Why a Balanced Diet Matters When Choosing Dog Food

Redbarn Team April 04, 20201 comment
Why a Balanced Diet Matters When Choosing Dog Food

Feeding your dog a balanced diet is the best gift you can give them! 


Because it delivers the necessary nutrients they need to transition from morning walks to evening cuddles as long as possible. 

What is a Balanced Diet?

Back in 1992, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its Food Guide Pyramid for people, a total diet approach that includes five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, and fats. With the grains at the bottom and fats at the top, it was used as a guide to promote adequacy and moderation in adult diets.

This later shifted in 2011 to the MyPlate model, a visual model of a plate and the five food groups, divided into various sizes. Vegetables, grains, protein, and fruit took up their respective quarters of the plate; giving dairy the smallest portion size. 

Balanced nutrition for pets follows the same ideology –– a diet that includes healthy levels of essential nutrients found in food. Not too much or too little of anything; just healthful portions. For instance, you may not want to include dairy on ½ your plate, but you also don’t want to eliminate it completely.

The same is true for your dog (minus the dairy). As omnivores, they need a good amount of protein, but that’s not all they need! If you’re eating well you want your pooch to eat well too, which means filling them up on the right nutrients for their diets.

Classes of Nutrients

Essential nutrients can’t be made by your dog on their own –– yes your fur baby is amazing, but this is one superpower they don’t have. 

There are six classes of nutrients needed for a balanced diet including healthy amounts of water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. 


While water intake amounts depend on your dog’s weight, size, age, and activity level, we recommend that you always have a fresh bowl of water available for your dog. As a rule of thumb, keeping water available allows your pooch to get enough water they need, preventing dehydration. 

If you notice your dog isn’t drinking enough water, be sure to consult your veterinarian immediately. 

Note: You may notice your dog drinking less water if they’re fed a mostly wet food diet because wet food has a high moisture content. 


The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends a crude protein level of 18 percent on a dry matter basis (meaning the moisture content has been removed) for adult dogs and 22.5 percent for puppies or pregnant and nursing dogs. 

Protein plays an important role in providing dogs with the essential and nonessential amino acids they need for muscle development and maintenance. It also creates the building blocks for skin, hair, and ligaments while also offering a great source of energy.

Be sure to read the back of your dog food package to make sure it’s developed for your dog’s appropriate life stage –– check out our guide if you need help decoding the label!


Animal fats and seed oils help provide the dietary fats needed for dogs to have a concentrated source of energy in their diets. These fats not only enhance food palatability and texture, but they play a vital role in supplying essential fatty acids responsible for supporting cell structure and function. 

Per AAFCO, adult dogs need a minimum of 5.5 percent crude fat in their diets and 8.5 percent for puppies or pregnant and nursing dogs. 


Dogs can source energy from fat and they can also source energy from carbohydrates. There are both grain-free and grain-friendly options for dog food whether it’s kibble, rolled or canned.

Yes, somehow your dog’s food will contain some carbs, and this isn’t a bad thing! 

Dogs have evolved from their wolf ancestors and are able to digest carbohydrates and turn them into energy. From peas to beans and whole or ancient grains, moderate amounts of carbs offer a great source of fiber, beneficial bacteria for dogs gastrointestinal tracts and promote healthy digestion

AAFCO does not require carbohydrate claims on packaging as there is no set method for determining these levels. Our recommendation is to always check your first five ingredients to make sure high-quality proteins are listed at the top. 

Vitamins and Minerals

Just like you need a daily dose of vitamins and minerals from your food sources, so does your dog! 

There are 11 plus vitamins and 12 essential minerals that dogs need to stay healthy. 

Vitamins play a key role in supporting dogs’ healthy skin and coat, vision, immune system, nervous system function, cell growth, and circulation.

Here are some of the important vitamins to look for in your dog’s food: 

  • Vitamin A 
  • B vitamins (biotin, folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12)
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Choline

Minerals support bone health, muscle support, healthy nerve function, kidney function, and protein synthesis. 

They also provide your dog with immune system support, oxygen to their muscles, preventing oxidative damage and supporting bone and thyroid function.  

Some of these minerals include: 

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Magnesium
  • Chloride
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Manganese 
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Selenium

Imbalanced Nutrition

Did you know your dog can have too much of a good thing?

This is why imbalanced nutrition is extremely dangerous for your dog’s health. This means high levels of one nutrient and scarce amounts of other important nutrients.

One way this happens is feeding too many treats – yes, we know your pup can’t resist our Chicken Cuts

Table scraps fall under the same warning as well. 

As much as you love seeing the happiness on your dog’s face after enjoying a much-deserved food reward, treats should not make up more than 10 percent of the total calories they consume on a daily basis.

Remember to always follow serving guidelines which are located on the back of packages.

Identifying a Balanced Diet Food

Make sure your dog’s diet is balanced for their life stage. 

Be sure to check your dog food packaging for the AAFCO approved statement, “complete and balanced” which means it has met the requirements based on approved nutrient content and feeding trials. 

Avoid feeding your dog foods that are not appropriate for their age level, for example, feeding your adult dog puppy food unless otherwise advised by your vet or the package says the food is for “all life stages.” 

Always consult with your veterinarian if you are concerned about a specific type of food or diet.