Dog Nutrition 101

When it comes to modern dog nutrition, there are about as many diet trends as there are for humans! Rather than stress about what to buy – or, just grab the latest buzz food product because it’s got all the words on the label that you want in your own diet– make it your mission to consider your dog’s individual needs first.

Some key factors that influence your dog’s dietary needs are their overall health, age, size, breed, and lifestyle, to name a few. Every animal is different, though, and the best diet for your pooch is one that serves him all the vital nutrients he needs to be happy and energetic and his best, heathy self. If you suspect your pet has sensitivities or allergies that require an unconventional diet, the best thing to do is talk to your vet. Don’t rely on Dr. Google to diagnose an allergy or intolerance – the last thing you want to do is feed your dog the wrong diet and cause a long term health issue.

To help you understand a little more about some of the unconventional diets du jour, though, here’s a 101 on a few that are currently trending.

Why feed your dog an unconventional diet: It’s all about food allergies & intolerances

In many cases, the reason someone chooses to feed their dog a special diet is ideal is due to a specific food allergy or intolerance. Food intolerances, which are different from allergies, are the result of poor digestion. In the case of a lactose intolerance, a dog or a human who is either missing or has low levels of the milk-digesting enzyme lactase, will experience the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Food allergies, on the other hand, are the over-response of the immune system to a protein. Proteins are contained in meats, grains, and veggies – so, most of the food your dog eats – and any of these proteins may cause a food allergy. When a vet suspects an allergy, he or she will likely recommend that you trying an elimination diet to isolate the problem, or, a hypoallergenic diet to avoid triggering an immune response. Common allergens in dogs tend to be beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb, soy, pork, rabbit, and fish. Most unconventional diets are oriented around substitutes for these.

Vegetarian or vegan diets

For dog owners who prefer a meat-free or animal-product free lifestyle for themselves, raising a pup according to the same values is important. While some research has shown that a balanced meat-free diet including additives where necessary can be healthy for some dogs, it’s not recommended for others. In the case of those who are allergic to meat proteins, meat-free is obviously the way to go. For these pooches, there are ways to make sure nutritional needs are met, and companies like Natural Balance or The Honest Kitchen are great examples of companies serving those options! These brands carry complete, balanced diet options for dogs, and are available across North America.

Gluten or grain-free diets

According to clinical veterinary nutritionists, grain-free foods have been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the pet food market in recent years. This is one big difference between millennial and baby boomer dog owners! Proponents of grain free diets claim that grains are an unnatural source of nutrition for our dogs, and that their ancestors didn’t eat grains. Today though, dogs have evolved to allow them to easily digest grains.

While there’s no evidence that suggests grains are harmful for most dogs, and grains do contribute valuable nutrients to a typical diet, there are a small number of animals that are allergic to gluten or grains. For these dogs, a grain or gluten-free diet is best. Open Farm is one brand that creates 100% grain-free food from entirely ethical, local sources.

Raw food diets

A raw food diet for dogs generally consists of muscle and organ meat, bones (whole or ground), raw eggs, veggies, fruits, and some forms of dairy. Proponents of raw food diets tend to believe it’s more natural for their dog to eat raw meats and food than processed food, and in many cases, appreciate the option for complete and balanced options without any of the fillers. Again, while there’s no evidence to suggest that dogs are healthier on a raw food diet, and your vet is the one who should help you decide, if you do want to go the commercial route, consider a few of of the all-natural, ethically sourced, local raw food brands we recommend.

Home-prepared food diets

While there are many organic, plant-based dog food options available, some owners choose a home-made route because they simply enjoy cooking or preparing their own using seasonal, local, package-free ingredients with no fillers. To start with home-food prep for your pooch, consider a base mix like the complete Base Mix from Honest Kitchen that you add simply your protein source to.


Bottom line: The pet food industry is a competitive one, and the job of marketing and advertising is to sell product, not to provide the most accurate, helpful information. The best source of info when it comes to your dog’s diet is your vet! Always consult your vet before making any major changes to what you feed your dog.

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