Nutrients-what are they good for? Absolutely a lot!
What is a nutrient? A nutrient is a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life. Let take a short class.
There are six nutrients that are needed in a pet’s diet which are:
The sources of nutrients can vary, and actually more than one nutrient can be supplied by an individual ingredient. For example, chicken-minus water- can supply both fat, vitamins, minerals and protein, while a potato can supply both carbs, vitamins, minerals and protein. Items like tapioca only bring only a few nutrients to offer; carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
I like to think of nutrients as different parts of a house. The framing of the house, the actual structure, is built of minerals and protein - that is, the bones and muscles. The outside of the house, the siding and roof, would be the skin and hair coat of the pet. Skin is mainly comprised of protein and fat. The fur coat is also built of protein and fat, but includes minerals, too. The actual inner workings of the house (electrical, plumbing and heating), the organs and vessels, are made of fat and protein as well.
So how do those organs and muscles get fueled to do their job?
Three nutrients can be used for energy, or fuel, in a dog; fat, carbohydrates and protein. Also, the amount of heat/energy/fuel generated by each nutrient is not the same. For example, fat produces twice as much heat as either protein or carbohydrates. Protein is intended for muscle maintenance and repair, so burning that up for energy production would be wasteful. Lastly, there isn’t a true requirement for carbohydrates in a dog, so let’s put that on hold for the moment.
Fat is meant for fuel. The mitochondria of an animals’ cell is the actual furnace that makes the cell tick. They create energy from nutrients for the cell to do its job, in a simple explanation. So how best to fuel those furnaces in a dog? This is where, in a dog, fat comes into play. Let’s go back to the human house analogy for a moment. In a house, the furnace might be fueled by; 1. Wood 2. Fuel oil. The dog likes its furnace fueled by fat which equates to fuel oil in my analogy. Fuel oil takes up very little space in a house, whereas wood takes up lots of space. Fuel oil is analogous to fat stores, and wood would equate to carbohydrates. A little bit of fuel oil can replace a lot of wood in the amount of BTUs created, and that’s what should happen in a dog-use fat (fuel oil), versus other sources of energy, as its preferred energy source. Dogs can use carbs for energy production, and they do, but they prefer fat for that purpose, and actually 60-80% of the energy used by a canine should come from a fat source.
Protein, as mentioned previously, needs to be supplied to keep the structure sound, as there is always protein turnover in muscles or organs from growth, maintenance or repair. Protein needs to be used to keep the structure sound (frame of the house), not as an expensive fuel source. Plus, the protein needs to be supplied in a digestible form and also have the essential amino acids present (amino acids that cannot be created from another amino acid in the dog’s body). Those essential amino acids are like specific, custom-made portions of a house that are special ordered.
Carbohydrates. A dog really does not have a specific requirement for carbohydrates, but some will say about 10% of the diet can be carbs. Carbs are needed in a few areas of the body, like the heart, brain and colon. Carbs could and are converted in the body of a dog for those purposes from other substances. Carbohydrates in a dog’s diet are not necessarily wasted, as whatever is not used as quick energy they do convert over to fat.
Water is an obvious nutrient - we all know that. Nothing works long without water being available. Depletion of more than 5-6% can start to seriously affect a dog’s performance and health, and always having fresh water available in some fashion is essential.
Vitamins are needed to help cause or accelerate (catalyze) reactions, much like a match to start a fire. They are used especially as coenzymes and precursors of coenzymes in the regulation of metabolic processes but do not provide energy or serve as building units. They are needed in 100’s of different types of metabolic processes, much like a key to let them occur.
Minerals perform many different functions in the body such as the formation of bone and cartilage, maintenance of fluids, and acid/base balance, transportation of oxygen in the blood, normal functioning of muscles and nerves, and production of hormones. Minerals work with vitamins, enzymes, and other minerals in the body to produce their effects. Minerals are relatively simple molecules compared to other nutrients, which can be large and complex. Minerals comprise about 1% of the body, yet are vital to its function. Minerals make up the framework of the house -the bones - but are needed in many other areas, in very minute quantities.
So, now you hopefully understand a bit about dog nutrition by likening it to the building and maintenance of your house. Never thought all that watching of HGTV was truly a lesson on nutrition, did you?