Updated date:

Which Dog Food? How to Choose a Healthy Diet for Your Dog's Age, Breed, and Size

Amanda was raised with dogs and has kept dogs all her life. "Dogs aren't just pets," she says, "They're workmates, friends, and family."

Choosing the right diet for your dog's age, breed, and lifestyle is important for his health and happiness

Choosing the right diet for your dog's age, breed, and lifestyle is important for his health and happiness

Dogs' Dietary Needs Change Through Different Life Stages

I'm always shocked when I hear of dogs whose owners think they'll be fine just being fed table scraps and consider the occasional can of proprietary dog food or a handful of kibble as an odd treat.

It's important to make sure your dog has a healthy diet which provides all his nutritional needs. A dog fed well is a happy dog, but there's no "one-size-fits-all" rule about what you should give your dog to eat, how much, or how often. A dog's needs depend on his breed, size, age, and health.

There are so many options to choose from, it may seem hard to be sure what the best diet might be. If you're not sure your dog is getting everything he needs from his food, it's worth asking your vet for guidelines. But the following suggestions will help you make the right dietary decisions for your particular pooch.

Dogs' dietary needs change with different life stages. This little puppy will need more frequent feeding now than when he's an adult dog

Dogs' dietary needs change with different life stages. This little puppy will need more frequent feeding now than when he's an adult dog

How to Choose Commercial Dog Food

Most commercial dog food is formulated to give a full and balanced diet containing all the nutrients your dog needs. A standard proprietary dog food contains meat, vegetables, grains, added vitamins, and sometimes even fruit. However, it's always a good idea to check the packaging for the Association of American Feed Controls certification proving the food has been tested. It should state that the food is "complete and balanced". That means it has everything your dog needs and in the right quantities.

Feed formulas are made for dogs at different life stages. The packaging should state whether the food is intended for puppies, adult, or older dogs. Read all packaging carefully to be sure you're making the right choice.

When choosing commercial dog food, always take care to read the ingredients and nutrition label to make sure it contains everything your dog needs to be healthy

When choosing commercial dog food, always take care to read the ingredients and nutrition label to make sure it contains everything your dog needs to be healthy

Wet or Dry Food?

You can buy both wet and dry dog food. Both offer a balanced and nutritious diet. Dry foods, such as pellets, give your dog something to crunch on and may be better for his teeth. Wet foods, like canned dog food, are more natural-looking and meaty. Many owners choose to mix them or alternate them to make their dog's feeding times more interesting. Which you choose is really a matter of personal preference and convenience.

How Much Should You Feed Your Dog?

The most common mistake dog owners make is to give their dogs too much to eat. If your dog is otherwise healthy and has regular exercise but puts on weight, you're probably over-feeding. Guidelines for how much to feed your dog based on his size and breed can be found on most proprietary dog food packaging.

Aging dogs may need less to eat as they become less active and working dogs may need more than the average for their size. If you have any doubts, ask your vet or a qualified pet nutritionist.

This aging pug is clearly overweight. As your dog gets older and less active, you may need to reduce the amount and frequency of feeds. If in doubt, always ask a vet for advice

This aging pug is clearly overweight. As your dog gets older and less active, you may need to reduce the amount and frequency of feeds. If in doubt, always ask a vet for advice

How Often Should You Feed Your Dog?

The American Kennel Club recommends you feed puppies under six months old four times a day. Once they reach six months, you can reduce feeds to once in the morning and once in the evening. Feed adult dogs once or twice a day. Much depends on how much outdoor activity they get. Again, if in doubt, talk to your vet.

Feeding Frequency Guidelines Based on Age

Table showing general guidelines for how often you should feed your dog based on his age

AgeFrequency

weaned to 6 months

4 times a day

6 months to adult

2 times a day

Adult (9 to 12 months+)

1 or 2 times a day

The Problem of the Vegetarian Dog

Many people eat a vegetarian diet for ethical, health, or environmental reasons. If you're a vegetarian, you may dislike feeding meat-based products to your dog. It is possible for a dog to be healthy and happy on a vegetarian diet, but it needs special care and attention.

The greatest challenge is making sure he'll be interested in eating the food you offer. You must also be sure the food has enough protein and calcium to keep his muscle mass and bones in good health. It's advisable to seek veterinary advice before trying to restrict your dog's diet to vegetables and fruit.

Should You Feed Scraps to Your Dog?

It's best not to give your dog extras from the table. If you do, make sure it's a rare treat and not a regular habit. Many foods normal for people can be dangerous, even life-threatening, for dogs. Chocolate, processed foods, poultry bones, salty or sugary snacks, even raw meat, can harm your dog.

While those doleful eyes may be hard to resist, it's best not to feed table scraps to your dog as "human foods" can harm his health

While those doleful eyes may be hard to resist, it's best not to feed table scraps to your dog as "human foods" can harm his health

Should You Feed Your Dog Treats?

If you want to give your dog a treat, either as a reward for good behaviour or just to show how much you love him, it's safest to get a packet of dog treats from your vet or pet store. Treats and chews are inexpensive and useful in training your dog, too. Vets recommend that treats should make up only a tenth of your dog's daily diet.

An occasional treat does no harm, and can be a useful training aid, but it's best to choose a healthy snack recommended by a vet or qualified pet nutritionist

An occasional treat does no harm, and can be a useful training aid, but it's best to choose a healthy snack recommended by a vet or qualified pet nutritionist

If in Doubt, Ask a Vet

Your dog is your best friend and deserves to have a healthy diet. Making the right food choices will keep him happy and in good condition. If you have concerns about your dog's diet or other health issues, always talk to your vet who will give you expert and up-to-date advice.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 Amanda Littlejohn

Comments

Amanda Littlejohn (author) on September 27, 2018:

Hi Shelley,

Thanks for your comment. I've never tried freeze dried dog food with my beasties. I'm afraid they get proprietary canned food and a crunchy mixer. Not very exciting, but they're happy with it and, of course, it contains everything they need from a nutritional point of view.

But I think as a rule, dogs, as natural scavengers rather than hunters like cats, are more likely to try anything that seems vaguely edible!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 26, 2018:

I recently did some research on raw freeze dried cat and dog food and its benefits. As a result, I tried my cats on some very expensive but exceedingly high quality raw freeze dried cat food but they hated it. It had to be bad because I put the uneaten bowls outside overnight and not even the possums and other critters would get it! I kid you not. Have you tried freeze dried raw food for your dogs? Maybe dogs are less finicky than cats?