Hunger is a dog’s natural state, hunger for energy and nutrients in the form of food. Energy comes from the protein, fat and carbohydrate your dog eats. Inside your dog’s intestines is a dynamic ecosystem, with bacteria vying with each other and ultimately striking a balance amongst themselves. This is the balanced homeostatic environment necessary for optimum digestion of nutrients needed by different parts of your dog’s body. The components of food and the good gut bacteria also help build an efficient immune system that protects your dog from illness and infection.
All dogs need protein to provide amino acids, the building blocks of all body tissues and the enzymes which support the body’s chemical reactions. Proteins are complex molecules made up of a variety of amino acids. The most natural source of protein is meat, but like us, dogs can get all the essential amino acids they need for sustaining life from vegetable protein. Cats can’t. If a cat’s only source of protein is vegetarian, eventually it will die from essential amino acid and other deficiencies.
Fat Stimulates The Taste Buds
Dogs also need fat, the most energy-dense nutrient with more than twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbohydrate. Fat provides energy and palatability to a dog’s diet. It also transports fat-soluble vitamins around the body. Nutrition studies shows that the components of fat, the fatty acids, do more than simply provide energy.
Essential Fatty Acids Are Vital
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are associated with controlling allergy, arthritis, inflammation, heart disease, flea bite hypersensitivity, auto-immune disease, kidney and nervous system function, dermatitis, even cancer. Most of the EFAs called Omega 6 are associated with cell inflammation. While Omega 6 EFAs are essential for cell membrances to work properly they also may suppress the immune system. Another group called Omega 3 are associated with reduced cellular inflammation. Generally speaking, Omega 3 EFAs do not suppress the immune system. In both people and dogs dietary Omega 3 fatty acids, working at the cellular level may enhance the efficiency of the immune system
‘Good’ And ‘Less Good’ Fatty Acids
Dogs need a supply of animal or vegetable derived linoleic acid, which is an omega 6 EFA, for body growth, wound healing, liver function and other essential activities. Dogs can convert linoleic acid to another omega 6 called arachidonic acid which is necessary for blood clotting, coat condition, health of the heart and eyes and efficient reproduction. Some of the substances called eicosanoids, derived from arachidonic acid stimulate inflammation. Cats can’t convert linoleic to arachidonic acid. They need an animal source of both of these fatty acids in their diet.) Dogs also use omega 3 EFAs, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) to help maintain the structure of cell walls. Evening primrose, fish and linseed oil all are naturally high in omega 3s. Eicosanoids derived from the omega 3 fatty acids are not as inflammatory as those from omega 6 EFAs. Feeding diets rich in omega 3 fatty acids results in a shift in the balance of EPA and arachidonic acid in the cell wall.
Carbohydrates are not a natural source of energy for dogs but they are able to convert carbohydrates to the sugar glucose, used to produce glycogen that is stored in muscle for later energy use. (Greyhounds are particularly good at storing glycogen.) There is some evidence that carbohydrates are a good source of energy during pregnancy and lactation. Starch is the most common source of carbohydrate for dogs. Cooked starch is easily digested.
Fibre Adds Value
Until recently the role of soluble and insoluble fibre in a dog’s diet was under-appreciated. Fibre is a perfectly natural part of a dog’s diet, consumed when it eats the fur or viscera contents of other mammals. Fibre stimulates saliva and gastric juice production. Water soluble fibre increases the stickiness of food and keeps it in the stomach longer. Soluble fibre slows down digestion and absorption of food in the small intestine while insoluble fibre stimulates ‘intestinal hurry’. Fibre is potentially beneficial for preventing or treating constipation, sugar diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and excess fat in the blood stream. The fermentability of fibre is important. Fermentable fibre creates substances in the intestines that may inhibit harmful bacteria. The actual amount of fibre your dog needs varies with its age and lifestyle. Beet pulp, chicory, rice bran, unprocessed bran, bran breakfast cereals like ‘All-bran’ are common sources of fermentable and non fermentable fibre. Psyllium is an excellent form of soluble fibre.
Water Is Essential
Of course, water is the essence of life. It is the largest component of most of the cells of the dog’s body. Water carries water-soluble vitamins and is absorbed by soluble fibre to add beneficial bulk to your dog’s diet. Always provide fresh, clean and easily accessible water.