If you look at the ingredient list on dog food packaging, there may be some scientific-sounding names that have you thinking “What is that for?” Some of the ingredients are important vitamins and minerals for dogs that are required in their food to keep them healthy. To help you decipher the ingredients, we’ve listed some of the vitamins and minerals you’re likely to find on dog food labels. We’ll also cover the other nutrients that are vital for keeping your dog healthy.
If you’re reading this because you’re thinking about switching your dog’s food, remember that there are a variety of reasons to consider changing your dog’s food, but you should always consult your veterinarian first.
Nutrients Are the Foundation of Your Dog’s Health
First, let’s go over the difference between “nutrients” and “ingredients.” Nutrients are the components of your dog’s diet that are needed to support life, whereas ingredients are the raw materials in food that supply the nutrients. Each nutrient is classified into one of six categories: water, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. Fiber is also an important part of your dog’s diet; however, it is not considered a nutrient.
Nonessential vs. Essential Nutrients for Dogs
Within each category, nutrients can also be classified as essential or nonessential. Essential nutrients need to be provided in your dog’s food because their body either can’t produce them or can’t make enough to meet your dog’s nutritional needs. Nonessential nutrients are also important for keeping your dog healthy, but their body is able to produce them. Nonessential nutrients can also be absorbed from food ingredients.
Minerals in Dog Food: Tiny Nutrients with Important Roles
Minerals are important for keeping body processes functioning and for maintaining good health. They support the immune system, are components of bone and cartilage, are involved in muscle movement and nerve activity, and help with oxygen movement in the blood. Some minerals are also sources of antioxidants that help protect your dog from the damaging effects of free radicals.
There are 12 minerals that are essential for dogs. They can be found in a large variety of ingredients and can also be added to food as ingredients themselves. Some of the minerals you may see listed as ingredients on a commercial dog food label include:
- Calcium pantothenate (calcium source)
- Cobalt amino acid chelate (cobalt source)
- Dicalcium phosphate (calcium and phosphorus source)
- Ferrous sulfate (iron source)
- Iron proteinate (iron source)
- Manganese proteinate (manganese source)
- Potassium chloride (potassium source)
- Salt (sodium and chloride source)
- Sodium selenite (selenium source)
- Zinc sulfate (zinc source)
Do Dogs Need Vitamins in Their Food?
Yes, vitamins are important for energy production and metabolism, are vital for healthy growth and also support the immune system. There are 11 essential vitamins for dogs, which includes choline, a vitamin-like essential nutrient. Vitamins are found in a large variety of dog food ingredients and can also be added as ingredients themselves.
You probably recognize the names of some vitamins, like B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamin E. However, when they’re listed as ingredients on a commercial dog food label, their names may look a little different. Here are some of the vitamins you may see on the ingredient list of your dog’s food.
- Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
- Biotin (vitamin B7)
- Calcium pantothenate (a source of pantothenic acid or vitamin B5)
- Folic acid (vitamin B9)
- Niacin (vitamin B3)
- Pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1)
- Vitamin B12 supplement
- Vitamin D3 supplement
- Vitamin E supplement
Do Dogs Need Vitamin or Mineral Supplements?
If you feed your dog a commercial food that includes a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on the label, your dog most likely does not need vitamin and mineral supplements. Pet food that has a nutritional adequacy statement (AAFCO) statement has been formulated to meet the nutritional needs of the pet that the food is intended for. The food contains all the essential nutrients required (including essential vitamins and minerals), and the nutrients are present in the correct ratios for the life stage of that animal (i.e., gestation/lactation, growth, maintenance or all life stages). This means that they are receiving the appropriate minerals and vitamins (and other nutrients), in the correct form and in the correct amount, so vitamin or mineral supplements are not needed.
However, due to health issues, some dogs may have special dietary requirements, and that could include specially formulated dog vitamin supplements. Always consult with your veterinarian on the appropriate diet needs for your dog. A board-certified veterinary nutritionist can also provide advice on the correct diet formulation, including whether giving dogs vitamin or mineral supplements is appropriate.
Other Nutrients in Your Dog’s Diet
The other four nutrient categories are water, carbohydrates, protein and fats. Here are some key facts about these nutrients, their role in keeping your dog healthy and some ingredient sources.
- Essential for life and the main component of healthy cells
- Regulates body temperature and has an important role in digestion and nutrient absorption
- About 70 percent of an adult dog’s body weight is water
- Easy access to fresh, clean water is vital to keep your dog healthy
- Provide energy to fuel your dog’s activities and supply fiber for a healthy digestive tract
- Important sources of energy and building blocks for other nutrients
- Are not considered essential for healthy adult dogs
- Sweet potato, ancient grains and corn are good carbohydrate sources
- Dogs need protein from their diet to survive
- Provide energy and amino acids necessary for normal biological functions
- 10 amino acids are considered essential for dogs
- Meat, fish and poultry are good protein sources
- Concentrated energy sources and the main energy supply for dogs
- Important roles in protecting the body, cell function and structure, and the transport of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K)
- The essential fatty acids for dogs are one omega-6 fatty acid and three omega-3 fatty acids
- Some omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in pet food are nonessential which is why there may be a statement in the guaranteed analysis section of pet food labels saying that they are “not recognized as an essential nutrient by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”
- Animal and fish products, plant and seed oils, and ancient grains are good fat sources
The list of ingredients on commercial pet food labels may look intimidating, but each ingredient (including vitamins and minerals) is there for one purpose — to ensure your dog is receiving the nutrition they need to live a healthy and active life.