With so many pet products coming out that look like food but are actually treats or toppers or supplements, the lines are being blurred about what “foods” are complete and which aren’t. For the sake of our dogs’ health, every pet owner should know the meaning of “Complete and Balanced,” and how to tell which products are or aren’t based on its label.

“Complete and Balanced” means: the food contains all the vitamins and minerals needed to prevent most diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies. This means it can be fed as the dog’s entire diet.

Why is it so important to know what “Complete and Balanced” means?

Dogs (or cats) that are not fed complete diets may become deficient in some vitamins and minerals, which may result in disease or an early death.

The danger of home-cooked meals

Many people who truly love their dogs choose to cook all their dog’s meals themselves. This would be advisable under one circumstance alone: that they are consulting with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist when formulating their dog’s food.

It may seem very intuitive to choose ingredients to feed your dog, but many are surprised to find it’s extremely difficult to provide all the correct vitamins and minerals in the correct quantities. That’s because it takes years of research to know how each vitamin and mineral interacts with each other and whether they need other factors, such as certain amounts of moisture or fiber, in order to be effectively absorbed by your dog’s body.

Why an “unbalanced” diet is especially dangerous

For one, if there is too much or too little of a particular nutrient in your dog’s diet, it can have a rippling effect and cause a surprising amount of physical harm to the body. For example, according to VCA Hospitals, an irreversible form of arthritis is just one of several conditions that can be caused by too much vitamin A. This is why pet-owners should always consult a vet about nutritional supplements for their dogs.

One of the leading causes of disease in pets today is actually not resulting from lack of nutrition but an overabundance of it. Too many of us are feeding our pets too much. We’re speaking of course about the obesity epidemic facing pets today. According to Greencross Vets, over 40% of pets in Australia are obese or overweight… Just a few of the problems they say are caused by obesity include:

  • joint pain or diminished mobility
  • shorter lifespan
  • less interest in activity
  • skin issues as a result of compromised resistance to infection
  • greater risk of complications during surgery

The list goes on…

Common habits that can cause a diet to be “incomplete”

  • Feeding “people food”

While it is true dogs are omnivores, meaning they can digest and derive nutrients from both plant and animal sources, this doesn’t mean they should be eating whatever we eat. “People food” is flavored with ingredients that often upset dogs’ stomachs. In addition to causing them pain, an upset stomach may cause them to refuse eating their regular dog food and throw their diet off balance. It should also be noted that some artificial sweeteners are toxic to dogs, and it’s not always obvious what foods these ingredients could be hiding in.

  • Feeding too many treats

For the same reasons you don’t want to give your dog too much “people food,” you should avoid giving him too many treats as well. He can easily fill up on junk food - or become spoiled - and resist eating his complete, balanced dog food. It can also be having adverse reactions to his digestion that may not be obvious to you. Besides that, excess treats is one of the easiest ways to cause obesity in your pet.

  • Accidentally feeding dog foods that are actually NOT complete and balanced

More and more new and exciting products are becoming available to buy for our pets - which is great! However, the differences between the nutritionally complete diets and other food products are becoming less obvious. When purchasing food that’s meant to be your dog’s main diet, be sure to read the packaging and find the label that says it's “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Dog Nutrient Profiles.” Of course, it’s fine to feed incomplete food items from time to time, just be sure they receive their complete diet every day for optimal health.

The take-home message…

Now more than ever, it’s important to be mindful of how balanced your dog’s daily diet is. To be sure your dog isn’t consuming too much or too little nutrition, follow these tips:

  • Check the packaging of the foods you buy for your dog to make sure the AAFCO or FEDIAF statement is there
  • Make sure you’re following the feeding guidelines found on the packaging of your dog’s food when measuring how much to give. Every brand has a different suggested amount!
  • Treat in moderation

If you’re concerned your dog’s diet has not been complete and balanced, consult your vet!