Your complete guide to dog nutrition

Feeding your dog the right diet can help keep them healthy for years to come. Understanding how much to feed them can play a key role in maintaining a healthy weight, as well as knowing how many treats they’re allowed.

Dog eating from bowl

Not only does the right type give dogs all the nutrients they need, but it can also help improve their dental health and regulate their digestive system.

Keep reading for our advice on the best nutrition for your dog.


Which food should I feed my dog?

Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to this, as the ‘right’ diet varies depending on your dog’s needs. All dogs are omnivores (with the ability to digest both meat and vegetables) which need a balanced diet of proteins, fats, fibre, minerals and vitamins. High-quality dog food is always better than a cheap, low-quality alternative.

There are various different types of dog food available, but a dry food described as ‘complete’ is usually the best option. These contain all the nutrients your dog needs in a convenient form that’s easy to store. They’re also much better for your dog’s dental health than wet food as they help remove plaque and tartar from the teeth and don’t build up around the gumline. Dry food also contains much less water and a higher concentration of nutrients, meaning you don’t need to feed them as much.

Because of its high water content, wet food can be a good option for dogs who don’t drink enough. Similarly, wet food is often much easier to eat for dogs who are recovering from injury or operation.

Whichever type you choose, always look at the ingredients list. These are listed proportionally, and as a general rule, meat should be the first ingredient as it’s the best protein for your dog’s body. Avoid foods that use broad terms such as ‘animal derivative’, ‘meal’ or ‘cereals’ in their first few ingredients as these generally indicate a lower quality food.

Your vet is best placed to offer tailored advice about your dog’s diet, taking into account their age, lifestyle and any existing health conditions.


Should I stick to the same food throughout their life?

Your dog’s nutritional needs change as they age, so you may need to alter their diet as they grow. For example, puppies under the age of one will need a diet that fuels their energetic lifestyle while supporting healthy brain, eye and bone development. Similarly, dogs over the age of seven will need to switch to a food that supports their mobility and brain function.

The right diet can also help support dogs with health conditions. These include dogs with kidney issues, joint pain and arthritis, skin problems, digestive conditions or food allergies. If your dog develops any of these conditions during their lifetime, you may need to switch up their food to suit their needs. As always, your vet will be happy to recommend the best option.

If you do need to change their food for whatever reason, it’s important that you do so gradually as a sudden change in diet can upset their stomach and put them off their food. Start by adding a small amount of new food into their usual food. Gradually increase the amount of new food you give them (while decreasing the amount of old food) over the course of a week until they’re eating only the new food.


How much should I feed my dog?

The amount your dog should eat relates to their breed, age and size. All dog food has guidelines on their packaging, and this is usually a good place to start. You’ll then need to keep an eye on their weight to tell whether they’re eating too much, or too little. Roughly speaking, you should be able to feel, but not see, the last two or three ribs when looking from the side, and a clear waistline when looking from above. Your vet will also check your dog’s weight at their next health check to ensure they’re the right size.

Once you’ve settled on the right amount for your dog, it’s a good idea to weigh it out at the start of the day to avoid overfeeding.


How often should I feed my dog?

Once you’ve decided how much your dog should eat, you can then divide this into small meals throughout the day. This is generally flexible, but two or three meals helps avoid bloat (a potentially fatal illness otherwise known as gastric torsion) which has been linked to feeding one large meal a day. Certain breeds including Great Danes, Irish Setters and Weimaraners, are particularly at risk of bloat, so smaller meals are highly recommended.

Some owners prefer free feeding over strict mealtimes. This is where food is left in the bowl for their dog to choose when and how much to eat. If you prefer this method, it’s important to measure out their recommended daily amount at the start of the day and top up the bowl from that amount. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Consistency is key, so always stick to your chosen feeding routine.


How many treats can I give my dog?

There’s nothing wrong with the odd treat to reward your dog’s good behaviour, but it’s important not to overdo it as they can be highly calorific. Always opt for treats that are low in sugar and carbohydrates and limit the amount you give them. Treats should make up no more than five to 10 per cent of your dog’s diet. Larger treats can be broken up into smaller pieces, meaning you can still give your dog a few tasty rewards without feeding them too much.

Many dogs enjoy fresh fruit and vegetables which are much lower in calories and generally better for your pet. Apple pieces, blueberries and small carrots are just a few examples that tend to be popular with dogs. It’s still important to limit these treats as they can be high in natural sugars.

If you do decide to treat your dog, it’s important to slightly reduce their regular food to balance out their daily intake.


Don’t forget to hydrate

Water is an essential part of your dog’s nutrition, and not drinking enough carries serious consequences. Most dogs drink enough water, but some may not, so you may need to find ways to actively encourage them to stay hydrated.

The size of their water bowl can play a part in how much dogs drink; tall, narrow bowls are best for dogs with long ears such as Bassett Hounds and Spaniels; low shallow bowls are best for small breeds; and a large, wide bowl suits medium and larger breeds. Additionally, make sure their water is always fresh, clean and easily accessible to encourage regular drinking. If your dog still isn’t drinking enough, giving them wet food can supplement their water intake.

In some cases, a lack of thirst can be a sign of an underlying condition. Always speak to your vet if you have any concerns.

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