What Is Nutrient Density and Is my Dog Getting Enough of the Good Stuff?

Consuming high quantities of vitamin and mineral rich foods—without excessive calories - is the key to nutritional health.

Nutrient Content

When we read the back of food labels, we see a list of nutrients that tell us what can be found inside the package. These nutrients are determined by laboratory testing.

In order for pet foods to be labeled and sold as “complete and balanced” meals, they must meet a nutrient standard set by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). If a food does not meet all of the minimum standards, it can still be packaged and sold, but must alert the consumer that it is not a completely balanced meal and should be intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.

However, a list of nutrients on a package is not the same thing as the nutrient density in food. And some experts suggests that you should pay more attention to nutrient density rather than just nutrients. Here is why.

Nutrient Density – Go Beyond the Minimum

Food supplies the body with both nutrients and calories. Health is impacted by the nutrients consumed divided by calorie intake. The resulting number is the nutrient density received. Humans and dogs alike should aim to eat foods that have a high proportion of nutrients to calories. How can you do this?

Selecting foods that have the highest nutrient density is one of the most important health choices we can make for ourselves and our dogs. Commercial dog foods assure the buyer that the food in the container meets the minimum nutritional requirements. Unfortunately, in today’s world, with the exposure to many toxins and disease causing agents, minimum is not good enough.

People should strive to feed their dogs optimal nutrition, not minimum.

Consuming high quantities of vitamin and mineral rich foods—without excessive calories – is the key to nutritional health.

Your dog is What he ate, ate.

Have you heard the saying, “you are what you ate, ate?” This applies to dog food too. Since nutrient content in a single ingredient can vary greatly, it is important to understand the factors that increase the nutrient density of the items in your dog’s food.

Foe example, on a commercial package, you will find a statement of guaranteed protein content. However, this does not tell you the quality of the protein, it simply tells you the percentage of protein in the meal. Did you know that feathers and feet are considered protein? They contribute to the protein percentage, but but they aren’t very nutrient dense ingredients.

Another important factor regarding animal proteins such as eggs and meat is what that animal ate. All eggs and meat supply protein – that is not disputed. But it is true that an egg from one chicken or meat from one animal can be more nutritious that that of another. It comes down to what that animal ate and how it was raised. Free roaming hens with access to grass, healthy bugs, natural foods and sunshine will lay healthier eggs. The same principles apply to animals raised for meat. For optimal nutrition, you need to look beyond the ingredients and look to the source as well.

Factors that impact the nutrient density of fruits and vegetables include the soil they are grown in. If the soil is lacking or low in certain minerals, those nutrients will never make it into the food. This is the reason so many supplements have populated the shelves. When food doesn’t supply what is needed to be healthy, those nutrients must be supplemented.

The best way to get nutrients is from food, not supplements. They are called supplements for a reason. They are not substitutes.

How to Make Sure Your Dog is Getting Enough

1. Supplement Meals With Whole Foods
Due to its convenience and affordability, many pet owners feed commercial kibble. If you fall into this category, consider replacing even just a few meals each week with nutrient-dense whole foods. There are many resources and recipes available on the internet if you want to try this at home yourself. If you don’t have the time or desire to prepare a few homemade meals each week for your dog, you can purchase wholesome homemade meals from Dragonfly Dog Bowl.

Another way to boost your dog’s kibble meal is to add raw goat milk to their diet. Raw milk is the most bioavailable food. The Honest Kitchen sells a dehydrated instant goat milk supplement which can provide your dog with beneficial nutrients including probiotics. Other options include frozen cartons of raw goat milk such as this one made by Answers.

2. Anything but 100% Kibble
Many experts agree that raw, home cooked or dehydrated meals offer more nutrient dense foods than dry kibble. Talk to your veterinarian or canine nutritionist about having a rotation meal plan where you feed a variety of foods. For example, you could feed raw meals a few times each week and rotate in kibble and some home cooked meals as well. If feeding raw, remember to never feed raw and kibble in the same meal. They must be fed separately.

3. Snack Healthy
Forget about those processed treats with questionable ingredients. Give your dog a nutritional boost with healthy snacks such as fresh cookies made with real ingredients, liver loaves, bones and Kongs stuffed with lightly cooked and purred vegetable mixes and hard boiled eggs from free roaming hens.

In a bowl combine equal parts canned pumpkin and cooked spinach or kale (lightly steamed and pureed). Add in just slightly less than above, some plain goat milk yogurt. Add in one hard boiled free foaming hen egg and about a small spoonful of natural peanut butter (you can use Tahini if your dog is allergic to peanut butter). Mix it all up. The size of your batch will depend on the size and quantity of your dogs and how much filling you need to make. These measurements are just a guide.

Stuff a bone or toy with the mixture and then freeze. Serve frozen. Always supervise your dog when they are eating treats, snacks and playing with toys. And also check with your veterinarian when adding new ingredients to your pet’s diet. As with all treats, they should be fed in moderation.

An idea to fill your dog's toy or bone with a nutritious snack.

You can get creative with this idea by using cooked and mashed sweet potatoes instead of pumpkin. Instead of spinach or kale, you can use collard or mustard greens. Beet tops are also very healthy. What is your favorite nutrient dense flavor combination?

Where to learn More

Check out this list of some of the most nutrient dense foods. This list was made for humans, not dogs, so not every item is appropriate for your dog to eat, especially onions and the processed foods used for comparisons. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian.

Disclaimer: We are not veterinarians, canine nutritionists nor have any formal training in the medical or nutrition field, including veterinary. The information presented on the Dragonfly Dog Bowl website and blog is for conversational purposes only. We do not diagnose or treat any conditions. None of the content should be interpreted as medical or nutritional advice. Always consult a veterinary professional regarding your dog’s specific needs and never feed any foods, supplements, or items discussed on this website or take any actions without first speaking to your veterinarian.