By Emily Gantt
Published: 02/18/2021, edited: 08/10/2021
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Pet parents often worry if their dog is getting enough nutrients, especially if they have a naturally lean dog. Knowing what your dog needs and doesn’t need can get confusing, especially since feeding guidelines have changed significantly over the years.
Nowadays, there are all sorts of dog foods on the market: high-protein, gluten-free, grain-free, vegan. But how do you know if your pet is getting what they need from their food? Is high-quality food even enough? We’ll discuss exactly what your dog needs, how to spot a deficiency, and what to do about it.
What nutrients do dogs need?
Dogs require many of the same micro- and macronutrients that humans do. Most of their calories should come from proteins and fats, though these alone aren’t enough. Dogs also need vitamins and minerals, most of which they can get from high-quality dog food.
Below are the primary nutrients dogs need:
What happens if a dog doesn’t get the nutrients they need?
Dogs need an array of vitamins and minerals for their bodies to operate normally. For instance, without enough magnesium, a dog’s muscles cannot function properly. In severe cases, this can mean heart arrhythmias, loss of coordination, and lethargy.
Lack of B12 can suppress digestion and inhibit the body’s ability to generate new blood cells. Milder cases of B12 deficiency are usually characterized by a lack of energy and motivation.
Unlike humans who can synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, dogs absorb very little vitamin D from the sun and must get their daily recommended intake through their diet. Vitamin D controls calcium modulation and enables calcium ions to move from the blood to the bones, indirectly contributing to growth and development. Too little vitamin D can cause serious bone irregularities and heart problems.
Folic acid is another essential component for canine nutrition, playing a vital role in DNA synthesis and cell production. Without enough folic acid, dogs can become weak and severely anemic.
Too little zinc can also spell trouble for dogs. A zinc deficiency can lower the body’s immune response and inhibit the body’s natural healing processes. Critically low calcium levels are also cause for concern and can lead to epileptic activity in dogs.
Basically, too little of any essential nutrient can have serious medical consequences for canines.
Signs a dog isn’t getting enough nutrients
There are many signs that a dog might not be getting the nutrients they need. Some of the most common include:
Unusually low energy
Dry, scaly skin or dandruff
Slow growing hair and nails
Prolonged periods without defecation
Eating non-food items
Low white blood cell counts
What causes nutritional deficiency?
When you think of canine malnutrition, the first thing that probably comes to mind is that the dog isn’t getting enough to eat. While this is certainly a cause of nutritional deficiency, often food isn’t the issue at all. Here are a few other common causes of malnutrition in canines.
Tapeworms are common culprits for nutritional deficiency, especially in puppies. An infestation of these nasty buggers can drain your dog of electrolytes they need for normal bodily processes. In fact, some infestations are so bad they require IV fluids to stabilize the canine.
Low-quality dog food
Low-quality dog food is another cause of malnutrition in dogs. Even if your dog is eating the recommended amount of dog food for their size, lack of necessary vitamins, minerals, and protein can cause your pet to experience the above side effects.
Medications or disease
Malabsorption due to medications or disease can also contribute to nutritional deficiency, and your pup may have signs of nutritional deficiency even if their food has the proper dietary analysis. Genetic mutations, specifically those that render the body incapable of synthesizing folic acid, can lower vitamin levels.
Nursing dogs are especially susceptible to low calcium levels since the overproduction of milk can deplete the body of calcium. If calcium levels get too low, it can result in hypocalcemia, a condition that causes seizures.
Parasites can contribute to malnourishment too. While fleas won’t directly cause malnutrition, an infestation can deplete red blood cells to the point of anemia. Anemia can exacerbate malnutrition symptoms, like lethargy and weakness, and make it harder for your pet to gain weight. Fleas also transmit eggs of intestinal parasites, which do cause malnutrition. Internal parasites can deplete your dog of electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals they need to thrive.
Diarrhea, vomiting, and anorexia can also cause nutritional deficiencies and dehydration in dogs. While a stomach bug may not seem like a big deal, it can turn from bad to worse quickly if your pet’s electrolyte levels drop. If you think your dog is dehydrated or malnourished, seek help from a veterinarian immediately.
How to combat nutritional deficiency
The first step to combatting nutritional deficiency is to talk to your vet. Your vet can recommend supplements and assist you with finding the right dog food to meet their needs. Your vet will also be able to identify what’s causing the nutritional deficiency and help you find a solution. In the meantime, put your pet on a flea and tick preventative and have them checked and/or treated for intestinal parasites.
Make a vet appointment if you’re concerned your dog isn’t getting the proper amount of nutrients. A vet can perform blood tests to see if your dog is in the healthy range for the vitamins and nutrients. If your dog is found to have a deficiency, further testing may be needed to determine the cause.