Understanding what, when, how often, and how much to feed your dog at each stage of their life is vital to ensure your pup grows into a strong, healthy, and happy adult dog. As they mature, the food you feed them will influence not only their physical development but also their cognitive abilities and overall well-being.
Providing nutritious meals on a regular basis supports your dog’s day-to-day functions such as heartbeat, breathing, growth, movement, and gut health but did you know it is also the foundation for other behaviours. These include their circadian rhythm (the sleep/wake cycle), temperament, focus, trainability, and tolerance levels.
Dog food is all the same, right? WRONG!
Much like humans, what we put in our dog’s bodies fuels them for life. If we were to eat junk food regularly, we would not only gain weight but far more likely to be lethargic, lose focus easily and generally feel less motivated to do anything. However, a diet rich in proteins, healthy fats and carbohydrates will provide energy for longer, allowing us to learn and retain information, as well as maintain a healthy weight. This is the same for our dogs too.
As well as knowing what to feed your dog, you should also consider what time of day to feed them, how often to feed them during a 24hr period, and how much to feed them as they grow and age. It is these four factors together that will allow your dog to build and sustain a healthy body and active mind for as long as possible.
What to Feed Your Dog?
Veterinarians recommend feeding your dog a high-quality, complete dog food but what does this actually mean? A complete dog food should mean that from one source your dog will sufficiently receive all the nutrients that it needs daily to maintain a healthy body. However, who decides on what is sufficient? For Europe, the nutritional guidelines are set by the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF). This same board also represents the interests of European Pet Food Manufacturers. It has been suggested, that with such a clear conflict of interests, the FEDIAF might not always have dogs at the heart of their nutritional recommendations. So it is well worth talking a little time to select the right source of food for your dog to compliment their age, weight, health, and lifestyle.
When it comes to what we should feed our dogs a little research is needed. Feeding your dog a steak every day may sound like they have a diet fit for a king but meat alone does not provide all the nutrients required to keep your dog fit for life. Dogs require a variety of food groups at mealtimes. This should include carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, bones, fatty acids, and proteins. On top of these you need to think about how active your dog is and how quickly they will burn through calories.
COMMERCIAL DOG FOODS
It is easy to understand why many owners turn to commercial dog foods. They all advertise that their food includes everything a dog needs, I am not saying avoid commercial dogs foods. There are some great options out there. There are also, unfortunately, some bad examples. My advice is to read the nutritional information thoroughly and select the best one based on what your dog needs. Highly active adult dogs will need a different diet to those with a less active routine. Dogs with health problems such as sensitive stomachs, who are currently overweight or have liver problems will all need a specific type of food rich in the right nutrients needed to support a health issue.
RAW DIET OR HOMEMADE DIET
If you are considering a raw diet or homemade diet, thoroughly research it. Talk it through with a canine nutritionist that can assess your dog’s lifestyle and help provide a complete meal plan to match it. Owners can easily miss out important nutrients without realising it or over feed on one particular food group and not enough or another. Cooking your dog’s meal at home means that you are in control of what goes into your dog’s body and it doesn’t have to cost too much or take up too much of your time. Just be sure to adjust meals should your dog’s lifestyle change.
There are also now some fabulous alternatives to both commercial dogs foods and home-cooking. As owners have become more conscious of what they are feeding their dogs, small businesses have started to gain traction that provides home-cooked meals, with certain dietary needs in mind and that have dogs at the heart of their operation. Butternutbox, The Farmer’s Dog, and Different Dog are all worth checking out if you want to consider this type of food for your dog.
What Time of Day to Feed Your Dog?
When it comes to when you should feed your dog try to compliment the family schedule. I would suggest setting a time and avoid moving away from it whenever possible. If your household are early risers, the first feed should come early in the day. Remember, your dog has woken up from their long overnight sleep and, like most humans, will feel hungry not long after waking.
Once the first feed of the day has been established the second feed should come around 10-12 hours later. If you are late risers and your dog does not get fed until midday, the second feed should be provided later into the evening too.
Having a structured feed time schedule can help a dog get into a solid sleep/wake cycle that matches with the lifestyle of their owner. Dogs have amazing internal clocks when it comes to feed times, walk times, and even expecting their owners returning from work. Dogs will not settle down easily for a night’s sleep if they are hungry or expecting food. Not knowing when food will be provided can be quite stressful for a dog and might lead them to behave irrationally around food. Resource guarding is a common problem that arises from irregular feed times so it is important to put a routine in place and stick to it.
How Often Should I Feed My Dog?
How often you need to feed your dog primarily depends on their age. Puppies and young dogs need to have smaller meals more frequently as their stomachs grow and their digestive tracts gain the ability to digest food more easily and in large quantities. It is recommended to feed a puppy 4 meals a day up until 4 months. They should be spread out throughout the day to allow for each sitting to be digested properly and become ready for the next lot. Between 4-8 months reduce it to 3 meals a day. It is important to gradually decrease the frequency whilst increasing the volume where necessary. As they reach adult age 2 meals a day is adequate.
I do not recommend only feeding once a day. Normally, an adult dog’s stomach will empty in 6-8 hours after this time acidic bile starts to build up in their stomachs from the enzymes that are being fed into it to break down food. When a dog has not eaten for a long period of time, this bile builds and irritates the stomach causing bilious vomiting. Even if a dog is not vomiting, it does not mean that the acidic bile is not causing long term harm to their stomach. Feeding at least twice a day should prevent any nasty digestive substances from building up as they will be at work breaking down food matter.
How Much to Feed Your Dog?
I am often asked how much should I be feeding my dog. There is no hard and fast answer to this. Again it will come down to their size, age, weight, activity levels and health considerations. Not all humans eat the same amount as their body types are all different. Even when a body type is similar, their metabolism could differ. The same is true for dogs.
I adopt ex-racing greyhounds and have to be especially careful when it comes to weight gain. Naturally, they burn through a lot of calories during their working years which allows them to eat high protein and carbohydrate-rich diets, like most athletes. However, many retired racing greyhounds can easily gain weight after adopting as they are not training and exercising at the same rate as they once were. This can be dangerous for their health. A few additional pounds up from their racing weight is ideal. You should be able to see the back half of a greyhound’s ribs. This often indicates they are a healthy weight.
If you have chosen to feed a good quality commercial dog food follow the guidelines on the packaging. If your dog still seems to be hungary, you might need to consider switching to a different food or adding healthy supplements to their diet such as carrots, mashed veg or boiled rice. Monitor their weight to ensure they are not below or above their optimal weight range. If their behaviour around food seems concerning, consult a veterinarian to rule out any medical issues that could be causing them to feel like their stomach is always empty. If you are choosing to home-cooked consult your canine nutritionist for quantities.
Remember to weigh your dog on a regular basis so you can monitor their weight and modify their diet should you see weight loss or gain. If their lifestyle changes or they become ill, consider the impact that this will have on calories they burn through and adjust their diets accordingly. Really it is no different to how we could consider and create our own meal plans to maintain a healthy mind and body.
Many owners ask me if they can feed their dog human foods. I always reply yes, but be consider which foods you give them. Calories soon add up for our dogs, so avoid foods such as cheese, fatty meats like bacon, and absolutely no chocolate. Not only is it too calorific, but cacao is also poisonous to our dogs.
However, there are some foods that can aid in their wellbeing. All new foods should be introduced gradually so their stomach can build up the right enzymes to break them down. The general rule to follow is; if its good for us. It is good for your dog. Fruits such as bananas, blueberries, apples – core removed, and strawberries are all great additions to their food bowl. These are high in sugar so give sparing over the week. Vegetables both cooked and raw are also great additions. I know many dogs that love a raw carrot. Maybe its the flavour or the crunchy texture but it seems to be a favourite. Also, uncooked bones aid their digestive tract and are great natural teeth cleaners.