Today's dogs have a lot more options in terms of dog food and what their human pet parents choose to feed them. What do dogs eat? Almost anything that smells good to them. So the question should rather be posed as what SHOULD dogs eat, and why; let's briefly talk about that.

Proper dog nutrition is a very important part of responsible pet ownership. Thankfully, you do not have to rely solely on dog food manufacturers to meet your canine's nutritional needs. Today, there's plenty of science-based information on what do dogs eat and their proper nutrition.

Since the big pet food recall back in 2007 that resulted in dog food manufacturers taking their pet products off the shelves due to tainted wheat gluten and the ongoing concerns of dog food allergies and food sensitivities, pet owners are becoming more conscious of their dogs' food options.

There are many good dog food brands available on the market today – you can purchase any type based on your puppy's age, conditions, requirements, health, and so forth. Now even more dog startups are focusing on better quality dog food and launching new products that raise the plank on how nutritious and healthy dog food should be.

With that being said, it is also becoming more prevalent on making your own homemade dog food, dog treats, and all types of dog snacks using ingredients that dog owners know well. More importantly, it's very easy to make dog food at home following the recipes of which there are thousands available online for free. As long as you don't mind spending time cooking for your pet, and making a well-balanced meal that meets your dog’s nutritional needs, there's no reason why anybody should focus on regularly buying branded dog foods alone.

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So what do dogs eat, or what should they consume to have a prolonged lifespan? Here is a quick rundown of what dogs need in their diets in order to stay in optimal health, and what you can do about it.

Dog Nutrition 101: What Do Dogs Eat


Dog Nutrition 101 What Do Dogs Eat
Photo: runge.marius

There's an ongoing debate on whether dogs can be vegetarians or not. Despite all the hype of vegan diets for canines, most dog experts still agree that your dog is an omnivore, and a lot of them will say that canines do indeed require at least some animal protein.

A dog's need for proteins is dependent upon its size, age, breed, and activity level.

A protein macronutrient that's good for dogs is present in meats as well as meat by-products like lamb, beef, and chicken meal. Meats and meat by-products are the best sources of protein for your dog because vegetable proteins are harder to digest for the dog's system.

For the carnivorous dog, animal proteins are considered complete and plant proteins are considered incomplete in regards to amino acid profiles. Plant proteins are normally missing arginine, taurine, methionine, lysine, and tryptophan. To take an example, corn does not contain glycine, lysine, or tryptophan. Meat, on the other hand, contains all the essential amino acids.” – Sy Guth (source, PDF)

Proteins are important for your dog’s immune system, growth and development, especially when your dog is still a puppy. Dog owners looking for high-quality dog food should know that meat protein top the list over animal by-products and vegetable or grain proteins.


Dog Nutrition 101 What Do Dogs EatCarbohydrates are important for giving your dog much-needed energy as well as fiber. They mainly are derived from corn, rice, barley, oats, and other types of grain. Vegetables are commonly used as the main source of carbohydrates for dogs, such as sweet potatoes.

Dog owners should try to avoid feeding their canines wheat and soy, or look out for these products on dog food labels as ingredients because those can sometimes trigger allergic reactions in dogs. Note that foods that are high in carbohydrates (sugars = glucose) may cause digestive problems for the dog, so it is important to always keep an eye on what kind of carbs your pet can tolerate and alter his diet and eating habits if necessary.

Compared to herbivores a dog's digestive tract is much less specialized for digesting grains, or carbohydrates in general for that matter – especially in their raw, unprocessed form. However, dogs are not true carnivores but opportunistic feeders and can digest and utilize the starch from grains in dog food that has been converted by the cooking process. Digestibility depends on quality and type of grain used: rice (72%) is for example more digestible than wheat (60%) or corn (54%).” – Dog Food Project.

Vitamins and minerals

Dog Nutrition 101 What Do Dogs Eat
Photo: Damien du Toit

Just as we humans need to eat fruits, vegetables and find other sources to supplement our diet with all those vitamins and minerals, so do our dogs. Dog vitamins and minerals are an important part of a dog's nutrition, and for your canine to help keep his body functioning at 100%.

Just like you, if your pet's system is low in iron for prolonged periods of time, it will affect him negatively and he will experience a lack of energy, lethargy, constant tiredness, laziness, and so forth.

Multiple studies have shown how dogs thrive on vitamin C and E. Chondroitin and glucosamine are also becoming an essential part of an older dog's diet because they help with maintaining healthy (or healthier) joints. Arthritis is a common issue with many elder canines, and supplementing their diet with some necessary vitamins and minerals is one step in the right direction.

Vitamins come in two forms. Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K are stored in the fatty tissue and liver of your dog. Then there are the water-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins B and C, and they are flushed out of your dog daily. Supposedly they are either used up as needed or come out when your dog eliminates. Science is still on the edge of whether water-soluble vitamins are at all useful for the body, but until there's definite proof against this hypothesis, everybody and their dogs will continue to take them just to be safe.

If you feel that your Fido is not getting enough pet vitamins, there are plenty of multivitamin supplement options available on the market today, and even more of these are coming out thanks to proactive petpreneurs. Minerals also help with your dog's daily functions like blood circulation, cell regeneration, energy production, and a lot more. They are just as important as vitamins are, and usually go alongside each other.


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Fats are crucial in your dogs' diet as it is what help to keep their skin supple and their coats shiny and healthy-looking. Fats also mobilize digestion and stabilize body temperature in your dog's system.

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It is important to know how much fats your canine is getting on a daily or at least weekly basis, and feed your pooch a good balance of fats – not too much and not too little. Give your dog too many fats and he will have health and weight problems. If you give too little – his coat and skin will suffer, and his energy might be affected too. Healthy fats help your dog with his energy levels, keep him stable and even-tempered.

What a lot of dog owners don't know is that fats always come with preservatives.

Because fats in dog food can go bad very quickly after manufacturing, preservatives need to be added during the manufacturing process. A choice of preservatives can be either natural or artificial. Obviously, it's always better to choose natural preservatives like vitamin C and E, which are also often labeled as tocopherol or ascorbate.

The bad guys – artificial preservatives – can be often found on dog food labels under the names of propylene glycol, ethoxquin, Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). These are dangerous to your canine's health because they contain pesticides, carcinogens, and toxins. Nonetheless, such ingredients remain approved by the FDA and are commonly found in all types of dog food brands.

Dog Nutrition 101 What Do Dogs Eat
Photo: 8 Kome


This one obviously goes without saying. If you want to know what do dogs eat, and you're getting ready for your new pooch, then water should be your number one priority item.

Always make sure that your dog has access to fresh, clean, cool water. A dog can live three weeks without eating, but can only survive a few days without any access to water.

Water helps your dog in numerous important ways. It assists with a dog's digestive processes, nutrient absorption, and regulating canine body temperature. Remember, it is never a good idea to let your dog drink out of the toilet as it can be contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Commercial diet

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Canine Grain-Free Recipe with Roasted Bison and Venison Adult Dry Dog Food, Made with High Protein from Real Meat and Guaranteed Nutrients and Probiotics 28lb

Commercially prepared and manufactured dog foods and kibble are the most popular option for pet owners in the United States. It's easy, convenient, quick, and provides almost all the nutrients your dog requires. These commercial dog foods are usually available in three types:

  • Dry dog food
  • Wet dog food
  • Semi-moist dog food

Dry dog food is the most inexpensive choice; however, it can be the least tasty for your Fido compared to the other two choices depending on your dog's taste palate.

Wet dog food is very tasty to most canines but it does not come with the advantage of dry dog food, which is help in maintaining your dog's healthy teeth and gums due to the hard crunchiness.

Semi-moist is somewhat equal to our “junk food” as it contains a lot of extra sugars and preservatives to keep it where it is. It's the least popular option among dog owners, but dogs themselves seem to love this type of kibble.

Sometimes dog owners will give their dogs a variety of all three types of dog foods because this offers a less boring diet for the dog and also ensures that all nutrients are being provided on a regular basis.

If you feed your child a dinner of chicken, broccoli, brown rice, and cantaloupe, you should pat yourself on the back for providing a well-balanced nutritious meal. But if you feed this same meal to your child three times a day throughout his life, you would start to see nutritional deficiencies — and no one would be surprised to hear that the child is tiring of the meal! The same holds true for dogs. Their bodies appreciate the different sources of nutrition, while their taste buds appreciate delicious changes on their palate.” – says Dr. Tracy Lord, DVM from Animal Clinic and Wellness Center in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Alternate dog diets

Dog Nutrition 101 What Do Dogs Eat
Photo: Ellie Attebery

Alternate dog diets can include anything from raw or homemade feeding to holistic diets, and anything else that can come to a dog owner's mind to try.

Many dog owners swear by a raw dog food diet for their canines to meet all their dog nutrition 101 needs. The reasoning is that a raw diet is the best diet for dogs because this is what dogs and wolves eat in the wild (or used to, some of them). They claim that raw foods help their dogs radiate good health and that dogs do not exhibit any allergies, chronic conditions, parasites, and have fresher breath and healthier joints.

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A raw food diet for dogs would include raw chicken, pork, and beef bones, frozen and freeze-dried options of nuggets that contain meat, vegetables, fruit, and other raw ingredients. They usually contain beef hearts, carrots, lettuce, and broccoli.

Note that there are two separate schools of thought in terms of raw dog food diet – one that advises highly pro this practice, and the one that advises completely against feeding your dogs raw diet. Here are some facts from FDA for you to read on this before you make up your mind.

Another alternate diet option is simply a homemade dog food diet. Dog owners prefer this type of diet for their dogs because there is less risk of ill effects, allergies, and potentially dangerous ingredients compared to commercial dog foods.

Dog Nutrition 101 What Do Dogs Eat
Photo: Lisa Murray

A successful homemade diet must offer your canine all the above that we have already discussed: complete proteins, digestible carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and a good balance of healthy fats. This is a minimum requirement for your dog to stay in optimal health.

If you decide to go the “homemade dog food diet” route, here's a quick tip: make large batches of food for your pooch and freeze them into portions for easy access. In terms of convenience, it's almost the same as buying commercial kibble in bags and then pouring it into your dog's bowl. In addition, when you switch to a homemade dog food diet, you can add more fresh ingredients to your pooch's meal when you take portions out to thaw.

While a homemade dog food diet will normally be the safest option when done right, there are a few potential dangers in here as well that pet owners should be aware of. The biggest problem is pet owners not looking far into the ingredients lists to notice whether that homemade meal they have prepared for the dog provides enough nutrition.

The results of this study, however, indicate that most available recipes for healthy dogs, even those published in books by veterinarians, do not provide essential nutrients in the quantities required by the dog. It is extremely difficult for the average pet owner — or even veterinarians — to come up with balanced recipes to create appropriate meals that are safe for long-term use.” – Prof. Jennifer Larsen, William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis.

Dog treats

Dog Nutrition 101 What Do Dogs Eat
Tasty homemade dog cake. Photo: maskedcard

There are so many options out there to treat your dog that most dog owners will often get confused – what's good, what's bad, and what's ugly in all the available variety of dog treats.

We – the human species – love treating ourselves most of the time. A snack here, and candy there; it's normal. Dog parents who adopt the “human-like” mentality towards pet ownership will attempt to use the same logic with their canines, and while it doesn't really work that way – there's nothing wrong with treating your dog with some tasty dog biscuits.

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Owners who are always on the lookout for dog treats can find all sorts of dog cookies, chew sticks, bacon strips, rawhide bones, treat bits, pig ears, and even dog chocolate. Treats for dogs all come in different sizes, colors, flavors, and shapes as well as with different nutrition. Before you go crazy with stuffing your pooch with random treats alone, it's important to remember that even though you love spoiling your dog, moderation is vital because pet obesity has recently climbed to be ranked as an epidemic.

To finish off this article, here are two main takeaways for every dog owner: always remember to consider the nutrition your canine receives (check if the diet of your choices provides them with everything they need) and always remember to calculate at least approximately how much your dog should eat to avoid underfeeding or overfeeding them. Here's a good dog's basic nutrition calculator for you to try.