Main nutrients in the diet for dogs and cats

Nutrition is the sum of processes by which an animal ingests and uses all the substances required for its maintenance, growth, production or reproduction. Through food, the living being satisfies its nutritional requirements, since it ingests the necessary nutrients for its conservation and growth. There are 6 different groups of nutrients for dogs and cats which we are going to see next.


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Group of nutrients for dogs and cats

1. Water

Water is an essential nutrient that can be considered as food. It is composed of suspended mineral particles called electrolytes. An animal that feeds on dry feed will take approximately 2.5 times the weight of the food it receives. However, in diets with high moisture content, the needs will decrease considerably.

2. Protein

A chemical substance that is part of the structure of cell membranes and is the essential constituent of living cells. Protein it is formed by different chains of amino acids which  are classified as either essential or not essential. The essential amino acids are those that must be incorporated into the diets since the animal is not capable of synthesizing them itself. These are: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, fenialamine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

Although taurine is not an amino acid itself, it is related to the functioning of the retina. Cats do not synthesize it in sufficient quantities, so they need an extra supply.

3. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are formed by carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, forming covalent bonds that are difficult to break. Thanks to the oxidative phosphorylation of carbohydrates we obtain energy. They are present in two forms:

  • Glucose as an immediate energy supply.
  • Glycogen as a reserve.

It is important to emphasize within this group that fiber, although it is not a nutrient in itself, has a vital importance for the physiological functioning of the digestive system.

4. Fats or lipids

These nutrients constitute the main energy contribution in the food. Its main functions are:

  • To provide essential fatty acids.
  • To transport the liposoluble vitamins.
  • To give palatability and texture to food.
  • To facilitate the swallowing of the food bolus.

Note that the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 are of major importance during pregnancy and lactation. They act on the immune, nervous, and cardiovascular systems and in general they improve the metabolism of the animal, helping it acquire over time a shiny, firm and healthy coat.

The amount of fat contained in a diet must be directly proportional to the diet’s protein content. That is, the amount of fat can be increased if, in parallel, the protein content is increased.

5. Vitamins

Vitamins are organic substances that promote correct physiological functioning. According to their solubility capacity they are classified as water-soluble or liposoluble.

The water-soluble vitamins are only soluble in water, so they do not accumulate in the tissues, preventing hypervitaminosis states. The main ones are vitamin C and different B vitamins.

Imbalances in liposoluble vitamins produce important diseases. The lack of vitamin A or retinol is related to vision problems, decreased vitamin K intake with healing problems, a deficit of vitamin D produces alterations at bone level and the lack of vitamin E or tocopherols causes muscular dystrophy and erythrocyte hemolysis.

6. Minerals

Minerals are organic substances necessary for the growth and physiological maintenance of the animal. Their functions include structural capacity in bone and cartilage tissue, the regulation of neuromuscular transmission and catalytic activity as members of enzymes.

The most important minerals in animal feed is calcium, which helps maintain healthy bones and teeth, sodium and chlorine which regulate body fluids and fhosphorus, which contributes to cellular and muscular function.

Nutritional evaluation for dogs and cats

Once the characteristics of each nutrient have been analyzed, the nutritional evaluation that will provide the necessary amount of nutrients for dogs and cats can be done. For this, we have to take into account several factors such as height, race, sedentary lifestyle, maternity, lactation…

The nutritional evaluation is a process that is carried out in two parts:

  1. Evaluation of selection in each animal. Based on this selection, pets that are healthy and have no risk factors do not need an additional nutritional assessment.
  2. Extended evaluation. It is performed when one or more risk factors related to nutrition are found, or when the presence of these factors is suspected based on the selection evaluation.

There are several methods to determine the nutritional needs in an animal’s diet:

  • First, the final product is analyzed in the laboratory, this way the percentages of humidity, ash, proteins, fats, fiber and nitrogen-free extract will be determined, and from these data we will be able to obtain the maximum and minimum levels of each nutrient.
  • The second method will be done following the recommendations of the different agencies responsible for the study of animal nutrition. These standards will determine if a food is “complete and balanced”.

The minimum levels required vary depending on the period that the animal is in, in case of growth or reproduction the needs will be greater than in a maintenance period.

One way to know the nutrients in food is through the “Nutritional Guidelines for Complete and Complementary Food for Dogs and Cats”, such as FEDIAF or AAFCO. These guides will help producers of dog and cat feed to produce nutritionally balanced foods, in addition to meeting the requirements of the EU legislation on animal nutrition, both for adult animals, growing animals and in the breeding period, in addition to assessing the nutritional capacity of these foods.

The guidelines should be as rigorous as possible and will be based on up-to-date scientific studies. They also facilitate the evaluation of food, and cooperation between manufacturers, professionals responsible for animal care and competent authorities.

Therefore, we should always be sure that the food we are giving an animal is rich in minimal nutrients. The recommended daily allowance should satisfy all nutritional needs for both dogs and cats.

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