What should I feed my dog?

There are so many different types of dog food available, so it can be difficult to know what’s right for your dog.

You could choose:

  • Complete dry foods
  • Tinned complete wet foods
  • A mix of tinned wet and dry
  • Complete raw diets
  • Home produced diets

You should choose the one that best suits your dog and your lifestyle. More important than this is choosing the right life stage diet for your dog, and the right amount of food for them at that life stage.

What to feed puppies

Puppies and young dogs need more calories while they’re growing. There are many puppy or growth diets available, specifically designed to meet a growing puppy’s needs. Find a diet that meets the needs of your puppy at this important stage of their development.

Also try to find a food which best matches your puppy’s growth rate. For example, very large breeds have more growing to do and mature much slower than very small breeds. The amount of calories they need can be very different even if they’re the same age. Large breeds need to stay on a specialised growth diet for longer than small breeds.

For dried diets the size of the pieces of food or kibble is different too. Large dogs need bigger chunks to crunch and smaller dogs are better with pieces that suit their smaller mouths and teeth.

How often should I feed my puppy?

The recommended meals per day for a puppy are:

  • Aged 6 to 12 weeks: four meals daily
  • Aged 12 to 24 weeks: three meals daily
  • Aged 24 weeks and onwards: two meals daily

Never feed puppies milk or other dairy products. They can’t digest them properly and are likely to get diarrhoea. Puppies have no need for milk once they have left their mother.

The right diet for adult dogs

When your dog reaches adulthood they can have their meals reduced to two per day. You can feed them more smaller meals, but most owners find two regular meal times easier to maintain. One meal a day is not enough and can cause your dog’s blood sugar to drop.

If you have a breed that’s been bred to work like a springer spaniel or a border collie, this doesn’t mean you should feed it a food designed for a working dog. No matter what their breeding, a pet dog is not a working dog. Foods designed for working dogs are equivalent to a diet designed for a human athlete. Your active adult pet dog will be happier, fitter, healthier and more settled on a normal adult life stage diet.

If you have to change your dog’s diet, do so over a few days. Gradually introduce the new food and reduce the old – this will minimise their risk of a stomach upset.

How to feed elderly dogs

Mature dogs need less calories than younger dogs. Many of the diets specially designed for them contain ingredients that help the function of vital organs and reduce and prevent symptoms associated with old age like stiffness.

If your elderly dog is showing any signs of discomfort it’s important to get them checked over by your vet. Just like us, as dogs age it’s common for them to experience pain that could be relieved with medication.

How to choose good quality dog food

The quality of dog food is often reflected in the price, but there are good quality mid-price foods available. The most important thing you can do is look at the list of ingredients and bear in mind the following:

  • The meat source should always be first on the list of ingredients
  • Meat is better quality than meat meal
  • Stay away from foods that list cereals before any meat content
  • Ingredients are always listed in order of quantity within the food
  • Foods with high levels of colourings and preservatives should be avoided

Good quality commercially produced diets give you confidence that you’re providing a balanced diet. If you decide you would like to prepare a home-cooked diet for your dog, it’s important to do lots of learning and nutritional research first.

How much should I feed my dog?

Most foods have instructions based on the weight of your dog – if you don’t know your dog’s weight your vet can weigh them. Many vet surgeries provide this service free to help owners keep their dogs fit and healthy.

It’s sadly common for dogs to be overweight and obese, this seriously reduces their life expectancy and their quality of life. Managing your dog’s weight is one of the best thing you can do for them.

Think about how to feed your dog

It’s very important for your dog’s health and wellbeing that their food is delivered in an interesting and rewarding way. Feeding food from a bowl is only suitable for sick or elderly dogs.

Most dog breeds were developed for a purpose like guarding, herding or hunting. As pet dogs don’t usually do these activities any more, they have no constructive outlet for their biological behaviour patterns. If we don’t give them interesting activities they often develop unwanted and sometimes dangerous behavioural habits.

Making feeding more rewarding for your dog can lead to really positive behavioural changes and be the first step to preventing or solving problem behaviour.

Dogs are very clever animals and like to use their brain, they find food much more enjoyable if they have to work for it. Even dogs with poor appetites usually improve when their food is delivered in a more interesting and challenging way.

Below are a few ideas on how to make feeding more interesting, you can also watch our feeding activities video. Think about your own ideas, there are so many ways to feed your dog in a rewarding way.

Rewarding feeders you can buy

There are commercially produced products that enable you to place the food in and the dog works to get it out.

  • There are many ball feeders, some can be set with time delays
  • Stuffed Kongs are excellent for meal times and other situations. They provide an all-important chewing opportunity, and can calm puppies down in the evening after their mad 10 minutes. They’re also ideal if you leave your dog home alone
  • Puzzle feeders help dogs concentrate and use their brains to work it out.

Cost-free rewarding feeding

  • Scatter feeding is probably the easiest way to make feeding more interesting, especially if you have a garden with grass or paving. After a few sessions where you stand with your dog and sprinkle the food on the ground, you can quickly progress to scattering it far and wide and letting them out to find it
  • Plastic drink bottles are great for feeding with dried food. Remove the lid and plastic seal then pop the food in the bottle. Your dog can then paw it around the room or garden, pick it up and even throw it around. Bull breeds often really enjoy this. At first your dog may need a little help, but they will soon grow to love this game
  • A snuffle mat is a rubber mat with holes, you cut strips of fleece and thread them through the holes. Once it’s made you scatter the food in the maze of fleece strips and let dog to snuffle out their meal
  • A homemade wooden three bottle feeder appeals to taller dogs who like to use their feet or nose to spin the bottles and release the food. This suits calmer dogs who like problem solving – boisterous dogs might knock this one over, they prefer bottles on the floor
  • Cardboard boxes containing food that’s wrapped in newspaper is interesting for dogs to solve – you can also use cardboard tubes
  • Balls in a paddling pool. Scatter the food amongst the balls and let your dog get in and seek it out.

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