6 Essential Nutrients Your Dog Needs

(Dr. Iulia Mihai, DVM) Like humans, dogs have specific needs related to the essential nutrients in their diet. In other words, for dogs to lead a healthy life, they need certain essential nutrients to fulfill their nutritional needs. Dogs need proteins, minerals, vitamins, carbs, fats, and water and can get these nutrients from the diet they consume. If one or more nutrients are missing from your dog's food, your pet can get sick. Dogs can develop certain nutrient deficiencies when their diet is not balanced.

In this article, you will learn what the essential nutrients for your dog are and how you can keep your pet healthy.

What Nutrients Do Dogs Need?

For your dog to grow strong and lead a healthy life, it needs the following nutrients:

  1. Proteins
  2. Carbohydrates
  3. Fats
  4. Vitamins
  5. Minerals
  6. Water

Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are macronutrients that should be present in your pet's daily diet. Your dog’s body needs these nutrients in large quantities as they provide them with calories (energy) to function properly.

The amount of calories each dog needs depends on its breed, age, weight, or how energetic it is. Protein and carbohydrates have four calories per gram, while fat has double the amount. To know how many calories your dog needs, there is a basic equation that gives you the recommended amount.

Resting Energy Requirements (RER) is calculated as follows:

  • For medium-sized dogs - Dog's body weight in kilograms x 30 +70 = calories/day

  • For small or large dogs - 70 x dog’s body weight in kilograms to the ¾ power = calories/day

  1. Proteins

Proteins are macromolecular organic substances formed from simple or complex chains of amino acids that are necessary for the body to function properly. They help the development of teeth, fur, and skin and provide the body with energy.

Dogs need adequate amounts of protein per day, with the correct proportions of amino acids. These amino acids can be taken by pets from both animal and plant protein.

Animal proteins have better combinations of amino acids. Therefore, they should be found in your dog's food daily. However, although dogs are declared to be carnivorous animals, their body can use proteins taken from plants, so they are omnivorous.

Puppies and pregnant or lactating females need more protein in their diet. This happens because they have higher energy consumption.

The extra amount of protein in the body is excreted through the urine.

Dogs that don't have enough protein in their diet may lose weight or have poor digestion. Their muscles may atrophy, and they can develop various conditions. Dietary protein deficiency is rare and does not occur when you feed your dog commercial dog food.

Vegetarian dogs or those fed homemade diets that are not carefully selected for their specific nutritional needs have a greater risk of developing protein deficits. If you want your dog to be healthy, its diet should include animal protein (from meat, organs, eggs, and fish) in the first place, and then vegetables, fruits, and grains. Plant proteins can be taken from beans or lentils.

  1. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates contain sugar and fiber. However, dogs' bodies can synthesize glucose from proteins and fats, so they don't have a strict need for carbs.

These macronutrients are the main source of glucose and provide dogs with fiber. Unlike cats, dogs can receive a larger amount of carbs in their food.

Carbs can be taken from vegetables, fruits, and grains. Most dogs can store small amounts of carbohydrates in their livers for a few hours between meals.

  1. Fats

All animals need a certain amount of fat in their diet for good development and functioning of the body. Certain fatty acids are essential for energy storage, vitamin absorption, internal organ protection, and body temperature regulation.

The essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6 fall into the category of fats. They are generally found in fish oil, which is necessary for dogs' proper development and health.

Fats contain more calories than carbs and proteins. When a dog is fed too many calories, fat can be stored indefinitely, and your pet can gain weight if you don't watch its diet. These body fats can affect your dog's pancreas and gastrointestinal system.

  1. Vitamins

Vitamins are essential for dogs for normal development and good metabolism. They help break down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates at the cellular level.

Too few vitamins in the dog's diet can lead to severe health problems (hypovitaminosis) and even death.

There are two types of vitamins: water-soluble (they dissolve in water and are not stored in the body) - vitamins from the B complex and vitamin C - and fat-soluble (they dissolve in fats and are stored in the liver and fatty tissues) - vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Most vitamins are found in wet or dry food. Some types of food, such as cooked food, do not contain all the vitamins your dog needs.

The role of vitamins

  • Vitamin A – is necessary for your dog's good vision; it supports growth and the development, it strengthens the immune system and supports cellular function. Vitamin A helps protect the body against bacterial and parasitic diseases.
  • Vitamin D – regulates the level of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.
  • Vitamin C – is an essential antioxidant; it eliminates free radicals and reduces inflammation.
  • Vitamin E – is an antioxidant that helps maintain balance in your dog's body. It protects the integrity of cell membranes and regulates the efficiency of unsaturated fatty acids by protecting them against oxidation.
  • Vitamins from the B complex – these vitamins play an important role in the normal functioning of red blood cells, the nervous system, and metabolism.
  • Vitamin K – is necessary for blood coagulation and faster healing of wounds.
  1. Minerals

Dogs' bodies need minerals to function at maximum capacity. These non-organic compounds fulfill multiple roles:

  • They are the main component of bones
  • They are part of red blood cells to carry oxygen to the brain
  • They support wound healing
  • They balance the fluid levels
  • They are essential for the normal contraction of muscles, including the heart

Minerals are not produced by the body, so your dog will need to take them from its diet.

There are two classes of minerals:

  • Macrominerals - calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, and chlorine
  • Microminerals - iron, zinc, copper, selenium, and iodine

Puppies, pregnant and lactating dogs will need a larger amount of minerals than adult dogs.

  1. Water

Water is indispensable to life. A healthy dog can survive a maximum of three days without water - this time depends on its size, age, the outside temperature, the type of food, and its activity level.

Water does not contain calories but only a small amount of minerals. Dogs must have fresh water available daily, and the amount of water consumed will depend on several factors: their size, activity level, age, type of diet, and outside temperature.


Our dog's health depends a lot on the diet we feed it, and feeding our pet requires attention on our part. Dogs need a complete, balanced, and varied diet specially created for them in order to develop healthily and for us to enjoy them for as long as possible.

If your dog has a nutritional deficit (vitamins, minerals, or proteins), it can develop severe health problems. It is best to consult with your vet about choosing the right diet, and we encourage you to always carefully study the labels on all dog food packages.


Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology

Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic in her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.





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