Americans spent nearly $60 billion on their pets in 2015, including $23 billion on pet food. While pet food choices can be perplexing, the good news is that our understanding of dogs’ nutritional requirements has increased dramatically in the last 50 years, and many great nutrition choices are available today.

Nutrition basics

No matter what diet you are considering — and before you make a significant diet change — ask the advice of your veterinarian. Dogs need a healthy balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. The Association of American Feed Control Officials sets standards to ensure pet foods meet the nutritional needs of animals.

“Many foods that are harmless to people, such as onions and grapes, are toxic to dogs.”

Making a nutritionally balanced homemade diet for your dog can be tricky — seek advice from a veterinary nutritionist to make sure your pet is getting all the nutrients he or she needs. If raw food is part of your dog’s diet, use good hygiene during meal preparation.

For dogs with certain medical conditions, including heart disease and kidney disease, prescription diets are available. These diets can help pets enjoy higher quality lives.

Canine-owning common sense

Use common sense when feeding your pet any people food. Junk food is not healthy for people, and especially not healthy for our pets. Additionally, know which food items are poisonous to dogs. Many foods that are harmless to people, such as onions and grapes, are toxic to dogs. And as is the case for people, fresh water is an essential component of every dog’s diet.

Nutrition research continues to refine our understanding of a dog’s nutritional needs. Canine diets may change over time as scientists learn more about how best to feed and care for our companion animals. But for owners today, common sense — and your veterinarian’s advice — will help keep your four-legged companions eating healthy. They will thank you with a shiny coat, sparkling teeth, a bounce in their step and lots of love.