Balanced Food: Source versus How Much

“How much should I feed my dog?”, as well as “Is this a good food?” are questions I am frequently asked.

How much food depends on the individual. Is s/he a healthy weight?   Age, breed, activity level, gender, intact or neutered, and lifestyle are also significant.

Where the calories come from is more important than how many calories.

Look objectively at your pet’s rib cage, spine and hips.  If the bones are prominent, easily seen or counted, and the waist is exaggerated, then s/he is thin.  If not, run your hand across each area and see if you can feel the bones without uncomfortable pressure.  Is there a clear waistline, looking from above?  Is there a curve between the rib cage and back legs?  If the answers are yes, then your pet is likely at healthy weight. If not, and the bones are hard to feel, there is no waist line and there is a flat line from the front legs to the back legs, s/he is overweight.

Food is a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates.  Dogs need quality protein to build cells and maintain tissues and lean muscle.  Fats supply energy, fatty acids for cell growth, and transportation for micronutrients.  Carbohydrates from whole foods provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and ensure back-up glycogen production.  Too many or low-quality carbohydrates mean stored fat, low energy and not enough protein to build and maintain tissue.  Grilled cheese on whole wheat has some protein value, but if you ate that every day you’d probably gain weight.

Physiologically dogs don’t need more than about 14% of their diet to be from carbohydrates.  The ancestral or natural diet profile compared to commercial “premium” diets looks like this:

Ancestral Diet Premium Dry Food
Protein 56 – 61% 18 – 40%
Fat 25 – 30% 8 – 22%
Carbohydrates 14% 40 – 50%

Wondering how your brand compares?

Commercial pet foods display a Guaranteed Analysis label listing the product’s minimum protein, minimum fat, and maximum fiber and moisture content.  While fiber is a component of carbohydrates, a total carbohydrate content is not listed.  Recognizing these are approximates, find the carbohydrate content by taking the sum of what is given from 100.  These are examples of two top-selling foods from a popular website:

Guaranteed Analysis

Dry Dog Food Canned Dog Food
Crude Protein (min) 34% 11%
Crude Fat (min) 15% 6%
Moisture (max) 10% 75%
Carbohydrates 100 – (34+15+10) = 41% 100 – (11+6+75) = 8%

So, the canned food is better, right?  Look at the moisture content; 10% versus 75%.  Removing the moisture produces a dry matter basis for comparison.

100 – % moisture = % dry basis

% protein / % dry basis = DM protein

Same Guaranteed Analysis – Dry Matter Basis

Dry Dog Food Canned Dog Food
Protein (min) 38% 44%
Fat (min) 17% 24%
Carbohydrates 46% 32%
Moisture 0% 0%

And how does this help?

Keeping in mind the ancestral diet profile, look for an approximate ratio for your dog’s food.  Here is the comparison using this example.

Ancestral Diet Premium Dry Food Canned Food
Protein 56 – 61% 38% 44%
Fat 25 – 30% 17% 24%
Carbohydrates 14% 46% 32%

Are these foods bad?  Look for whole foods in the ingredients; named meat proteins over generic meat groups like chicken not poultry, salmon not fish, and vegetables like carrot not beet pulp, and grains like quinoa not rice flour.  Avoid any form of wheat, corn and soy.  Fats should also be named sources like chicken fat, sardine oil, and flax oil, not a generic animal fat or fish oil or vegetable oil.  If it’s hard to pronounce, it’s probably hard to digest.

Use the information to your advantage.  If your brand has healthy ingredients, but is heavy on carbohydrates, consider adding meat to balance the protein percentage.

Know that fat has more than twice the caloric value of protein or carbohydrates.  Which means include quality fats to your dog’s food thoughtfully.  Lean meats can mean 30% less calories and 60% more protein for the same ounce.  Carbohydrates should be complex, not refined or processed so they still have nutrient and fiber value.

Ruling out medical issues, modify an underweight or overweight dog’s diet by adding or removing portions.  Start slowly at 15 to 20% total daily meal portions.  Dogs can lose 1 to 3% body weight per month, safely.  Have a target in mine, take measurements or weigh your pet and keep track.  For daily calorie guidelines please visit

Make changes to your dog’s diet slowly to avoid digestive distress.  Adding fresh foods to dry food diets, or changing dry foods with significant changes in component percentages should be done in increments of 15-20%.

Treats are not free.  Treats should be considered part of the daily meal equation, with their protein, fat and carbohydrates included.  They don’t need to be limited to any food group.  Use all three groups in the same proportions as the meals.  No-salt, no molasses, dried foods are excellent choices as they travel well, can be broken into small bits and are readily found.  Limit fruit and high sugar veggies like carrots.  Put treat portions in bags so when they’re empty, stop.

Exercise is too important to not mention.  When those doe eyes are pointed your way, try a walk, a game of fetch or tug, or any activity that changes the focus from food.  In the training world, getting treats is the same as getting paid.  Don’t pay for little to nothing.  It’s too expensive.

Dr. Ava Frick, a mentor, says that for dogs, food is about the moment not the volume.  Hopefully, this voluminous information helps with many meaningful moments. (

[Published March 21, 2017 in Sound Publishing’s, Peninsula Daily News, Healthy Living, volume 14, Issue 1;]