Decoding the Signs: How Diet Changes Impact Dog Health

Transforming Tails: How Diet Changes Impact Dog Health and Wellbeing

Dog food varieties on a store shelf

The food we provide for our canine companions plays a pivotal role in their overall health, behavior, and happiness. A well-balanced diet directly impacts their physical wellbeing and mental state, laying the foundation for a long, healthy, and vibrant life. But what exactly constitutes a balanced diet for dogs, and how can we ensure they receive the right nutrients? Let’s embark on a journey to better understand the vital connection between diet and our dogs’ health and wellbeing, as well as how diet changes impact dog health.

Key Takeaways

  • Balanced nutrition is essential for canine health and wellbeing.
  • Identifying food sensitivities, allergies, and imbalanced diets can help manage aggression, anxiety & hyperactivity in dogs.
  • Proper feeding practices promote healthy eating habits & reduce the risk of chronic health issues in dogs.

The Role of Balanced Nutrition in Canine Health


A dog’s diet is the cornerstone of their overall health and wellbeing. It’s fundamental to provide essential nutrients and prevent deficiencies, as these can result in behavioral issues and health complications - key aspects of a balanced diet. An imbalanced dog’s food may result in:

  • Life-shortening obesity
  • Bad breath
  • A dull coat
  • Skin disorders
  • Excessive shedding
  • Allergies
  • Causality in several diseases such as pancreatitis and kidney disease

Puppies require more calories and protein than adult dogs, while senior dogs require fewer calories. Being aware of feeding practices is crucial, particularly avoiding free feeding, which can cause continuous snacking and overconsumption, leading to obesity and other health problems. Feeding dogs at set times of the day, rather than allowing them to graze freely, helps keep their weight in check and reduces the risk of choking or bloating due to rapid eating.

Maintaining adequate water intake is also key to ensuring proper hydration and preventing medical conditions like pancreatitis or infections, which can result from dehydration.

Essential Nutrients for Optimal Health

A healthy dog’s diet should be composed of a balanced mix of:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals

Proteins supply essential amino acids for growth and repair, fats provide energy, insulation, cushioning, and promote skin and coat health, carbohydrates supply energy and support digestive function, vitamins are necessary for metabolic processes, and minerals are essential for metabolic processes and for the formation of bones and teeth. Ensuring that these nutrients are present in the right proportions in your dog’s food is key to maintaining optimal health.

The extrusion process, which involves heating ingredients to high temperatures and subjecting them to intense pressure, can influence how food affects a dog’s health. Some key benefits of the extrusion process include:

  • Retaining the nutritional value of ingredients
  • Enhancing the digestibility of proteins and carbohydrates
  • Increasing the palatability of the food
  • Creating a uniform texture and shape for easy consumption

Fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, support brain and eye health, and carbohydrates supply energy while supporting digestive function.

Providing a homemade diet with a balanced mix of these essential nutrients can help ensure your dog’s nutritional needs are met.

Recognizing an Imbalanced Diet

Signs of an imbalanced diet in dogs may include:

  • Poor coat condition
  • Digestive issues
  • Lethargy
  • Behavioral changes

A glossy coat may replace a dull one as a result of poor-quality food. Digestive issues such as gastritis, diarrhea, malabsorption, and sensitive stomach can arise from an imbalanced diet, leading to obesity and other serious disorders. High protein processed diets can have a negative impact on a dog’s behavior, including nervousness, fear, aggression, and hyperactivity.

To ensure our dogs receive the right balance of nutrients, it’s important to:

  • Read ingredient labels on commercial dog foods carefully
  • Consider incorporating fresh, whole foods into their diet
  • Avoid unhealthy, fatty foods
  • Provide a diet rich in high-quality proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals

Following these guidelines will help prevent imbalances and contribute to a healthier, happier dog.

Impact of Diet Composition on Dog Behavior


Diet composition can significantly impact a dog’s behavior, with certain ingredients and nutrient levels influencing aggression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. Research has shown that inflammation in dogs is linked to an increase in anxiety-like behavior. Hence, considering the dietary needs of our canine friends is fundamental for their overall health and well-being.

Carbohydrates should not exceed 35 percent of a dog’s diet. Managing food aggression in dogs may involve adjusting feeding schedules, providing a calm environment, and ensuring a balanced diet. Further, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and specific nutrients like tryptophan can help reduce anxiety and stress in dogs.

Dietary Influences on Food Aggression

To manage food aggression in dogs, it is recommended to feed them in a separate room and maintain a regular feeding schedule. Customizing the diet to suit the dog’s nutritional needs and preferences can help to reduce aggression. High-carb diets, unhealthy foods, and lower-protein foods are commonly linked to food aggression in dogs, resulting in mood disorders, fear aggression, dominance aggression, and other behavioral issues.

A consistent feeding schedule can help reduce a dog’s fear of not getting enough food, which can contribute to food aggression. An unbalanced diet can lead to irritable and aggressive behavior, highlighting the importance of feeding dogs on a schedule to ensure their physical and mental well-being.

The Connection Between Diet and Anxiety

Incorporating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and tryptophan into a dog’s diet may assist in lowering stress and anxiety levels. Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, plays a vital role in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. However, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the optimal protein level for the dog, as high protein diets can reduce the effect of tryptophan on the brain and related stress and anxiety levels.

Antioxidant-rich foods that can be incorporated as snacks or toppings to a dog’s regular meals include:

  • Pecans
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Artichokes
  • Goji berries
  • Raspberries
  • Kale
  • Red cabbage
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Spinach

These nutrient-dense foods not only support overall health but can also help manage anxiety levels in our beloved pets.

Sensitivities and Allergies: Adjusting the Average Dog's Diet


Food sensitivities and allergies in dogs can cause discomfort and other health issues, requiring adjustments to their diet to reduce symptoms. By identifying food allergies through methods such as an elimination diet and veterinary testing, we can better understand our dog’s nutritional needs and make informed choices when selecting their food.

Alternative ingredients for sensitive dogs may include novel protein sources, grain-free options, and hypoallergenic diets. By considering these alternatives and making necessary adjustments, we can alleviate symptoms and improve our dog’s overall health and wellbeing.

Identifying Food Allergies

An elimination diet for dogs involves gradually introducing a new diet composed of novel proteins and carbohydrates that the dog has not previously been exposed to. After a trial period of 8-12 weeks for skin issues and 3-4 weeks for food allergies, the original diet or ingredients from the original diet can be reintroduced to assess if the dog has any adverse reactions. In addition to elimination diets, veterinarians may use novel-protein or hydrolyzed protein diets and serum tests for food-specific IgE and IgG to identify food allergies in dogs.

To effectively observe and record symptoms of food allergies in dogs, pet owners can monitor their dog for signs of allergic reactions or discomfort, such as:

  • itching
  • scratching
  • redness
  • hives
  • inflamed skin
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing

By closely observing their dog’s behavior and keeping a record of symptoms, pet owners can more accurately identify and manage food allergies in their dogs.

Alternative Ingredients for Sensitive Stomachs

Suitable novel protein sources for dogs with food sensitivities include venison, kangaroo, lamb, bison, duck, and salmon. Grain-free options such as potato, sweet potato, tapioca, and legumes may also be suitable for dogs with sensitive stomachs. A hypoallergenic diet for dogs is typically composed of limited ingredients, such as novel protein sources and easily digestible carbohydrates. These diets are designed to minimize the risk of triggering food allergies in dogs and provide a more easily digestible and less irritating diet for dogs with sensitive stomachs.

By incorporating alternative ingredients and diets into a dog’s nutrition plan, we can help alleviate the discomfort and health issues associated with food sensitivities and allergies, ensuring our canine companions lead healthier, happier lives.

Transitioning to a New Diet Safely

a dog transitioning to a new diet with a mix of old and new foods

Transitioning a dog to a new diet should be done gradually to prevent stomach upset and ensure a smooth adjustment. Sudden dietary changes can lead to gastrointestinal disturbances, including vomiting and diarrhea.

To dodge these problems, it’s important to slowly introduce new foods into the diet, gradually increasing the proportion of new food over several days.

Gradual Introduction of New Foods

Introducing new foods to a dog’s diet gradually can help prevent gastrointestinal disturbances, such as vomiting and diarrhea. To do this, mix a small amount of the new food into the current food without increasing the overall quantity of food given. Gradually increase the amount of the new food each day over a period of 5-7 days.

By following this method, we can ensure that our dogs adjust to their new diet safely, without experiencing digestive upset or discomfort. This approach also allows us to monitor our dog’s reaction to new foods and make any necessary adjustments to their diet to ensure their overall health and wellbeing.

Weight Management: The Role of Diet in Maintaining Ideal Body Weight


Keeping a healthy weight is critical for a dog’s overall health, with diet playing a major role in weight management. Providing the appropriate portions of nutrient-rich food, including lean protein sources, coupled with regular exercise, can help dogs maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if necessary.

Also, monitoring food intake at specific times of the day is essential for maintaining calorie control.

Calculating Caloric Needs

The caloric needs of a dog can be calculated by taking into account their age, weight, activity level, and any health concerns that may be present. The Resting Energy Requirement (RER) formula is the accepted method for calculating a dog’s caloric needs, expressed as RER (calories/day) x multiplier = MER (calories/day). As dogs age, their caloric needs decrease due to their slowing metabolism and reduced digestive function. Adjusting their diet to provide lower calories and a higher percentage of protein or a higher protein-to-calorie ratio is essential.

In addition to age, a dog’s breed and size can also have an effect on their caloric needs. Smaller breeds require more calories than larger breeds due to their higher metabolic rates, and active breeds may have higher caloric needs than less active breeds.

Choosing Low-Calorie Options

Choosing low-calorie options for treats and meals can help maintain a healthy weight for your dog. Low-calorie dog food is designed to have lower calorie and fat content compared to regular dog food, often containing higher levels of fiber to promote satiety and a feeling of fullness while still providing essential nutrients.

Fruits that can be given to dogs in moderation as treats include:

  • Raspberries
  • Apples (without the core and seeds)
  • Bananas
  • Pineapples
  • Strawberries
  • Mangos
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe (without the rind and seeds)

These fruits are low in calories and can be a healthy option for dogs. Additionally, there are specific dog foods available, such as Hill’s Science Light Adult 1-6 With Liver, that are formulated for weight loss.

By incorporating low-calorie and low protein diet options into our dogs’ diets, we can help them maintain a healthy weight and enjoy a higher quality of life.

Navigating Commercial Dog Foods: Making Informed Choices

Selecting commercial dog foods wisely involves comprehension of ingredient labels, evasion of low-quality fillers, and prioritizing high-quality protein sources. It’s essential to read the ingredient labels on commercial dog foods carefully, considering the quality of the protein sources and avoiding low-quality fillers.

Be aware of certain ingredients when evaluating commercial dog food labels, such as:

  • Carrageenan
  • Animal fat and bone meal (MBM)
  • White flour
  • Ethoxyquin
  • Fillers such as corn and maize
  • Artificial colors like Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and caramel

By choosing high-quality commercial dog foods, we can ensure our dogs receive the essential nutrients they need for optimal health and wellbeing. It’s important to select the right dog’s food for your pet’s specific needs.

The Benefits of Whole Foods and Superfoods in a Dog's Diet

Adding whole foods and superfoods to a dog’s diet can offer extra health benefits like improved coat condition, increased energy levels, and enhanced immune function. Superfoods are foods that are highly concentrated with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which can be beneficial to a dog’s diet by providing essential nutrients and aiding in the maintenance of healthy bones, teeth, skin, and coat.

Beneficial whole foods for a dog’s diet include:

  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Green beans
  • Sweet potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach

These foods provide essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that support overall health and wellbeing in dogs. By incorporating these nutrient-dense foods into our dogs’ diets, we can help them thrive and enjoy better health throughout their lives.

Feeding Practices That Promote Healthy Eating Habits

Encouraging healthy eating habits in dogs is key to their overall health and wellbeing. Here are some tips to help you achieve this:

  1. Establish regular feeding times.
  2. Provide appropriate portion sizes.
  3. Encourage slow, mindful eating.
  4. Prevent overeating or undereating.
  5. Reduce anxiety and stress.
  6. Practice proper portion control.
  7. Ensure a balanced and nutritious diet.
  8. Avoid excessive calories.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your dog receives the necessary nutrients and maintains a healthy eating routine.

In addition to portion control and regular feeding times, it’s important to:

  • Choose high-quality dog food
  • Avoid unhealthy treats or snacks
  • Provide nutrient-dense, whole foods in a dog’s diet
  • Regular exercise

Adopting these practices can contribute to a healthier, happier average dog, with dog diets playing a crucial role.

The Link Between Diet and Chronic Health Issues

A dog’s diet can significantly influence the development and management of chronic health issues like obesity, allergies, and digestive disorders. Nutrition plays a key role in the health of dogs, so it is essential to provide them with high-quality food. Furthermore, the diet during puppyhood and adolescence may have an effect on the likelihood of chronic gastrointestinal problems later in life.

By maintaining a healthy diet and making informed choices about the food we provide for our dogs, we can help them lead healthier lives and minimize the risk of chronic health issues. A well-balanced diet, coupled with regular exercise and proper feeding practices, can contribute to a happier, healthier dog.


In conclusion, a well-balanced diet is the foundation of our dogs’ health and wellbeing. By understanding the essential nutrients required for optimal health, identifying food sensitivities and allergies, making informed choices about commercial dog foods, and promoting healthy eating habits, we can help our canine companions lead healthier, happier lives. As pet owners, it’s our responsibility to provide our dogs with the best possible nutrition, ensuring they thrive and enjoy the highest quality of life possible.


Frequently Asked Questions

How does a dogs diet affect its health?

Proper nutrition is essential for the health of a dog, as it directly impacts its nervous system and brain function. Unhealthy diet choices can have negative effects on its behavior and overall well-being.

What happens when you change a dogs diet?

Switching a dog's diet abruptly can cause gastrointestinal issues such as upset stomach, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Therefore, it is best to transition the new diet gradually to allow your pup time to adjust and avoid any digestive issues.

What are the essential nutrients for a dog's diet?

A healthy dog's diet should include essential nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals for optimal health.

How can I identify food allergies in my dog?

Identifying food allergies in your dog can be done through an elimination diet and veterinary testing.

What are some alternative ingredients for dogs with sensitive stomachs?

For dogs with sensitive stomachs, alternative ingredients may include novel proteins, grain-free diets, and hypoallergenic options.

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Dr. Jeff Kordell, DVM is a practicing veterinarian in the northern suburbs of Chicago. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois Veterinary School. Dr. Kordell owns Animal Medical Center at Fort Sheridan and has had his own private practice for over 30 years. He is the co-founder of K&S Veterinary Labs LLC the maker of DiarRice.