There are myriad choices available when deciding what to feed your dog. If you are getting a puppy, then the breeder will have made the initial choice which you should continue at least for the first few days. Even if your new dog is an adult, you should still ascertain what he is being fed and ensure you have the right food in stock before you bring him home.
We are what we eat; this is just as true for a dog as for a human. Choosing the right food for your dog is vital for good health and a long and happy life. Remember too that a dog’s needs can change over the course of a lifetime. You will need to take all these factors into account:
- Exercise levels
- Neutering status
Puppies can burn up calories much faster than an adult dog and their rapid growth means they need far more food proportionate to their size. Puppy food is specially formulated to meet their needs and all reputable dog food manufacturers will have a dedicated puppy range.
Your breeder should discuss the puppy’s diet with you when you visit the litter to choose your puppy, and they should ensure that they include a few days’ supply of the food in the puppy pack. They should also ensure that the puppy is fully weaned before leaving.
You should not change the puppy’s food immediately. Even if you do wish to use a different brand or type of food, allow a few days for the puppy to settle in first. Make any changes slowly, over a period of 10-14 days, to avoid upsetting the puppy’s digestion.
How Much Food Does a Puppy Need?
Puppies have small stomachs, so they need to eat little and often. Up until 12 weeks they should have their daily intake split into 4 meals taken at regular intervals during the day. Your breeder should have established a feeding routine which you can follow. This can be reduced to 3 meals at 3 months and 2 meals at 6 months.
The amount given needs to be adjusted regularly as the puppy grows, but a rough guide is to feed 6% of the puppy’s weight reducing to 3% at adulthood. A small dog will reach adulthood at around 1 year whereas a large dog will continue growing until 18 months – 2 years.
Do not overfeed your puppy. His bones are soft as they are still growing, and carrying too much weight can cause deformities, especially in larger breeds.
In adulthood a dog can be fed either once or twice a day; in either case the total amount given should be the same. How much to feed him depends on his age and lifestyle. An active or working dog will need more food than a dog who only walks for an hour a day. A senior (7+ years) may need less food as he grows older. A neutered dog is usually more prone to weight gain than an entire, so be prepared to adjust the amount you feed after neutering or spaying.
As with puppies you should not change an adult dog’s diet too abruptly. Introduce changes slowly, over 10-14 days, to allow the dog’s digestion to adjust.
You may also need to change your dog’s diet if he develops health problems. Therapeutic diets can help to alleviate skin conditions, food sensitivities, urinary problems, kidney, liver and heart disease and post-operative recovery. Good dog food manufacturers will offer products specially formulated to help with such problems.
Try to feed your dog at the same time each day and in a quiet location where he can eat undisturbed. Routine makes him feel secure and helps to keep his digestion in good condition.
What to Feed Your Dog
There are 4 basic types of dog food: wet, dry, raw and freeze-dried. Wet and dry dog food have been available for many years and there is a wide variety to choose from. Raw food, sometimes known as a Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet, has become increasingly popular over the last 10 years. Freeze-dried dog food is a recent development and is essentially a raw food diet in dry form.
Wet Dog Food
Wet dog food is usually sold in tins and pouches and is either meat or fish in jelly or gravy. Unlike dry dog food it contains water, so it is a source of hydration and can reduce a dog’s need to drink a lot of water. The quality of the meat and fish in wet dog food varies considerably between brands, as does the level of additives and preservatives it contains.
Its stronger smell makes it more appetising to dogs than dry food and it is easier to consume for dogs with dental or mouth problems. But because it is easy to eat dogs may be inclined to bolt their food and wet food does nothing to keep teeth healthy.
It has a much shorter shelf life than dry food, so it is sold in smaller quantities which can make it more expensive.
Dry Dog Food
Dry dog food, often called kibble, is more economical than wet food as it can be bought in larger quantities and stored for much longer. It is also encourages chewing, slowing down the speed at which the dog eats, and is better for his dental health. But the lack of an appetising smell can make it less appealing, and the lack of moisture can make your dog extra thirsty. A dog on a purely dry food diet will drink far more water than one on wet food.
Dry dog food is often bulked out with grain and other fillers, along with additives and preservatives. The quality of dry dog varies considerably, and the cheaper brands will contain less protein and more filler and other additives. Good quality kibble will be additive free but is more expensive.
The main objection to kibble is that it is a most unnatural diet for a dog. A dog is a carnivore, with an inbuilt instinct to hunt, kill and eat another animal or bird. Once caught, the dog will eat everything; fur, bones, brains, entrails, muscle (meat), the lot. And his gut is perfectly adapted to do so, and to digest it easily. Eating animals is a dog’s natural diet.
Raw Dog Food
Raw dog food is sold frozen and contains raw meat, fish, vegetables and superfoods such as sea kelp, salmon oil and spirulina. It is close to what a dog would eat naturally, and invariably gets the canine vote in preference to dry or wet food. It’s also my own preference, and I have fed it to my own dogs for 9 years with excellent results. My dogs have shiny coats, abundant energy, excellent health and produce firm and healthy poos. They also love their food, eat everything in record time and there is never any waste.
Some vets are virulently opposed to raw feeding, and can be fierce in their condemnation of those who choose it. There is a concern that it can contain bacteria, although the same could be said of wet dog food. But the risk is mainly to humans, not dogs. As previously noted, a dog’s natural diet is dead animals. Dead animals are not famous for being bacteria free, but a dog’s digestion is shorter than a human’s, and much more acidic. Dogs also produce enzymes which protect them against bacteria common in raw food. This is why bacterial infections in dogs are rare.
Freeze-Dried Dog Food
Freeze-dried dog food is prepared from the same kind of ingredients used in raw food, but the food is frozen and then vacuum dried to extract the moisture. There is no exposure to heat so the food retains its natural goodness, and it can be stored at room temperature for long periods of time. It provides all the advantages of raw food without the inconvenience.
I like the idea of freeze-dried food very much, although I have some reservations about the lack of moisture in the food. But its biggest disadvantage is the cost. Freeze-dried is the most expensive dog food of all, and unaffordable for most people. It costs well over £1000 to feed even the smallest dog for a year, and therefore I have not tried it myself. There is also a lack of variety compared to frozen raw food, and as yet only a few manufacturers who make it. As freeze-dried food is still in its infancy it may become both cheaper and more varied in time.
Treats are a useful training tool and something we all like to give our dogs when they have done their best for us. The main danger is that too many treats can lead to overfeeding and may alter the balance of the daily diet. Treats should not form more than 5% of a dog’s daily intake, and his food ration should be adjusted to take account of them. Using a good quality kibble is an option for training and can be deducted from the dog’s daily ration.
Signs You Are Feeding the Wrong Diet
The most obvious sign that you are not feeding your dog well is when he fails to finish his food. If you have to persuade your dog to eat then perhaps you should consider changing his diet.
Other signs to look out for are vomiting without obvious reason, excessive wind, losing weight, skin conditions, runny poos or constipation and regular infections. All these suggest your dog isn’t getting the nutrients he needs from his food.
How to Know If You are Feeding Too Much
Pet obesity is an increasing problem and is not being kind to your dog. Being fat lessens his ability to enjoy life, and may shorten it too, as it increases the likelihood of illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, breathing problems and cancer.
How do you know if your dog is overweight?
Look at him from above. He should have a properly defined waist between his ribs and his hindquarters. Then run your hands along each side over his ribs. You should be able to feel them through a thin layer of fat.
If he has no waist or you can’t feel his ribs, then he is overweight, and you should adjust his diet so that he loses weight and regains his proper shape. If he is oval shaped then he is obese, and you should consult your vet for advice on how to help your dog return to a healthy weight safely.
Dangerous and Unsuitable Foods
Some foods that are perfectly normal and harmless for humans are dangerous for dogs. They may be toxic or even fatal, so make sure you know what foods to avoid.
- Dried fruit – raisins, sultanas, currants etc.
- Stoned fruit – grapes, plums, cherries etc.
- Alliums – onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, chives or shallots
- Artificial sweeteners
- Cooked bones – these are not poisonous but may splinter and choke your dog
If in doubt it is better not to give your dog food which is meant for human consumption.
Fresh, clean water must be available for all dogs and puppies at all times.