Dog Feeding Guide: Everything You Need to Know
There’s no joy quite like being a dog parent! You get tail wags, licks, excited yaps, and plenty of love. And in return, you need to make sure you’re looking after your dogs as best you can so they have a happy and healthy life.
A huge part of your dog’s health is all about what and how you feed them.
That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive dog feeding guide to help you get this right!
General Feeding Guidelines
Why Dog Food Matters
How healthy do you think you would be if your diet consisted only of doughnuts and candy? Your dog needs a wholesome diet, the same way we need healthy meat, fruits, and vegetables to build our immune systems. The only catch is, your dog can’t choose his diet – that’s entirely up to you!
Low-quality fillers and a lack of nutrients in dog food means your dog’s body won’t have what it needs to stay strong and fight off disease. He needs dog food with a wholesome list of ingredients and packed with nutrient-dense food and vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Get these in his diet and your dog’s immune system will be ready to handle anything.
Types of Dog Food
Each type of dog food has a different nutrient make-up – some may be better than others. What’s best for one dog may not be best for all dogs. You need to take some time to find out what kind of food your dog is eating and if it’s really the best choice for them.
Complete vs Complementary
A complete and balanced dog food contains everything your dog’s body needs to be healthy. That means it has adequate amounts of protein, fat, carbs, and fiber, but it’s also supplemented with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other useful inclusions.
Most dry dog foods are considered to be complete and balanced. For a dog food to be classified as such, it needs to be approved by AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
Theoretically, you could feed a complete dog food to your pup every day and he would get what he needs to stay relatively healthy. In reality, though, your dog’s nutritional needs aren’t just about the range of nutrients.
- Firstly, it’s about the amount of nutritional value. For example, the AAFCO minimum amount of protein is set at 18%. If your dog is very active that’s not likely to be enough.
- Secondly, it’s about the quality of the nutrients. For example, 25% protein from poultry by-products is not as good quality as 25% protein from real chicken.
Complementary dog foods don’t contain all the necessary nutrients to meet your dog’s nutritional requirements. Wet dog food, kibble toppers, and treats fall into this category.
These are best served with a complete dog food. They’re often used to add flavor or to increase the amount of a specific nutrient – for example, to add more fiber to your dog’s diet, or to help them get more fluid into their system.
Your dog will survive if they’re only eating a complementary food. But they’ll be at risk of developing diseases and conditions as a result of nutritional imbalances.
Complementary foods, however, are necessary as supplements in your dog’s diet. They can be added as a kibble topper if your dog needs more liquid in his diet, or if she’s a fussy eater. But we recommend feeding your pup a complete and balanced dog food, and only using complementary foods when they’re needed.
Dry Dog Foods
Dry dog food, also known as kibble, is the most popular type of dog food. It consists of small, dry pellets that may not look like much, but they’re actually packed with nutrients. In fact, most dry dog foods are classified as complete and balanced meals.
Kibble offers many benefits. Apart from being nutritionally complete, it also helps to keep your dog’s teeth clean by preventing a build-up of tartar and bacteria. On top of that, it’s also a super convenient option. A bag of kibble can last for months if stored correctly (see Storing Dog Food further down), and it requires little to no preparation before feeding.
Most dry dog foods contain real meat, healthy grains, fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. They’re rounded out by the addition of extra supplements like Omega fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin, taurine, and prebiotics and probiotics to boost your dog’s immune system.
Different Methods of Preparing Dry Dog Food
There are a number of ways that dry dog food is prepared.
- Extrusion. This is when the raw ingredients are dried, ground into powder, mixed together, and steamed. The mixture is then passed through a “cookie cutter” machine where it’s cut into pellets, and then dried. Sometimes, oils are added for extra flavor.
- Baking. This process uses lower temperatures than extrusion, but often uses wheat gluten to bind the pellets. This could be a problem for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
- Cold pressing. In this process, there are no high temperatures to potentially reduce the nutritional value of the food. Some ingredients still need to be cooked before being dried and ground, but it involves less processing than extrusion.
- Air drying and freeze drying are also popular. These are the least damaging ways to create dry dog food. Sometimes they need to be rehydrated before your dog can eat them.
Wet Dog Foods
Wet dog food, sometimes also called canned dog food, is easy to spot. It comes in a tin, tray, or sachet, and in much smaller portions than dry dog food. It’s extremely rare, if possible at all, to find a wet dog food that’s complete and balanced. They’re complementary dog foods that are best served with dry dog food.
Wet dog foods are often high in calories but lower in nutritional value than kibble. They do contain more moisture than dry dog food, close to 80% in most cases. However, this means that there’s noticeably less protein and fat, with most canned dog foods containing less than 10% protein and less than 5% fat. They also usually don’t contain any added supplements.
This is not likely to be enough to properly nourish active dogs. We recommend adding a spoon or two of wet dog food to your pup’s kibble if you feel they aren’t getting enough water during the day, but we don’t suggest using it as their only food.
The ingredients are mixed and cooked, and are then vacuum sealed and heat sterilized. This means that they tend to have a long shelf life with few artificial preservatives, so you could keep some of these in your pantry for when you need them.
Although they’re not recommended as a main meal, wet dog foods can be a useful option for dogs who have bad dental problems and can’t crunch dry kibble, those who have surgery on or an injury to their mouth, or dogs who are ill and need something soft and extra digestible for a few days.
Raw Dog Foods
The raw dog food trend has become extremely popular. It’s considered by many to be the most “biologically appropriate” way of feeding your dog, as it’s what they would eat in the wild if they were still undomesticated.
The beauty of a raw diet is that it’s mostly unprocessed. This means that the food retains almost all the original nutrients, in a form that’s easily digestible. Apart from improved digestive health, other benefits of feeding your dog a raw diet include higher energy levels, supple skin and a shiny coat, and less smelly breath.
You can find some pre-prepared raw foods on the market. Some brands offer completely raw meal options, like Stella & Chewy. Others, like Instinct, have created raw and kibble mixes, such as dry dog food pellets coated with raw food. These are helpful for pet parents who wish to transition their dogs to raw feeding, as it gives them an experience of the taste and texture of raw before switching entirely.
Many dog parents who choose raw food prepare their own at home. Raw meat, fruits and vegetables, eggs, and oils all form an essential part of raw diets. If you prepare your dog’s food at home, you’ll need to take extra care to make sure it’s as balanced as possible. 70% lean muscle meat, 10% organ meat, 10% raw bones, and 10% vegetables is a good start.
Although raw feeding is popular and can be extremely healthy, there are some potential health concerns. Getting the mix wrong can result in an unbalanced diet. There’s also a higher potential for bacteria in raw food, as it’s not removed in a cooking process. Cross-contamination during the preparation process can also occur.
Feeding your dog raw may also be expensive. Dry kibble can cost up to $3 per pound for premium quality, but buying high-quality raw food in the amounts your dog needs can end up costing twice as much. It also doesn’t have as long a shelf life as dry dog food.
Fresh Dog Foods
Fresh dog food is basically the same as human food! Feeding your dog fresh food is very similar to feeding them raw, except you cook the fresh food before giving it to your pup.
Fresh food ingredients include meat (muscle meat and organ meat), and a variety of vegetables. Be aware that it’s never recommended to feed your dog cooked bones, as these are softer than raw bones and may splinter easily, increasing the risk of injury to your dog.
Buying fresh food for your dog can be expensive, and cooking it every day can be time-consuming. But it contains no preservatives, or artificial flavors or colors, so you know your dog is getting the most natural food possible.
Cooking the food may reduce the nutritional value slightly, but it’s not processed nearly as much as commercial dog food. The downside is that fresh foods don’t stay fresh for long! You certainly can’t store it in your pantry like you can dry dog food, or even cans of wet dog food. You can freeze fresh food and cook it later, though.
Because there are no artificial additives, you are likely to see noticeable changes in your dog’s health. Their coat may get an unusual shine, their energy levels may increase, and sensitive stomachs may ease up.
Like with raw food, you’ll need to make sure your dog is getting all the nutrients they need, including extras like taurine or joint supplements. If feeding your dog fresh or raw food sounds like a good idea to you, it’s worthwhile spending a bit of time learning exactly what your dog’s nutritional needs are and finding out how to meet them when preparing fresh food.
Making the Right Dog Food Choice
So how do you choose the right type of food for your dog? Every dog is different, and so is every pet parent! Consider:
- Your dog’s nutritional needs
- Your budget
- How much time you have
- Your safety concerns
- Whether or not your dog has allergies
Obviously, whatever you choose will need to meet your dog’s nutritional needs.
If you’re on a budget, dry dog food may be the best choice. You can buy in bulk, and it lasts a long time.
Dogs with allergies or digestive issues may find that their signs and symptoms ease up dramatically on a fresh or raw diet, thanks to the minimal processing.
How Much To Feed
There’s no exact answer to this question. How much you need to feed your dog depends on their breed, their size, their age, and their general state of health.
There are some general rules, though. Dogs should get two or three meals a day. If you’re unable to be home at lunch time to serve them a midday meal, then a slightly bigger breakfast and dinner will suffice.
Feeding your dog the right amount is important. Too much food, and they’ll gain weight. This can contribute to heart problems, liver and kidney problems, and put unnecessary pressure on the joints, not to mention probably making your dog feel uncomfortable.
Feeding them too little will mean that even if they’re eating a complete and balanced dog food, they won’t be getting enough nutrients. Your dog’s immune system may suffer, making them more susceptible to disease. They may lose weight and feel too weak to be very active.
We’ll go into detail later on in the article, but to understand how much you need to feed your dog, you’ll need to know two things: your dog’s ideal weight (you can Google this or ask your dog’s vet), and how many calories are in one cup of the food they’re eating.
If you’re feeding your pup a dry dog food, calorie information can be found on the dog food packaging. If you’re feeding raw or fresh food, you’ll need to do a bit of calculating based on the caloric values of the ingredients you’re feeding them.
Here’s a useful dog food calculator that will help you figure out how much you should be feeding your dog per day. You’ll need to know the calorie count of the food they’re currently eating, and keep in mind that you’ll need to split the final total between two or three meals per day!
Guidelines for Mixing Different Foods
If your dog’s eating a complete and balanced food, you don’t need to add anything else to it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t mix dog foods.
Fussy eaters may benefit from mixing different foods. Dogs who don’t quite get all the nutrients they need in their food may also need a combination of foods to give them all they need to stay healthy.
If you would like to mix foods, make sure that you stick within your dog’s calorie count. You can’t simply add wet food on top of the normal amount of dry food they eat. You’ll need to reduce the dry dog food in order to get the same calorie count for the meal.
Some pet parents may wonder if mixing two of the same type of foods together (ie. two different dry dog foods) might benefit their dog. Although your dog may enjoy two different flavors in one bowl, if food sensitivities arise it may be hard to tell which food or ingredient they’re reacting to.
We recommend sticking to one of each type of food if you’re mixing; for example, one dry food and one wet food. Also, stick to similar flavors if you’re going to mix.
Changing Dog Foods
Although we don’t recommend mixing two of the same type of dog food, there’s nothing wrong with changing dog foods periodically if the nutritional profile of both foods is similar. It can prevent your dog from getting bored of the same flavor or texture.
Don’t just feed your dog a different food tomorrow, though. This is where we do recommend mixing two of the same type of dog food together, but only for a short period of time. If your dog does react badly to the mix, you can be sure it’s the new food causing it.
To make sure your dog’s stomach can deal with the new food, introduce it slowly, preferably mixed with the old food. Start by mixing 10% new food with 90% old food. Stick with this combination for two or three days. If all is well, up it to 30% new food, 70% old food. Once again, give it a few days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction.
Next, split it half and half for a few days, followed by 70% new food and 30% old food. If your dog is happy and still healthy, you can go ahead and switch out the old food for the new one entirely.
Storing Dog Foods
Storing your dog food incorrectly can lead to it spoiling, which can endanger your pet’s health and end up costing you a lot of unnecessary money.
When storing dry dog food, make sure it’s in a sealed container. If possible, place the entire original bag in a sealed container. If you can’t, take a photo of the original barcode This way, you’ll have access to the lot number of the food in case something does go wrong with it or you need to file a complaint.
It also needs to stay in a temperature-controlled area. Excess cold or heat can cause the nutrients in the food to break down. The FDA recommends storing dry dog food in a place that’s less than 80℉.
If you’re using wet dog food, refrigerate leftovers immediately. Use them within two days, or throw them out. According to the FDA, your refrigerator should be set to 40℉ or less to preserve the food properly.
Raw or fresh food can be frozen for up to six months. Like wet dog food, place any thawed and unused food in the refrigerator and use it within a day or two.
Don’t feed your dog food that’s past its expiration date. Just like human food, it’s there for a reason.
Reading the Label
The Ingredient List
Certain ingredients can be really good for your dogs, but some ingredients may not be as healthy or nutritious for them. Some may even cause them certain conditions that greatly impact their health. Later on in this article, we’ll discuss ingredients that commonly cause allergies in many dogs. Each breed has its own nutritional requirements and may have different reactions to certain food ingredients.
Every breed needs high-quality, real food ingredients in their dog food. You want to see a real meat as the first ingredient on the dog food label, ideally followed by vegetables, possibly gluten-free grains, and fruits.
Some breeds are more prone to allergies than others, which means certain ingredients can affect these breeds worse than others. Understanding your dog’s breed and what they’re susceptible to can help you avoid problem ingredients from the beginning.
We don’t have space to go through every breed in this article! But for your convenience, here are the dog foods we recommend for these breeds, along with some information about their particular breed health and allergies.
- American Bully
- Australian Shepherds
- Blue Heelers
- Border Collies
- Boston Terriers
- Cane Corso
- Catahoula Leopard Dogs
- Cocker Spaniels
- Golden Retrievers
- Great Danes
- Great Pyrenees
- Hunting Dogs
- Shih Tzu
It’s important to know that not all dogs are going to have allergies or be sensitive to ingredients just because of their breed. Some dogs just have stronger stomachs than others! But understanding potential challenges from the start can help prevent problems later on down the line.
Of course, artificial ingredients, animal by-products, and grains containing gluten should be avoided no matter what breed your dog is.
The Typical Analysis
On your dog food packaging, you’ll find an ingredient list and a guaranteed analysis list. This is where you’ll find information about nutrient percentages in the dog food.
This typically shows:
- Protein (sometimes called crude protein)
- Fat (sometimes called crude fat)
- Omega fatty acids
- Prebiotics or probiotics
- Joint supplements
- Other additions
The guaranteed analysis list doesn’t usually contain the carbohydrate content of the food. This isn’t necessary for you to know, as dogs get their energy from fat and not carbs. Carbohydrates do offer vitamins and minerals, but it’s less important to know the exact numbers.
Not every dog food label is exactly the same. Some will contain specific vitamins (often vitamin A and vitamin E), while others specify particular minerals, like zinc or selenium.
It’s also important to know that puppy foods and adult foods’ guaranteed analysis lists will differ slightly. Puppy foods will specify the calcium and phosphorus contents, as well as DHA and EPA, which are essential puppy development nutrients.
We’ll go through the most important items in more detail below, so you know what numbers you should be looking for when viewing this list.
Important Dog Food Nutrients Check
Protein is the most prominent ingredient in every dog food. It’s an essential nutrient for muscle building. It’s the building block of a healthy body, so making sure your dog gets enough of it is important.
AAFCO recommends 18% protein as a minimum for adult dogs. Don’t get stuck on this number, though – it’s a true minimum, and it’s really only an appropriate number for dogs who aren’t active.
Dogs who get plenty of exercise should get 25% protein or more. This is enough to maintain muscle mass and help them build more muscle if they need to. Hunting dogs or working dogs could do with a protein count in the high 30s, even.
High-protein recipes also help your dog to stay full for longer. If your dog’s food is made up of mostly carb ingredients like grains or veggies, they get digested much faster, leaving your dog looking for food again sooner.
Not all proteins are equal. Animal protein is the best source by far. It not only contains the highest amount of healthy protein, but also provides your dog with essential amino acids. Plant proteins aren’t a bad thing to see on an ingredient list, but if they’re the first or the only protein then it’s a red flag.
Chicken, beef, lamb, salmon, turkey, and duck are the most common proteins and all provide good levels of the nutrients (provided they’re the most prominent ingredient in the food). Other, less common protein sources include rabbit, bison, venison, pork, whitefish, trout, and exotic meats like kangaroo or guinea fowl.
We humans get most of our energy from carbohydrates. Dogs, on the other hand, get most of their energy from fats. The fat content of their dog food is the second thing you’ll see on a guaranteed analysis list.
AAFCO recommends a minimum of 5% fat. This is extremely low, though, and won’t sustain an active dog. The energy requirements of dogs vary by size and breed, but for active dogs we recommend between 12 and 15%. Working dogs or hunting dogs could even use more than that.
If your dog is eating a high-fat diet but not getting enough exercise, they could start to pile on the pounds. If they’re eating too little fat, they may be losing weight or you may notice that their energy levels drop noticeably.
Good sources of fat include chicken fat, pork fat, salmon oil, or flaxseed oil. There should preferably be an animal fat source first and foremost. Avoid dog foods with vaguely named ingredients, like “animal fat”. Transparency is important, and you have no idea what that ingredient truly is.
Also, note that dogs who are allergic to chicken meat can often ingest chicken fat without any adverse reactions. The problem is with the meat, not the fat. So if your dog is sensitive to chicken as a protein source, they should still be able to eat a dog food containing chicken fat. Test this in small doses first, though!
Not all dogs will need a high-fiber diet, but all dogs need a certain amount of fiber. Fiber ingredients help keep your dog feeling fuller for longer, without adding extra calories.
Fiber is basically parts of plants that your dog can’t digest. As you can imagine, this means that when they eat it, it lands up in your dog’s intestines, where it bulks up their poop.
It’s crucial to make sure that your dog gets enough fiber in their diet. One of the amazing things about fiber is that it can help to prevent diarrhea (by absorbing excess liquid), but it can also help to prevent constipation (by bringing more water into the colon). In other words, it balances out the digestive system really well.
By keeping your dog fuller for longer, a high-fiber diet can help overweight pets to lose weight. It can also help to regulate blood sugar, by slowing the absorption of certain nutrients. This is particularly useful for diabetic dogs.
There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. It’s not necessary for you to understand the differences, but a complete and balanced dog food will contain both.
Ingredients that are high in fiber include:
- grains (rice, oatmeal, barley, etc)
- squashes (butternut, acorn squash, pumpkin, etc)
- and other vegetables (sweet potato, carrots, green beans, etc).
Another common fiber ingredient you may see on a guaranteed analysis list is beet pulp.
Don’t worry if you see the word “ash” on a dog food’s guaranteed analysis label. This isn’t referring to burned remnants of ingredients – it refers to the mineral content in the dog food.
A dog food doesn’t have to contain added minerals to be classified as complete and balanced. But most of the ingredients in dog food contain some minerals, so even if there aren’t added minerals, the ash/mineral content in most dog foods is significant.
Dog’s require a minimum of about 2% crude ash in their diets for their mineral needs to be met. Minerals serve a variety of purposes in your dog’s body. Although you may not be able to pinpoint exactly what minerals your dog is ingesting in their dog food, mineral imbalances can lead to a variety of health problems.
Important minerals include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, selenium, iodine, sodium phosphates, potassium citrates, and chelated minerals.
Calcium and phosphorus are particularly important for puppies. They’re both important for bone and tooth health. A ratio of 1:1.2 is necessary for puppies to grow properly and at the right pace.
Apart from calcium and phosphorus, other minerals you may see added on a guaranteed analysis list include zinc and selenium. The ash content isn’t always shown on the list, though. But don’t worry if you don’t see it. As long as the ingredient list contains healthy, wholesome, real food ingredients that include meat, fruits, and vegetables, the mineral content should be perfectly okay.
Vitamins and minerals are often considered secondary ingredients, but they’re found in most healthy ingredients.
Some foods have added vitamins that are reflected on their guaranteed analysis list. These are commonly vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid, which is often used as a preservative).
Even if you don’t see added vitamins on the list, you can be sure there are vitamins in your dog’s food. Ingredients like fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins. Also, a food can’t be classified as complete and balanced if it doesn’t contain vitamins in a decent amount.
Vitamin imbalances can also cause health problems, though. For example, low vitamin E levels can lead to dry, flaky skin. Too much vitamin A can lead to joint pain.
Medical conditions can lead to vitamin imbalances, which means you may need to supplement with vitamins tablets or chews. If your dog suffers from any health conditions, check with your vet if you may need to add a vitamin supplement to your dog’s diet.
If so, never feed your dog vitamins created for humans! They’re usually in different doses, and may contain other compounds that could even be harmful to your dog. A great way to add more vitamins to your dog’s diet in a healthy way is to feed them some raw vegetables or fruits as a snack. Be careful what you feed them, though – not all fruits and veggies are appropriate.
Complete dog foods should give your dog all the vitamins they need. If you’re feeding your dog raw or fresh food, you’ll need to supplement with a multivitamin.
Corn, Wheat, and Soy
You may see these on an ingredient list as “cereals”. Basically, they’re grains containing gluten, and gluten is indigestible to dogs. These three ingredients (and their variants) are considered to be low-quality fillers.
Because they’re not digestible, many dogs will have adverse reactions to them. Some dogs may present with diarrhea, while others may suffer from constipation. Choose dog foods with gluten-free grains instead.
Not all dogs will react badly to them, but they also offer no nutritional value whatsoever. Even if your dog has eaten dog foods containing these ingredients and hasn’t had a negative reaction, they offer nothing of value to your dog’s diet.
Chicken, beef, and lamb are the most common protein allergens. Unfortunately, they’re also the most common proteins used in dog foods!
If your dog shows reluctance to eat their food, it could be that the protein source is disagreeing with their stomach. Change up the protein and see if they eat with more enthusiasm. Salmon, whitefish, and turkey are often more easily digested.
It’s important to note that protein by-products can be a problem for dogs with a sensitive stomach. By-products aren’t always terrible for your dog’s health, but they may contain ingredients like beaks, claws, and hooves. They generally don’t contain much nutrition, and can upset your dog’s tummy. Avoid them.
Legumes are things that grow in pods. They include things like lentils, peas, peanuts, chickpeas, and beans. Not all of these are bad for your dog, but some dogs’ tummies just don’t deal well with them.
Dogs who react badly to legumes are usually reacting to beans or peas. Lentils and chickpeas are usually healthier, as well as packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
But choosing a legume-free dog food can eliminate any possible problems from the beginning. Make sure the dog food you choose contains healthy vegetables to keep the vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, and fiber content high.
White potatoes are one of those ingredients that some dogs just react badly to. They’re a common ingredient, but in reality, they offer less nutrition than other vegetables. While they are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, they generally are less nutrient-dense than other veggies.
If your dog suffers from a sensitive stomach when eating a dog food with potatoes, you may want to try a potato-free option. Make sure the new food you choose contains no sneaky potato ingredients, like potato starch or potato protein.
Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and other squashes are good alternative vegetables to potatoes. They provide sustained energy and a range of vitamins and minerals.
Artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors can cause digestive upset in some dogs. These ingredients are usually synthetic and offer no nutritional value whatsoever.
Look for dog foods containing natural preservatives and colors and flavors from vegetables and fruits. Avoid ingredients like Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 2, and Red 40, which are artificial colors. Any ingredient called something like “caramel color” is also suspect.
Natural preservatives like mixed tocopherols, ascorbic acid, and plant extracts like rosemary oil are acceptable. Red flag preservative ingredients include ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA).
No matter how old, how big or small, or how active your dog is, their dog food should be high-quality, contain real meat, healthy fruit and vegetables, gluten-free grains, and a full range of the necessary supplements.
Let’s delve into more specific feeding guidelines.
Feeding your puppy is important, but it’s just as important to feed the mother properly while she’s pregnant. This will give the puppies the nutrients they need before they’re even born! It’s the best way to get them off to a healthy start.
A pregnant dog will need a puppy food with 20% or more fat. She’s eating for many, after all, and she needs extra energy. It also needs to be high-calorie, high in protein, easy to digest, and should contain DHA and a healthy calcium/phosphorus ratio. Feed her several meals of this throughout the day.
Now, let’s look at how to feed the puppies when they’re born.
Birth to Weaning (8 to 10 Weeks)
Newborn puppies will generally be fed by their mother for the first few weeks of life. If they’re being nursed by their mother, you’ll need to keep feeding her a high-fat, high-calorie diet while she’s nursing.
If you have to feed a newborn pup yourself, they’ll need to be bottle-fed every 3 to 4 hours until they’re two weeks old. From two to four weeks old, they can be bottle-fed every 6 to 8 hours.
From about four weeks old, puppies will start to develop their teeth. At this time, they should begin to be transitioned to solid food. Soak some puppy pellets in a mix of water and milk replacer until it’s soft and spongy. Dip the puppy’s noses carefully into this mixture a few times a day until they learn to lap.
Once they begin to lap the food and water/milk mixture, gradually reduce the amount of moisture you add to the food at each meal. Ideally, by four to six weeks, they should be eating the puppy food with no added moisture. They may occasionally still feed from mom, but they should be eating more of their own puppy food.
At this age, you should be feeding them 4 to 6 times a day. By eight to ten weeks, they should be completely weaned from their mother and should be eating four meals of puppy food per day.
8 Weeks to Adulthood
From 8 weeks to about three months, your pup should be eating four meals a day. At this age, you can begin to feed three slightly bigger meals per day. Make sure you’re still feeding your puppy the right amount of calories even though they’re eating fewer meals!
Between 6 and 9 months of age, most dogs should transition down to two meals a day. However, it’s important to note that small breed puppies, like Yorkies, will mature faster than large breeds like Rottweilers or giant breeds like Great Dane puppies.
Larger breed puppies may require three meals a day until the age of about two years. It’s a good idea to chat to your vet about this to make sure you’re feeding your pup correctly for his breed and size.
Adults & Senior Dogs
If you’ve had your dog spayed or neutered, they’ll need fewer calories. Neutered dogs also have a slower metabolism, so it’s essential that you feed them accordingly.
Once your dog has been neutered, you’ll need to take some time to see how they’re reacting to their food. Keep a close eye on your dog in the weeks following his neutering. It’s likely that he’ll begin to gain weight if he’s eating the same amount.
Reduce his food by about 15% and watch him for a week or two to see what effect it has. If he still seems to be gaining weight, reduce it slightly more or choose a lower calorie food. If he seems to be getting too thin, increase it again by about 5%.
Once you’ve found the sweet spot where your dog is active but not gaining weight, figure out his new calorie count and make sure you stick to it with food and treats.
Dogs who are extremely active (more so than your typical dog) or who are working dogs, will need more calories, more fat, and more protein than others.
A higher fat count is necessary to facilitate their higher-than-average energy levels. Remember, dogs get their energy from fat, so a fat count in the high teens would likely be adequate for active dogs. Dogs who expend a lot of energy doing hard work may even benefit from 20% fat or higher.
A high protein count (30% or more) is also important, to maintain muscle mass and keep them strong enough to stay active. Because active dogs burn more calories, it’s a good idea to choose a dog food that’s slightly higher in calories so they don’t end up burning much more than they eat.
You may be surprised to learn that small breed dogs need more calories per pound than large breeds! A small breed needs about 40 calories per pound of body weight per day. Remember, you’ll need to split that total between however many meals you’re feeding your dog.
It doesn’t really matter how many calories are in each cup of their dog food. What matters is that you feed them the right amount.
For example, if your dog needs 400 calories a day and their dog food contains 400 calories per cup, feed them ½ cup twice a day. If their food contains 300 calories per cup, you’ll need to feed them ⅔ cup twice a day.
Aside from being a high-quality dog food, the kibble you choose should be small enough for their little jaws to handle, be easy to digest, have a fat count in the high teens, and contain joint supplements to strengthen those little joints.
Large breed dogs (50+ pounds when adults) need about 20 calories per pound per day. Surprisingly, they also need less fat than small dogs – in the low to mid teens, depending on their activity levels.
Large breed kibble should be slightly bigger so they can give it a proper chew. This prevents them scoffing it too quickly, which can lead to discomfort or dangerous conditions like bloat.
A high protein count (30% or more) and the addition of glucosamine and chondroitin are also important. Take note that large breed puppies also need a calcium/phosphorus ratio of 1:1.2, to facilitate the proper growth of their bones and prevent bone disorders later in life.
Giant breeds’ nutritional needs are very similar. They may need even less fat, and a moderate calorie count. If they gain too much weight, their joints can take severe strain.
Senior Dogs (7+ years)
As dogs age, they tend to slow down in their daily activity. Some dogs slow down significantly, while others only become slightly less active.
Senior dogs may need extra supplements in their diet. If they’re noticeably less active, a reduced fat count is necessary. A high protein count is still helpful, to maintain muscle mass and retain strength.
If they aren’t already, older dogs may benefit from a glucosamine supplement or switching to a food containing joint supplements. It’s also extremely helpful to have supplemental DHA in a senior dog food, to keep their brain and eyes sharp.
Some older dogs (especially those with tiny mouths or severe dental problems) may struggle to crunch kibble in their old age. In this case, it’s a good idea to transition over to a wet food, fresh food, or even raw food. These are generally easier to chew, as well as easier on the digestive system.
Fussy or Greedy Dogs
Feeding Fussy Dogs
In some cases, dogs are perfectly healthy and have no allergies, but are simply picky eaters! Dogs are not that different from humans in some ways, and they can also become bored with eating the same dog food over and over again.
Here are a few tips to help you manage fussy dogs:
1) Add A Kibble Topper
This is where wet or canned dog foods can come in handy. When dry dog food gets a bit boring to your dog, the addition of a tasty kibble topper with a bit of a different texture can be all it takes to get them excited about eating again.
You can scoop a spoon of canned food into their kibble, or buy ready-to-add pouches designed specifically for this purpose. Try not to mix two vastly different flavors, though. If your dog’s kibble is salmon flavored, try to stick to fish-flavored toppers.
Remember to take the calories into account here too. When you add a tablespoon of wet food to your dog’s dry kibble, you’re adding anywhere from 50 to 100 extra calories to their meal. This is a significant amount – 100 to 200 extra calories a day can cause your dog to pack on the pounds.
2) Rotate Dog Food Flavors
Some brands, such as Acana, offer a variety of limited ingredient flavors that contain pretty much the same nutritional value. As long as your dog is still getting the same nutrients and avoiding problem ingredients, you can rotate dog food flavors easily to keep your pup interested.
Avoid switching between dog foods with vastly different nutrient values. Even small changes can cause digestive upset, so it’s best to stick to one brand that you know will give your dog everything they need.
Even if you’re just rotating between one brand’s flavors to prevent your picky eater from becoming bored, transition properly from one to the next if it’s a flavor your dog hasn’t tried before.
3) Mix Up Ingredients (If Feeding Fresh or Raw)
If you’re feeding raw or fresh food, mixing up your ingredients may keep things interesting and tasty for your pup. Make sure they aren’t allergic to any of the ingredients you’re using, of course.
When you’re preparing your dog’s food for them, you’re in complete control. Switch up the proteins if you notice they’re getting fussy, or add in some tasty fruits like strawberries or blueberries for an exciting taste experience.
The beauty of raw or fresh feeding is that you have the freedom to switch it up every single day to satisfy picky eaters. For example, try chicken and sweet potato on one day, and beef and pumpkin on another day, as long as your dog isn’t allergic to any of them.
Feeding Greedy Dogs
If your dog scoffs everything in their path, your first step should be to get them checked by the vet. It’s possible that they aren’t getting enough food for their size and energy levels. If their weight is where it should be, you’ll need to find another way to get their appetite under control.
1) Choose a Higher Calorie Dog Food
If your vet has agreed that your dog seems starving because he isn’t getting enough calories, make sure you know how many calories to feed your dog based on their weight and activity level.
The easiest way to get their calorie count up is to buy a higher-calorie dog food. This way, you can continue to feed them the same amount, but they’ll be getting more calories in each serving.
A dog food that’s higher in fiber may also be helpful. This should keep your dog full for longer, and they may not appear to be as greedy!
2) Change Their Feeding Schedule
It’s also possible that there’s too much time in between your pup’s meals and he’s burning off his last meal long before dinner. Adding in an extra meal halfway through the day could solve this problem.
Again, make sure you’re getting their calories right. If you’re adding in an extra meal, you’ll need to split their total calories between three meals instead of two now, so there’ll be slightly less food in each meal.
For example, if your dog needs 300 calories a day and you’ve been feeding him two meals of 150 calories each, you’ll have to change it to three meals of 100 calories each.
3) Get A New Feeding Bowl
If nothing seems to help and your dog ploughs through his meal super quickly every time he eats, getting him a “slow feeding” dog bowl could help.
These bowls specially-designed maze-like bowls that make your dog work for his kibble! By eating slower, he recognizes when he’s full faster. Eating slower also reduces the chances of bloat.
Make sure you get an appropriate bowl for your dog. Brachycephalic dogs will need different bowls to those dogs who have long snouts!
Dogs with Minor Health Problems
If your dog has a sensitive stomach, choosing the right dog food for their condition can make a big difference.
If your dog poops abnormally often, feeding them a dog food high in fiber can help to reduce the amount of poop. Normal pooping habits are between one and five times a day, depending on your dog. It’s a good idea to monitor your dog for a few days to get a baseline. Once you know what’s normal for them, you’ll spot abnormal behavior much quicker.
Another common digestive problem is loose stools, or chronic diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused by food sensitivities or food allergies, so changing up your dog’s food as per this dog feeding guide could make all the difference. Choosing a food that’s high in fiber could firm up your dog’s stools.
Sometimes digestive problems also show themselves as flatulence! If your dog’s gas is becoming a problem, it’s most often caused by an intolerance to a particular ingredient in their dog food. Again, switching up their dog food could reduce this problem significantly.
It’s important to find the root of your dog’s digestive problems so you can choose the best way to deal with it. A trip to the vet may be necessary.
Skin & Coat Problems
Does your dog struggle with a dry, brittle coat, itchy, flaky skin, or excessive shedding? Changing his diet can help with that too!
Choose a dog food that’s free from allergens and high in Omega fatty acids. The absence of allergens means there’s no reason for your dog’s immune system to rebel, which can happen when it’s exposed to ingredients it doesn’t like.
Omegas are extremely helpful for nourishing skin and moisturizing fur. Ingredients like salmon, salmon oil, animal fats, and flaxseed contain high amounts of Omega 3 and Omega 6.
It’s also important that the dog food you choose contains a good balance of both. The AAFCO standard is a maximum ratio of 30:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3.
Joint problems can affect almost any dog. But they’re more common in large breeds, very active dogs, senior dogs, and overweight dogs.
Large breeds need very specific nutrients in their food, especially as puppies, so they grow properly and at the right pace. Their larger frames can be fragile, though, so it’s recommended that pup parents of large breeds supplement their dogs’ diet with glucosamine from a young age.
Any dogs that are extremely active are at risk of joint problems. The more intense work the joints do, the more likely they are to have problems, including hip dysplasia and arthritis.
Senior dogs’ joints also often need an extra strength boost. It’s common for older dogs to suffer from arthritis, which can lower their quality of life. The addition of joint supplements to their food can make a big difference both in their level of pain and their susceptibility to more joint problems.
Pups who are overweight would also benefit from the addition of joint-strengthening supplements. Their joints work extra hard carrying excess weight, so it’s essential that pet parents of overweight pets work on helping their pet lose weight in order to preserve their joints, as well taking pressure off the heart.
If your dog isn’t getting the right mix of vitamins and minerals from his food, it can lead to chemical imbalances (ie. a change in mental health) or health conditions (ie. a change in physical health).
Either one of these could cause your dog to develop behavioral problems. These problems could include aggression, unusual fear, lethargy, a lack of interest in life, or a significant change in their activity levels.
If your dog is acting up, it’s essential to consider what could be causing it without making assumptions. A trip to the vet is definitely in order. This may reveal a medical reason behind your dog’s behavior, that could be rectified by a change in diet.
Behavioral problems like refusing to eat food could also simply be due to a sensitive stomach or food allergies or intolerances. If you’re feeding your dog a kibble containing an ingredient they struggle to digest, they’re naturally not going to want to eat it.
In this case, simply switching dog foods to one that doesn’t contain the problem ingredient may be all it takes to fix the behavioral problem. It may take some experimenting to find out what the problem ingredient is.
Urinary problems are often overlooked by pet parents. But if your pet’s peeing habits have changed, there could be cause for concern.
Choosing a dog food that’s high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals can help to boost your dog’s urinary health. Cranberries are a wonderful ingredient to find in a dog food for urinary health, too!
While it’s a common belief that switching to a low-protein dog food is the solution to urinary issues, it’s not quite the case. A low-protein diet is not recommended for dogs with urinary problems, but a lowered-protein diet is.
Dog foods with a protein count in the low 20s are perfectly acceptable. Anything lower than that is likely to be too little protein to maintain a healthy muscle mass over time.
Be aware that prescription dog foods for urinary health are often too low in protein to be healthy. Unless your dog’s vet has specifically recommended going super low-protein, we recommend simply lowering your dog’s protein count slightly.
A slightly lowered protein count can help reduce the chances of kidney and bladder stones, without causing other problems.
Increasing the amount of moisture in your dog’s diet can also help to improve urinary health. If your dog has the calories, you can consider adding some wet dog food to their diet.
If your dog is a breed that’s susceptible to heart disease, choosing a low-sodium dog food is the way to go. Too much sodium (or salt) in your dog’s diet can increase blood pressure and put strain on the heart.
For a dog food to be officially classified as being low-sodium, the sodium content needs to be roughly 0.3%. This is around 50 to 80mg of sodium per 100 calories of dog food.
Try to avoid foods that have salt on their ingredient list. MSG (monosodium glutamate) and nitrates (artificial preservatives) are ingredients you may find in dog foods that are actually high in sodium. If you spot these ingredients, it’s best to avoid feeding your dog that particular kibble.
Also, if your dog is overweight, consider reducing his calories to shed the extra weight. Extra weight can place extra pressure on the body, making the heart pump harder. Keeping your dog at his ideal weight means there’s no extra strain on the heart.
If you aren’t aware of how many calories your dog needs per day, it can be very easy to accidentally overfeed them. Some breeds, like Labradors, are hard-wired to eat, eat, and eat more! If you free-feed, feed them too many calories per day, or even leave food lying around, they’re likely to scoff everything they possibly can.
Even if you do know how many calories your dog needs and you’re feeding them the right amount of kibble, it can be easy to accidentally add calories. A spoon of wet food as a kibble topper, four or five treats, or sharing your own food with them can increase their calories drastically, leading to weight gain.
Make sure you know how many calories your dog needs and stick to it strictly. Don’t allow your dog constant access to food, and avoid feeding them human food.
Lack of adequate exercise also plays a role in weight gain. In order to help your dog lose weight, you’ll need to put them on a reduced-fat diet or weight management dog food, and increase the amount of exercise they’re getting.
While changing dog food can make a difference here, don’t neglect the exercise part. Weight loss is a two-part process, and exercise helps to build muscle. The more muscle your dog has, the faster their metabolism.
Other Health Problems
Autoimmune disease is a dangerous condition in which the immune system attacks its own body. It needs to be treated by a vet, but making dietary changes can help alleviate symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
Choose a dog food containing a high-quality animal protein, Omega fatty acids, fruits and vegetables, and probiotics and prebiotics. Autoimmune disease can manifest in many ways, and this combination will cover the most common symptoms.
The most common cause for seizures in dogs is something called idiopathic epilepsy, which is often genetic but not much more is known about it.
Changing your dog’s diet isn’t likely to prevent or stop seizures. But it can help to reduce their frequency and severity.
Choose a dog food with high levels of vitamins and minerals, that’s high in Omega fatty acids, and that contains DHA (this boosts brain function).
Low thyroid function can lead to some nasty side effects, including unexplained weight gain, loss of appetite, and skin and coat problems.
Switching to a dog food containing fresh fruit and vegetables, chelated minerals to aid in digestion, Omega fatty acids to smooth over the skin and coat, and kelp to boost thyroid function is a good idea.
Take note that beef by-products are known to aggravate symptoms of hypothyroidism. For this reason, we recommend avoiding beef products entirely, just to be safe.
A yeast infection is an overgrowth of bacteria. It often shows up in places on your dog that are warm and moist; for example, skinfolds, wars, and paws.
It’s often triggered by too much starch in your dog’s diet. The most immediate way of alleviating symptoms is to switch your dog to a low starch diet, which uses non-starchy vegetables such as carrots, squashes, or even gluten-free grains like rice or oatmeal. It should also contain high Omega levels to heal the skin.
As you should now know, feeding your dog is much more than buying a cheap kibble and tipping some of it into a bowl twice a day. There’s so much more to consider!
As long as you follow this dog feeding guide, you should be able to get your dog a high-quality, complete and balanced dog food that suits them and their health problems.
Remember, your dog can’t choose his diet. It’s up to you to make sure your dog eats the best!