By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Exercise, preventive care, and regular veterinary checkups are vital components to ensure your pup remains healthy throughout all life stages. Equally important is to ensure your dog is fed a balanced and nutritious diet to support their organ function and overall health. With seemingly endless dog food options, it can be overwhelming for pet owners to choose the right food and amount for their four-legged family members. Creative advertising and keywords like all natural and organic can be deceiving, as there is no one-pup-fits-all pet food.
Even more challenging is determining the correct amount of food to give your dog, especially when food or treats are a frequent love language for many pet parents. Like humans, pets have specific nutritional requirements, and feeding your dog too much or too little food can have dire consequences that may decrease their life span. However, understanding your dog's basic nutritional needs and what to look for in the feeding guide is the first step to decoding your dog's diet.
Essential Nutrients for Dogs
As your dog ages, its dietary requirements, daily caloric intake, and activity levels will likely change. Imbalanced diets that lack essential nutrients can cause various health problems, including skin or heart disease. Ensure that a veterinary nutritionist has formulated your dog's diet. Regular veterinary visits ensure your pet eats a high-quality diet and is on the right track.
Similar to a food pyramid for human nutritional needs, dogs require essential nutrients, which include:
- Water: More than 60% of your pet's body is water, so ensure they have access to fresh water. Dehydration can be deadly, so active dogs or those in warmer climates may require more water than other dogs. Bone Broth is a great way to supplement your pet's hydration needs and may help to encourage them to drink.
- Protein is required for proper cell growth, muscle repair and maintenance, and reproductive function.
- Carbohydrates, including fiber and glucose, are an energy source and support intestinal tract health.
- Fat: Skin and coat health, vitamin absorption, insulation, and inflammation regulation require fat to function correctly. In addition to your dog's regular food, Omega Oil provides an excellent source of fat to support your dog's skin and joints.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Your dog's body can't produce essential vitamins, so they must be provided in their diet to support proper chemical reactions in their tissues and cells. Vitamins A, C, and E are critical antioxidants. Additionally, minerals like calcium and phosphorus support bone, cartilage formation, and various metabolic functions.
Choosing the Right Type and Amount of Dog Food
With over 50% of U.S. dogs being overweight or obese, paying attention to how much and what you feed your dog is critical. Obesity directly results from overfeeding and puts your pup at risk for various health problems, including arthritis, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD), breathing problems, skin disease, heart failure, and certain cancers. Excess weight can drastically affect your dog's overall quality of life and decrease life expectancy.
When selecting your dog's brand and type of food, ensure it meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards and is labeled as "complete and balanced" for your pet's species and life stage. AAFCO-approved diets have been rigorously tested and are formulated to meet minimal nutritional requirements for proper organ function. Additionally, AAFCO-approved kibble and canned diets will list a feeding chart on the food bag or can that includes the calorie content per cup and daily recommended feeding instructions based on your dog's ideal body weight.
In addition to essential nutrients, various factors must be considered when choosing the right high-quality food and portion size. Just as a marathon runner requires more energy than a desk jockey, your dog's lifestyle, activities, and genetic makeup determine what and how much they should eat.
Factors that affect the type and amount of food your dog requires include:
- Age: Puppies need more essential nutrients and energy to support their growing bodies and organ development. Middle-aged and senior pets are generally less active and require less calorie-dense food. Senior pets are at risk for degenerative changes, like arthritis. They may need added nutrients to support their joints and brain.
- Breed: Small-breed and large-breed dogs have different nutritional needs due to genetic factors and metabolic rates. For example, larger breed dogs are more prone to musculoskeletal problems. Feeding your pup a breed- and/or size-specific diet can provide added nutrients that target bone health. Additionally, miniature or toy-breed dogs may have difficulty ingesting larger-sized kibble.
- Activity level: Dogs who consider naps an Olympic sport will not require as many calories as pets who don't have an "off" button. Active pets, like people, may need extra energy to maintain a healthy weight.
- Environment: Time of year and climate can alter the number of calories your dog requires. Pets in colder climates will likely require more food to meet their metabolic needs.
- Physiologic status: (e.g., growth, gestation, lactation, sterilization) Like people, your pet's life season affects their dietary needs. For example, a dog nursing puppies will require more energy than an inactive neutered male to maintain their overall health.
- Illness: Food therapy is a standard supplemental treatment, and veterinary prescription diets are available to address various health issues, including diabetes, kidney disease, and allergies.
General Feeding Guidelines
The feeding guidelines on your dog's food labels should be used as a starting point and adjusted based on your pup's lifestyle and health considerations. Tools, including this chart and a calorie calculator, can also provide a daily calorie range guideline. However, always consult your veterinarian to ensure you feed your pup the proper type and right amount of food.
Many pet parents show their dog love by feeding them special treats. Treats are also a great tool to reinforce good doggy manners and behavior. However, too much of a good thing can be dangerous and cause your dog to become overweight or obese. Generally, your dog's treat allotment should not exceed 10% of their daily calories to avoid weight gain.
Lower-calorie treats, including some fresh, raw vegetables like carrots, are an ideal way to reward your pup without packing on extra weight. Use caution when sharing your plate with your pet, as many human foods can be toxic for your dog.
Key Takeaways for Dog Owners
Your dog's feeding schedule for mealtimes depends on age, health status, your dog’s activity level, and overall appetite. Always consult your veterinarian to ensure you provide the appropriate number of meals. Most adult dogs and senior dogs should eat one or two meals daily. Conversely, young puppies have an increased risk for low blood sugar. They require more calories to support their growing bodies and developing organs (and boundless energy levels!).
Most puppies need three or more meals over 24 hours. Regular DVM checkups will ensure your dog is maintaining a healthy weight. During your pet's exam, they will be weighed and assigned a body condition score (BCS) to determine their ideal weight. As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to feel your dog's ribs but not see them protruding or struggle to find them. Using a BCS chart is also helpful for pet owners to monitor a dog's weight. Dogs with BCS over 5 might be overeating dry food (kibble) or treats and may be put on a weight loss plan.
When in doubt, follow the guidelines on your pup’s food labels and consult your vet with questions concerning your dog’s diet.
For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.