A guide to feeding your dog
The food you provide your dog is fuel for everything they do including growth, development and exercise.
What food should I feed my dog?
Choosing a food suitable for your dog is one of the first decisions you will have to make. Unsurprisingly, as your dog ages, their needs will alter. Making sure you are always feeding food that is right for your dog is an important part of supporting their health, and this may mean changing their diet several times throughout their life. The nutrition demands of your dog are affected by:
- Exercise levels
- Life stage
- State of health
- Neutering status
With many dog foods looking similar and so many to choose from, the selection process can feel overwhelming. Thankfully, your vet can help you choose, and will also help you decide when and if to change your dog’s diet in the future.
Dog Diet FAQs
Once you are comfortable with the nutritional needs of your dog, you may find the suitable available foods come in a choice of wet or dry preparations. Both will contain the same nutritional value, so what are the advantages and disadvantages of wet versus dry?
Pros of wet food
Wet food, by definition, contains water. This means it can be a good source of extra hydration in animals that are reluctant to drink themselves, and the soft texture can be easier to eat for animals with any mouth pain, or difficulty eating due to conformation or dental issues. Wet food also tends to smell stronger, which can make it more appealing to unwell animals. Like us, being ill can affect sense of smell and appetite, so stronger smelling foods may be more suitable for animals who need tempting to eat.
Cons of wet food
Wet food, being stronger smelling, can be more unpleasant in the house and make more mess. It also lasts much less time than dry food, so comes in smaller packages. This can make wet food far less economical than dry food. Wet food also sticks around in the mouth, and animals fed a purely wet diet often have poorer dental health than animals on dry food.
Pros of dry food
Dry food is very economical, and can be very handy to leave out for dogs that eat slowly as it will not spoil over a day. It is clean, and although harder than wet food, kibble from breed-size specific foods will be small or large enough to be appropriate for your dog’s mouth. Dry food is generally better for dental health, can be used as treats, and stores well. If you like the idea of dry but are worried about water, many dry foods can have a little water added on top.
Cons of dry food
Dry food does not contain as much moisture as wet food, which is especially important in older or unwell animals, or in hot weather. Dry food does not smell, which can make it unappealing to some pets. Dry food often also contains slightly less animal protein, however quality of protein rather than quantity should be a higher consideration.
There are pros and cons to both wet and dry food, and you should choose which you feel is most suitable for you. If you aren’t sure, your vet can help you choose. Some owners also choose to mix wet and dry, or use wet food as a ‘treat’.
It can be very difficult to get the nutritional balance right for your dog using a home-cooked diet, so making your own food for your dog is often more of a commitment than you might think. Balanced home-cooked diets are possible but as the dietary requirements of dogs are complex, and also change with age and other factors, keeping up can be tough. If you aren’t sure about how to provide a balanced diet for your dog at home, there are experts available, including board-certified veterinary nutritionists who can be really helpful. While adult dogs can thrive on a well-balanced home-cooked diet, home-cooked diets should never be fed to growing puppies, as growing animals are acutely susceptible to nutritional imbalances, and errors in this period can have lifelong impacts. Puppyhood lasts 12-18 months, and all dogs should be on an appropriate commercial diet until at least this age.
Raw diets are receiving a lot of press, and are composed mainly of raw meat and bones. Raw diets, although often sold as being an appropriate alternative to commercial diets, come with more risks. Raw meat is a hiding place for many bacteria, which can be a threat to human and animal health, and the bones themselves can get stuck and can even puncture the gut. Although raw diets provide a lot of protein, protein is only one component of a balanced diet and dogs on long term raw feeding may suffer nutritional deficiencies. This means raw diets should be approached with caution, and after a discussion with your vet about the safest way to feed in this manner. One option is commercial raw diets that are pre-prepared and often come frozen. These are a safer alternative to home-prepared raw diets, but can still contain higher bacterial loads than cooked meals.
How much you will need to feed will depend on the nutritional requirements of your dog, as well as the quality of food. High quality commercial diets tend to have more nutritional value, and hence you may need to feed less per day. This is especially important for dogs that may struggle to get enough nutrition, such as growing puppies, and high activity or elderly dogs, and also means the cost per day of premium foods is often less than you might expect.
High quality dog foods will state a suggested daily amount to feed your dog per day. This is a useful start point, but is not suitable for every animal – a working husky, for example, would need more calories than a pet greyhound of the same weight. With this in mind, monitoring your dog’s condition is the best way to manage feeding your dog, and making sure you are always giving enough to keep your dog’s weight stable at their optimum size.
Just like us, weight alone is not an appropriate measure of how healthy a dog’s diet is. There is a huge variety of shapes within the canine community, and there can even be a lot of size variety within a breed. Making sure your dog is a healthy size can be done using body condition scoring.
Irrespective of type of diet and type of dog, weighing the food you give should always be part of the daily routine. This is much more accurate than feeding by eye, keeps the diet stable, and means that diet can be adjusted more easily.
Young puppies have very small stomachs and are best started on 4 small meals a day.
At 4 months old, this can be dropped to 3 meals daily.
At 6 months old, this can be dropped to 2 meals daily.
Once your puppy reaches maturity, at 12-18 months (with giant breeds taking longer than small breeds), you can choose to feed once or twice daily.
If you need to change your dog’s diet, this should be done slowly. Sudden changes in feeding routine can upset your dog’s stomach, and may cause your dog to go off the new food. Moving from one food to another should be done over at least a week, with a very small amount of the new diet replacing the old in the first bowl, with increasing amounts of the new food over the transition period.
Treats or human foods should only be up to 10% of your dog’s daily calories. Overfeeding treats and human food can lead to obesity, which has a huge range of associated health problems. Giving too many treats will also alter the balance of nutrition that your dog is receiving, as the vast majority of commercially available diets are formulated to be a complete food and provide everything that your dog needs.
If you use food rewards for training, and feel you cannot cut down, consider using something low fat like carrot as a treat – many dogs love the crunch! Another option can be to weigh out your dog’s daily portion of dry food, and take some of this to use as treats throughout the day.
As nutritional intake affects all parts of your dog, and processing and distributing nutrition is a procedure touched by many body systems, using nutrition to affect health is a clear step to supporting health care.
Therapeutic diets can be used in a wide range of conditions including:
As the lifespan of different breeds of dog has such variety, it is impossible to say a specific time at which every dog will become 'senior'.
However, on average, dogs will be considered senior when they are over 7 years old. This doesn’t automatically mean their nutritional needs will change overnight, but being older does mean that there is a higher chance of health conditions developing that will need support. ‘Senior’ diets work to nutritionally support areas that commonly cause problems in older dogs. For dogs who have already developed health conditions, therapeutic diets can be a great way to provide extra help to affected areas.