Her experience in treating these roaming dogs taught Dr. Nelson that a balanced diet and proper nutrition can lead to a much prettier, healthier dog. Below, Dr. Nelson, now an emergency veterinarian in Virginia, weighs in on the specific components of her Beautiful Dog diet.
The fatty acids in fish oil – aka omega-3s – have gotten a lot of attention lately for the important role they play in brain health. Together, omega-6s and omega-3s can help make the coat shiny and control inflammatory skin conditions that lead a dog to scratch and lick itself excessively.
"You can tell a lot about a person’s health by looking at hair and skin, and dogs are no different," says Dr. Nelson. "Skin and coat health are windows into what’s going on inside a dog. If they’re losing hair or have clogged pores, it may be a clue that something is lacking in their diet."
Protein helps to maintain muscle mass, which shows up in a dog’s posture. Dogs require the animal protein found in meats and meat byproducts – including blood, internal organs and bones, which is what dogs in the wild consumed. To evaluate whether a food has a high-quality protein source, consult your veterinarian or breeder.
"The first thing listed on the ingredient label of a dog’s food should be an animal protein," says Dr. Nelson. The label should specify which animal the protein comes from, such as chicken or beef; the protein descriptor can be followed by the words "meal" or "byproduct."
Moderately Fermentable Fiber
A protein is only as good as its digestibility. A dog requires a fiber that helps it to digest, and thereby absorb, the nutrients in its food. The fiber source also needs to help the dog remove waste from its intestines. Dr. Nelson recommends a food containing beet pulp – the substance that remains after sugar beets are pressed – because it doesn’t produce much gas and is moderately digestible, thus encouraging nutrient absorption.
Carbohydrates and the Glycemic Index
Carbohydrates provide energy to your furry friend, aid in digestion and promote the absorption of nutrients. With its high glycemic index, rice provides a quick glucose and insulin spike that may be beneficial to working dogs, but a secondary carb source, which extends the energy curve, is useful for the run-of-the-mill house dog.
"As we all know from eating Chinese food and being hungry again two hours later, white rice causes a quick energy boost followed by a crash," says Dr. Nelson. She recommends a food containing not only rice but also corn, barley or sorghum. These ingredients contain more moderate glycemic values.
Vitamins and Minerals
Of course, mammals do not live on protein, fiber and carbohydrates alone; they also require vitamins and minerals to look and feel their best. Vitamin A is an antioxidant that squashes free radicals and gives your dog a healthy glow. Vitamin E works similarly while also promoting strength of the nail and hair cuticle. Copper further aids in the absorption of nutrients that are crucial to your pet’s appearance and overall health.
Dr. Nelson suggests checking the ingredients label on dog food bags to ensure they contain all of the above. You can even visually detect if your dog is getting adequate nutrition. "When you see a dog on high-quality food, you recognize it immediately," she says. "Balanced nutrition definitely shows up outwardly."