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Extensive Guide to Feeding your Dog


Did you know that dogs have varying nutritional needs, just like humans?  Contrary to popular belief, a dog’s nutrition should depend on numerous factors such as age, activity level, and the presence of any medical conditions.  Here, everything you need to know about feeding your dog in every life circumstance will be discussed. 

Life Stage

Puppy Eating

Puppy Eating

Your dog’s feeding routine is largely dependent upon his or her life stage.  Life stages include:


During the first year of your dog’s life he or she will have very specific nutritional needs.  Caloric intake will be higher than at any other point in your dog’s lifecycle, with special requirements for calcium and phosphorous.  The ideal calcium to phosphorous ratio is 1:1 to 1.8:1 depending on breed.

Puppies should eat 3 – 4 times per day, with meals structured at routine intervals to help with structure and potty training. 

Nutrition of giant breed puppies should be closely monitored due to their fast growth rate.  If they are fed too much protein they can develop at a speed that compromises their bones and joints.  Talk to your veterinarian about the best protein ratio for your giant breed puppy.


It is very important to monitor when your puppy has stopped growing.  Small breed dogs typically reach their adult size by 7 months of age while large breed dogs can continue to grow for up to 3 years.

When a dog reaches adulthood, a maintenance formula should be fed.  The goal is to provide complete and balanced nutrition while maintaining a healthy body weight. 

When feeding your dog, let body condition be your guide.  Ideally, you should be able to feel your dog’s spine when running your hand along his or her back.  There should be a distinct “tuck up” between the dog’s rear end and rib cage, and the last 1 – 2 ribs should be visible, depending on breed.  If you are unsure the proper body condition for your dog, talk to your veterinarian. 


As dogs reach senior-status (generally between 7 and 9 years of age), their metabolism begins to slow down.  They have fewer energy requirements, and maintaining a healthy weight is more important than ever.  Senior blends often contain ingredients that address secondary issues, such as joint pain or lack of mobility.  Whether you decide to feed your dog a senior formula or stick with the same food, portion size should be reduced.  Avoid senior blends that are low in protein, as new research suggests high protein is important throughout a dog’s life. 

Ultimately, keep a close watch on your senior dog’s body composition, as extra weight on a senior can make certain conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart failure worse. 

Activity Level

A dog’s activity level is the next determining factor for how much food is appropriate.  Dogs primarily utilize fat and protein for energy, whereas humans are reliant upon carbohydrates.  Therefore, dog food blends with high quality fats and proteins are ideal. 

For a dog that has a low-to-moderate activity level, a dog food that has approximately 18% protein is ideal.  Sedentary dogs can also benefit from higher protein blends, but portion sizes should be kept in check to keep the dog from gaining unnecessary weight. 

Canine athletes and working dogs have a significantly higher protein requirement.  These dogs commonly thrive on blends that contain up to 30% protein and 20% fat.  This ratio ensures a dog’s metabolism is efficient at using fat and protein for fuel, allowing for superior endurance.  The high protein content also aids recovery and muscle growth.

Breed-Specific Nutrition

Multiple dogs

Multiple dogs

Needs Different dog breeds have different nutritional needs. For example, large breed dogs may require a diet that is lower in fat to prevent obesity and joint problems, while small breed dogs may need smaller kibble sizes to prevent choking. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your dog’s breed and individual needs.

Tips for Feeding your Dog

Do Stick to a Routine

Dogs do best when they have a strict feeding routine.  Try to feed at the same time every day, which will also help with timing for potty breaks.

Do Discuss Diet with your Vet

Your veterinarian should know what you feed your dog.  Listen to what he or she has to say, especially if you are overfeeding your pet!  Certain medical conditions, such as pancreatitis, diabetes, and kidney stones can be managed with special diets. 

Do Monitor Body Condition

Obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for disease.  Keep your dog at a healthy weight by adjusting portion sizes accordingly and limiting high calorie treats.

Do Supplement if Feeding Grain-Free

Many pet owners feed their dogs grain-free formulas.  While diets that are low in fillers and carbs are healthy, it should be noted that not all nutrients are represented in these formulas.  Grain free blends are low in taurine, which is important for heart health. 

Don’t Raise your Dog’s Food Bowl

A raised food bowl used to be suggested for large breeds prone to bloat.  However, now a raised food and water bowl is believed to contribute to this potentially deadly condition.

Don’t Feed Immediately Before or After Exercise

Likewise, bloat occurs when too much volume (air, water, or food) enters the stomach.  Feeding a dog immediately before or after exercise leaves him or her more likely to develop bloat, due to excessive panting.

Don’t Feed Table Scraps

Not only does feeding your dog table scraps contribute to unwanted begging behavior, but it can easily lead to obesity, pancreatitis (in small dogs), and gastric upset.

Don’t Feed Homemade Food without Talking to a Nutritionist

Some pet owners turn to homemade food for a variety of reasons, such as allergies, budget, fear of recalls, and health.  However, it is important to talk to a veterinary nutritionist before feeding your own blend.  Dogs have very specific nutrient requirements and feeding a diet that is not complete and balanced can lead to serious health problems.

Tips for Feeding a Picky Eater

Picky eater dog

Picky eater dog

Some dogs can be picky eaters, which can make feeding them a challenge. Here are some tips to encourage your picky eater to eat:

  1. Try a different food: Your dog may simply not like the taste or texture of their current food. Try a different brand or formula to see if that helps.
  2. Add flavor: Add a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth or canned food to their kibble to enhance the flavor and encourage them to eat.
  3. Change the feeding location: Some dogs may be more willing to eat if their feeding location is changed. Try feeding them in a different room or area of your home.
  4. Stick to a feeding schedule: If your dog knows when they will be fed, they may be more willing to eat when the food is presented to them.
  5. Offer treats as a reward: Use treats as a reward for eating their meals or try mixing in a small amount of their favorite treat into their food.

Importance of Food Choice

Dog food choice

Dog food choice

The food you choose to feed your dog plays a crucial role in their overall health and well-being. It’s important to choose a high-quality dog food that is made from wholesome, natural ingredients and is free from fillers, artificial preservatives, and by-products. Look for dog food formulas that meet AAFCO standards and consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your dog’s individual needs.


  1. American Kennel Club: “Feeding Your Puppy: What to Feed, How Much, and How Often” https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/feeding-your-puppy-what-to-feed-how-much-and-how-often/
  2. American Veterinary Medical Association: “Nutrition for Dogs” https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/nutrition-dogs
  3. Association of American Feed Control Officials: “Pet Food Labels – General” https://www.aafco.org/Publications/Pet-Food-Labels
  4. Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University: “Feeding Your Dog” https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2019/06/feeding-your-dog/
  5. Hill’s Pet Nutrition: “Feeding Adult Dogs” https://www.hillspet.com/dog-care/nutrition-feeding/feeding-adult-dogs
  6. Merck Veterinary Manual: “Nutrition of Dogs” https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/keeping-your-dog-healthy/nutrition-of-dogs
  7. PetMD: “Senior Dog Nutrition: What to Feed Your Aging Dog” https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_what_to_feed_your_aging_dog
  8. Purina: “How Much to Feed Your Dog” https://www.purina.com/articles/dog/nutrition/how-much-to-feed-your-dog
  9. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine: “Puppy Nutrition” https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/companion/our-services/nutrition-support-service/basic-nutrition-information/puppy-nutrition


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Anna Weber

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