Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
 
Cheeky Basenji trying to steal food from the counter

It is important to be aware of which foods dogs can and can’t eat. The reality is that there are many more foods which are good for dogs than which are harmful. However, those which are bad for them can potentially cause severe consequences.

Here we have a look at the different nutrients and focus on foods that dogs can eat and their properties but have a look at this article for more information about foods which are bad for dogs.

What are the Different Nutrients?

A dog’s diet is formed from different nutrients. These are termed macronutrients and are described in more detail below:

Protein

Protein is a nutrient that is formed from lots of smaller amino acids. Amino acids act as a basis for many tissues in the body, such as muscle, blood cells and connective tissues. There are amino acids that are essential (which the body cannot produce itself) and non-essential. Correct levels of protein and therefore amino acids are particularly important for normal growth in puppies. Protein in a dogs diet can come from animal and plant sources. Generally, dogs are better able to digest sources of animal protein.

Fat

Fats can also be referred to as lipids or fatty acids and provide an essential energy source in a dogs diet. The two main groups of fats are saturated and unsaturated fats. The distinction between the two is made depending on their different structures. There are also essential and non-essential fatty acids, subject to whether they can be made in the body or need to be obtained in the diet. Fats play many important roles in the body, including, brain and eye development, keeping hair and skin healthy and as a transport mechanism for fat-soluble vitamins to name a few.

Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are formed from molecules made up of a base of carbon and fall into three different groups: monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. Carbohydrates are not considered to be an essential nutrient for dogs but can provide a source of energy, as despite not being classified as an essential nutrient, dogs still require glucose. In addition, the by-products produced as a result of their fermentation are important for intestinal health and function.

Fibre is a plant polysaccharide that dogs are unable to digest. It is not considered to be an essential macronutrient, but contributes to gut health, helping to promote normal bowel movements and encouraging friendly bacteria in the gut.

Water

Water is very important for a dog to remain healthy. Despite this people often forget that it is a nutrient. Fresh, clean water should be freely available and easily accessible to dogs at all times. Water forms a part of the other fluids found in the body, such as blood and spinal fluid and approximately 60% of overall body weight is water. There are various factors that can affect the amount of water a dog needs and these include:

  • Activity Level – More active dogs need to drink more to make up for the water they lose whilst exercising.
  • Environmental Temperature – The higher the surrounding temperature the more water a dog needs to drink.
  • Diet – Different diets have varying water contents and nutritional compositions which affect overall water intake.
  • Disease – Some conditions cause dogs to drink more to stay properly hydrated. Mothers feeding puppies will also need to drink more water.

Water is essential to maintain an overall constant temperature, hydration and in addition to this plays an important role in the process of digestion and removal of waste products from the body via urine.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are essential for dogs to stay healthy. Vitamins are organic compounds and minerals are inorganic compounds, both of which need to be acquired through the diet. Varying amounts of each vitamin and mineral are required and these requirements can change depending on various factors such as life-stage, activity level, health status, etc.

Vitamins play many important and varied roles in the dog, but can be divided into two main categories:

  • Water soluble vitamins – Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6, B9 and B12.
  • Fat soluble vitamins – Vitamins A, D, E and K.

Similarly minerals are also necessary for a wide range of processes in the body and can also be divided into two main groups:

  • Trace minerals – Only required in very tiny amounts. Trace minerals include iron, zinc, manganese, copper, iodine and selenium.
  • Macro minerals – Required in slightly larger amounts. Macro minerals include potassium, chlorine, sodium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.

Which Foods Are Good for Dogs?

Dog eating a carrot

As with our own diets it is important to remember that no one type of food is good for a dog when eaten in excess. This means that a diet should be properly balanced and appropriate for the dog in question. If a home-cooked diet is fed this should be formulated by an expert so it is appropriately balanced. If a commercial food is fed this should provide all the nutrients that your dogs needs, and if desired other ingredients should only be fed in small amounts, but their addition is not necessary to provide a balanced diet.

When thinking about which foods a dog can eat it should be taken into account that dogs are not carnivores, they are omnivores, which means they should also have other ingredients, such as vegetables, fruit, cereals and pulses in their diet apart from just meat and fish. This list is by no means exhaustive, but looks at some foods that dogs can eat and their properties. It should be noted that some of these foods should be cooked before feeding them to dogs.

Meat, Fish and Other Animal Derived Products

Meat, fish and other animal derived products, such as meat or fish meals, are usually the primary source of protein in a dogs diet. A healthy diet for a dog should have a good quality protein source in it. Most dog diets are based around protein from meats, such as chicken, turkey, duck, other poultry, lamb, pork, beef and less commonly venison and rabbit.

Fish is also a high quality source of protein that dogs can eat. Types which are commonly fed to dogs include: flounder, herring, pollock and salmon, as well as sea foods, such as crustaceans and mussels, which are found in some foods.

Many prepared dog foods contain meat and or fish meals in them as these provide a good, easily digestible source of protein. The protein levels in meals can be nearly four times higher than in fresh meats. Meals are made by produced by a process called rendering – a process where cooking is used to separate the different parts of the meat or fish. Ideally, the exact source of the meal should be specified, as this is an indication of better quality.

Other nutritious foods that dogs can eat include tripe and other organ meats, such as heart, liver and kidney. These foods often contain higher more concentrated levels of some essential nutrients.

Eggs are another food that can make a valuable contribution to the nutrition content of a dogs diet. In dog foods eggs are often used in a dried form as they last for longer. Eggs are a source of protein and also contain immunoglobulin Y, which can be help to protect against some bacteria that cause stomach upsets.

Fruits, Vegetables, Beans and Legumes

Fruits and vegetables provide varying nutrients that can form part of a dogs diet. They contain many different vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre that can help to keep the digestive tract healthy. Some examples of fruits and vegetables that are commonly found in dog foods include:

  • Apple – Apples contain lots of fibre in addition to vitamins A and C. Apple seeds should be removed, however, before apple is fed, as the seeds contain cyanide, which is toxic if many seeds are eaten.
  • Carrot – Carrots have high levels of beta-carotene, vitamins K and B6 and antioxidants in them, in addition to fibre and sugars. This means they are good for eyesight and the immune system.
  • Cranberries – Cranberries contain manganese, vitamin C and antioxidants in addition to fibre. Some studies have shown the polyphenols that they contain to be protective against heart disease, some digestive conditions and even cancer.
  • Bananas – Bananas are high in fibre, as well as minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, and dogs usually like the taste of them. Take care to ensure the peel is removed.
  • Green beans – Green beans contain protein and also vitamin A, B6 and C in addition to minerals, such as iron. They are also high in fibre.
  • Cucumber – Cucumbers are high in water content and contain few calories along side some vitamins so can make a good snack. Care should be taken to cut cucumber up into small pieces though and only fresh cucumber is ok. Pickles, such as gherkins, should not be fed to dogs.
  • Chick peas – Chick peas are a type of pulse providing protein and fibre in addition to iron and phosphorus.
  • Lentils – There are different types of lentils, usually described by their colour – all are a type of pulse. Lentils contain high levels of vitamin C and B and are also rich in minerals, such as iron and phosphorus. In addition to this, they are a good source of protein and fibre.
  • Peas – Peas are a type of legume that provide protein and carbohydrate, as well as vitamin C and folic acid. Pea fibre and pea protein are both by-products that are produced from peas.
  • Potatoes – Potatoes are a root vegetable with high levels of starch in them, principally providing a source of carbohydrate.
  • Sweet potatoes – Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as containing antioxidants, fibre and complex carbohydrates to help maintain more stable blood glucose levels.
  • Soya beans – Soya beans are a type of legume that provide protein and B vitamins. Soya bean meal is produced as a by-product from soya beans.
  • Tapioca – Tapioca is produced from the starch in the root of the cassava plant. It has few other properties than as a carbohydrate source.

There are many other fruits and vegetables that dogs can eat. As a general rule any fruits with pits or seeds should have them removed, as they can either be toxic or create a physical obstruction in the stomach or intestine, which is dangerous.

Cereals, Grains and Seeds

Despite often receiving bad press ,cereals and grains can provide a good source of carbohydrate as part of a dogs diet. Although there are many different variations and by products formed from grains, whole grains are the most nutritious. Some examples of different grains, cereals and seeds include:

  • Barley – Barely is a common cereal grain that provides different nutrients, such as carbohydrate, fibre and protein, as well as B vitamins. When fed as a whole grain, barley has a low glycaemic index, which can help to control blood sugar when managing diabetes.
  • Rice – Brown rice is rice in its whole grain form. White rice has had the outer layers removed, reducing its nutritional value. Brown rice therefore provides more fibre than white rice and both provide a highly digestible source of carbohydrate. Brewer’s rice is a by-product produced from rice.
  • Maize or Corn – Maize contains high levels of starch and also fibre. Fibre is important for a feeling of satiety and can improve faecal quality in addition to helping to control blood sugar levels. While rare, however, maize has been linked to some food intolerances in dogs. If feeding maize or corn at home it is important to remove the cob first, as this can cause an obstruction if it is swallowed. Corn flour/starch and corn gluten meal are produced as by-products from maize.
  • Millet – Millet is a seed that is principally a source of carbohydrate. It does not contain gluten.
  • Oats – Oats are a type of grain that do not contain gluten. They can have beneficial effects of cholesterol and blood glucose and also contain fibre. Oatmeal is produced as a by-product from oats.
  • Rye – Rye is a grain with a similar nutritional value to wheat and barley, although it contains greater levels of soluble fibre than some other grains. This can help to control blood sugar and encourage a good intestinal health.
  • Quinoa – Quinoa is a type of seed with high levels of plant protein in it, in addition to containing essential amino acids. It also contains B vitamins and is a good source of fibre.
  • Wheat – Wheat is a cereal grain containing carbohydrate, protein, fibre and some vitamins and minerals. Wheat gluten is produced as a by-product from wheat.
  • Flaxseed/Linseed – Flaxseed and linseed are known interchangeably between the two names. Linseed contains high levels of protein and fatty acids, as well as a type of soluble fibre that is good for digestive health. The fatty acids it contains are highly beneficial and promote healthy skin and hair, as well as having anti-inflammatory effects.

Oils

  • Canola Oil – Canola oil is produced from rapeseed. It is low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats that can help lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease.
  • Coconut oil – Coconut oil contains has high levels of saturated fats in it and contains lauric acid which is thought to be antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. Coconut oil can cause high cholesterol levels and also encourage weight gain so should not be fed to overweight dogs.
  • Corn oil – Corn oil contains unsaturated fats as well as vitamin E, although the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is not as desirable as in some other types of oils.
  • Sunflower oil – Sunflower oil contains low levels of saturated fats and vitamin E. It has been found to be beneficial to red blood cells in dogs and also promotes a healthy coat and skin.
  • Soya bean oil – Soya bean oil contains relatively high levels of saturated fats and is favoured less as a vegetable oil source than some other plant oils.
  • Fish oil – Oily fish, such as tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines are used to produce fish oil. It contains essential fatty acids and vitamins. The fatty acids it contains can have numerous beneficial effects, including helping with joint problems, improving heart health and promoting healthy skin. There are also many different types of individual fish oils available and these usually have similar properties to the fish that they come from.

Additives/Supplements

There many different additives and supplements which can be a beneficial addition to a dogs diet. Some of the most commonly used include:

  • Chelated minerals – Chelating minerals is a process where minerals are combined with other elements to improve the way the dog is able to absorb them. It is a costly process and good quality foods should always contain minerals in a chelated form. It is important that the levels of minerals in a dogs diet are carefully measured so they are not lacking or in excess to keep them happy and healthy.
  • Chicory root – Chicory root contains a soluble fibre called inulin and antioxidants called polyphenolics. Inulin is though to act as a prebiotic and also to aid calcium absorption. Antioxidants can have numerous beneficial effects, including benefiting the liver and heart.
  • Chondroitin sulphate – Chondroitin sulphate is a supplement that aims to improve joint health. It is thought to enable production of better quality cartilage and aid its regeneration, and is therefore used to help treat osteoarthritis.
  • Dried brewers yeast – Dried brewers yeast is a by-product of beer manufacture and contains B vitamins and chromium. It is thought to act as a probiotic but there is not strong scientific evidence to confirm this.
  • Evening primrose oil – The essential oils that evening primrose oil contains can act as a natural anti-inflammatory and some people believe they are a helpful addition when treating skin and joint problems.
  • Glucosamine – Glucosamine is often fed as a supplement to try and artificially increase the levels that are naturally present in joints. It is thought that by doing so damaged cartilage can be repaired to some extent and some relief can be provided against the clinical signs of osteoarthritis. Very high doses of glucosamine have been connected to liver problems so an appropriate dose should be fed for the size of dog.
  • Guar gum – Guar gum is produced from the guar bean and adds fibre to the diet. It can be beneficial in diabetes or if there are high levels of fat in the blood.
  • Natural flavour – Natural flavour can come from either plant or animal materials. They are used to make foods more palatable.

Knowing What Your Dog Can Eat

German Shepherd & a Yorkshire Terrier

In conclusion, the list of foods which your dog can eat is extensive, but a balanced diet should be made up from many different ingredients.

Portion Control

It is also extremely important to consider the size of your dog when it comes to quantity and any extra ingredients or treats in their diet, a Yorkshire Terrier, for example, will need to eat only a tiny proportion of what a German Shepherd would eat. Your veterinarian should be able to help you determine what quantity will be right for your dog.

Lastly, if you are unsure about whether it is safe to feed your dog a certain type food, it is always better to be safe than sorry and check with your local veterinarian first.

Dog Breeds