based on the presence of the nutrients. It is not part of their job to evaluate sourcing and quality of the ingredients or bioavailability or form of the nutrients. That's where your research on the dog food company itself - its practices, sourcing quality, cooking process - comes in.

Step #2: Check if your dog's food has any red flags

We've talked in earlier sessions that, of course, you want the cleanest, most recognizable ingredients, so anything either that you can't pronounce (aka chemicals, preservatives) or that isn't obviously what it is (byproducts? poultry/whatever meal?), steer clear. Whether it's dry dog food, wet food, freeze-dried raw, you name it, the cleanest food available to you is the best dog food.

Okay, but tell me more...

It's also a good idea to look out for companies using terms like ratio diets, prey model, and 80/10/10 - and any company that references feeding only by body weight and using a percentage of feeding by body weight.

Nutrient deficiencies can be quite damaging which is why good commercial diets (meeting AAFCO, NRC, FEDIAF nutrient guidelines) are a safe way to go.

Rule of thumb when analyzing dog foods

Another solid rule of thumb - ask yourself if any dog food options or approach to food seems extreme one way or another; I always recommend moderation and staying grounded in complete and balanced nutrition geared to needed nutrients to avoid deficiencies.


Step #3. Learn how to calculate how many calories and which nutrients your dog needs every day

To give your dog what he/she needs every day, you first want to know how many calories your dog needs for energy to support your pup's activity level and ideal weight. Then you need to determine the nutrients your dog needs, which ones and how much.

Bringing those two factors together is what guides certified nutritionists to create recipes and diet plans that keep your dog at his/her healthiest and thriving.

Any other basis for feeding such as by volume of food or weight alone is not based in science and nutrition and can leave dogs with harmful deficiencies.

How to figure out your dog's daily calorie requirements

To start, let's calculate how many calories your dog should be getting every day.

Try this

  1. Measure your dog's weight. If in pounds, multiply # of pounds by .454 to translate into kilograms. (For example, a 40 lb dog would be 18.16 kilograms.)
  2. Turn your dog's weight in kg into metabolic weight by multiplying by .75. (In this example, the metabolic weight would be 13.6.)
  3. Next, multiply your dog's metabolic weight by an estimated "energy number." Think about your dog's level of activity and choose the number from this range that best matches your dog:

"Energy number" range to match with your dog

90 - geriatric/more senior dogs or a sedentary dog

105 - dog goes on a walk a day

110 - dog goes on several walks a day

115 - dog goes running and on a walk a day

120 - active, energetic dog, not neutered/spayed

130 - very active, well-muscled sport dog, not neutered/spayed

Your dog's metabolic weight multiplied by the energy number you chose gives you the number of calories your dog should have daily. (In our example if we chose 105, that would mean 105 x 13.6= 1,428 calories per day.)

Whichever route you take with your dog's type of food, knowing your target calorie number is an important, useful thing to have in mind as you plan your pet's health.


Important note on treats

Remember that treats (and random food sharing by family members) count too! Another good reason to bring your dog's whole team - family members, dog walker, etc - into an awareness of your wellness plan for your pup.

Why you may need to change your dog's calorie target

Also important to remember, you can change your dog's calorie target by upping your dog's activity level (more activity = higher multiplier). And if your dog is over or under ideal weight, you can decrease or increase the target number to manage your dog's weight and fitness.

If you're thinking of tweaking more than slightly, I do recommend consulting with your vet or a certified canine nutritionist.

How to figure out your dog's daily nutrient requirements

This is where "complete and balanced" comes in - to make sure that the calories your dog gets every day, in either commercial, home-prepared food, or a raw diet have the necessary nutrients in the right amounts.

It's also where finding the right balance can get tricky for pet owners. And why having AAFCO, NRC, or FEDIAF to fall back on in commercial pet foods is a nice safety net, since they do the basic work for dog owners.

To apply NRC guidelines to your dog so you can see the breakout of nutrient needs for yourself...

Try this

You can calculate your dog's nutrient needs easily with this simple calculator, which I happily share with my Dogly friends here.

Note: This calculator is designed for healthy adult dogs and senior dogs only - not puppies who require different parameters for their important growing needs.

You'll see how much your dog needs of each nutrient - from how many grams of macronutrients like protein down to how many micrograms of B12.

Okay, but tell me more...

These two key pieces of knowledge, your dog's target daily calories and your dog's nutrient needs, are two factors that can help you either assess your commercial food or select the fresh/cooked/raw foods for a home-prepared diet that will deliver both the target calorie count and nutrients in the right amounts for your dog.

And for that balancing act, you'll probably want to work with a certified nutritionist (it's what we're trained for!) either to learn how to formulate yourself or to have a diet plan and recipes created for your dog working closely with you.

Where do supplements fit in with fulfilling nutrient needs?

While we always advocate for foods fulfilling nutrients, supplements can be necessary, especially if they're therapeutic for sick dogs. Supplements can be a great option as opposed to a long, long list of foods you'd have to include to get certain nutrients at the right level.


A final word on the right dog food for your individual dog...

Every dog is an individual, and we always want to be aware of any special needs your dog may have and adjust accordingly.

For example, when I work with dogs who have cancer or any other condition that requires knowing which nutrients are more needed and how much they can absorb with their condition, we go beyond the formulas and get super precise and nuanced holistically vs what otherwise might be a more standard, healthy-dog, proactive diet.

Recommended Products

Next up in the Improving Kibble Channel on Dogly

Now that you know how to analyze dog food diets best for your dog, check out my recommendations on dry dog food and dehydrated/freeze-dried dog food here. Or jump back to part one on in this series on how to choose the right dog food.

If you have any additional questions on the right food for your dog, you can always ask me in the Community discussion in the Improving Kibble Channel here on Dogly.

Or, if you would like more individually-focused help on your dog's nutrition, you can work one-on-one with me here.

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