Dog food testing: Components of a balanced diet
By Manuel Schaffrinna 16/05/2019
Pet owners want to provide their favourite with the best care possible and many therefore decide on home-cooking their dog’s meals rather than relying on commercially prepared pet food.
But a 2013 study conducted by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, revealed that many of the popular homemade recipes actually lack in nutrition. The team analysed 200 different recipes for home-prepared dog food, collected from websites, veterinary textbooks and pet care books. However, 95 % of prepared meals showed a deficiency of at least one essential nutrient and 84% lacked even multiple required nutrients.
The results illustrate the hurdles in that approach of feeding – one has to carefully make sure to provide the appropriate amount of relevant nutrients to sustain a dog’s best health.
Matters are made even more complicated by the additional need of the right balance: Nutrients must not only be included in the right amount but also, in some cases, in the correct proportion to each other to provide their full nutritional value.
Commercially prepared pet food is not just convenient but it also reassures a dog’s owner that their fury favourite receives a nutritionally complete diet. By checking the nutrition labels provided on the packaging dog owners can track the specific benefits of a certain product and pick the most appropriate according to their dog’s needs. Every dog’s nutrition requirement also varies throughout its lifetime – e.g. a puppy has different needs compared to an adult dog – and also significantly depends on its activity level as well as health condition.
One can distinguish between five essential groups of nutrients that are necessary to promote every dog’s wellbeing: vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids as well as proteins and amino acids. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) categorises the following as essential for dogs:
Vitamins are essential for maintaining a dog’s health. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in a dog’s body fat tissue and liver. Vitamin A is needed for cell development and for growth processes while also promoting a good vision and immune function. Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) supports the calcium metabolism and therefore promotes a dog’s skeletal health. Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol) acts as a natural antioxidant, scavenging free radicals and supporting the immune system. Furthermore, it helps with a shiny coat and healthy skin. Water-soluble vitamins are essential for the energy metabolism, the process of converting fats, proteins and carbohydrates into energy so that a dog can stay active. The group of B-vitamins - Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folic acid), B12, as well as Choline - are critical for a healthy energy metabolism. Vitamin C is not an essential vitamin, but it supports the immune system, promotes healthy joints as well as cartilage and is therefore recommended.
The macrominerals Calcium and Phosphorus work together to ensure proper bone development and preservation while also supporting cell conduction for important functions such as nerve impulse transmission or muscular contraction.
Sodium, Chloride and Potassium work together to support the balance of fluids in cells and therefore impact things like blood pressure or kidney function. Magnesium further supports the electrolyte balance inside cells and promotes bone structure integrity. Trace minerals on the other hand are only required in small amounts.
Iron is essential for the synthesis of hermoglobin (red blood cells) and myoglobin (muscle cells) and is also important in the energy metabolism, as is Manganese which further also supports healthy bones.
Selenium and Iodine are needed for the functioning of the thyroid that is also key in the dog’s thermoregulation. Furthermore, Copper promotes the coat colour, while Zinc supports the underlying skin integrity.
Proteins are made up of amino acids that build and maintain structures in the body. Therefore, protein sources deliver amino acids that build and maintain a dog’s muscles, bones, blood, organs, skin and its coat. Proper levels of essential amino acids are needed for the synthesis of proteins. This is especially important for puppies to support their growth but also all adult dogs need essential amino acids for the proper functioning of the immune system to stay healthy. The AAFCO requires the following amino acids:
Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine and Methioninecysteine, Phenylalanine and Phenylalanine-tyrosine Threonine, Tryptophan as well as Valine.
Fatty acids are part of every body cell and therefore important to every structure. Essential fatty acids (EFA), however, cannot be synthesised by the body and must therefore be obtained by food. EFA are important for the immune system as well as a healthy vision, skin and coat.
While fats are the most concentrated energy source, carbohydrates are non-essential nutrients but serve as a readily available energy source sparing protein. Carbohydrates further support the proper functioning of the body. They contain dietary fibres that promote a healthy digestion of nutrients and also support the movement of waste materials out of the body.
Commercially prepared pet food is carefully crafted to contain all essential nutrients for a balanced diet. The knowledge about the specific levels of contained nutrients for every product is therefore key. For over 30 years, we here at Eurofins have been globally testing for life and offer the whole range of tests. Our team would be happy to assist you with the certified testing of your products. Let us get in touch and discuss your specific needs.
Eurofins Food Analytics NZ Ltd
0800 3876 3467