How To Properly Feed Your Dog

How do you properly feed your dog? It’s hard enough to properly feed yourself sometimes! Whether you’re a first-time pet owner or a seasoned pro overwhelmed by rapidly changing trends, feeding your dog well is an important part of keeping him healthy for the long haul. Not only choosing the right dog food, but how much and how often you feed your dog, and many other nutritional details can affect your pet’s health and longevity.

How much should you feed your dog?

It’s important to make sure your dog is getting the right amount of food. Too little can lead to malnourishment, too much can lead to obesity, and each triggers a number of related health problems.

Most dog food labels provide a chart explaining how much food to feed your dog every day according to his weight. Remember to check a puppy’s growing weight regularly and readjust his portions as needed. Your vet may recommend more or less against these charts for high energy breeds, chronic illness, or other reasons. Once you target the right amount, there are lots of handy pet food scoops out there that mark the correct portion size. Good old-fashioned measuring cups work well, too.

How many times a day should you feed your dog?

This is a matter of preference—yours or your dog's. Most adult dogs are comfortable with two separate meals though some can be trusted to graze from one full bowl throughout the day. Puppies need to eat three or four times a day but should still adhere to the suggested total amount for a 24-hour period.

What ingredients to look for in dog food

Understanding dog nutrition can feel overwhelming. Pet food aisles at your local pet supply stores offer a dizzying array of options: labels of every color, bags of every size, pictures of dew-splashed produce and beautifully marbled beef. But which food is best for your dog? Here’s what to look for on a dog food’s ingredients list to ensure you’re choosing the healthiest option for your best friend:

  • The first ingredients should be animal-specific proteins: chicken, beef, rabbit, etc. The package should not just say “meat.” Ingredients are listed from highest to lowest proportion on dog food labels just as they are on our own food. The package may show fresh veggies but if “carrot” or “pea” are listed deep into a long running paragraph, that means there isn’t enough of that ingredient to impact your pet’s diet.
  • Byproducts are one of the most confusing ingredients in dog foods. They sound terrible and are popularly avoided for human consumption, but byproducts are real food! Animal byproduct means any clean part of the animal processed secondary to traditional meat. That includes tongue, heart, blood, intestines, brain, even vitamin-rich liver—parts that are nauseating to people, but delectable for dogs. They do NOT include bone, hair, or hooves. Byproducts are acceptable ingredients, but they should be listed after the primary protein source. “Rendered” meat or “meals” are further processed meats that were not fit for human or canine consumption in their original form. This is where you want to draw the line on “mystery” meat.
  • Look for vegetables, fruits, and whole grains after the proteins. Just be cautious of a single meat followed by many different grains; those can add up to outweigh the protein content.
  • Examine the language. While dog lovers still seek better regulations on pet food production and labeling, there are some things that signify foods meet essential dietary needs. Examples include phrases like “complete and balanced” or other nods to the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) model regulations. The maker may also conduct feeding trials to determine complete nutritional value.

What ingredients not to feed dogs

  • Are there a lot of words you can’t pronounce at the end of the ingredients list? Those are probably preservatives. While some are ok, the fewer the better. Compare the “sell by” date with the manufacturing date. The shorter the shelf life, the fewer preservatives. Six to twelve months signifies moderate levels of preservatives but foods with sell by dates over a year away are probably packed full of extra ingredients that are not good for your dog. Looking to actively avoid the most controversial of preservatives? BHT, BHA, ethoxyguin, and propyl gallate are widely suspected as toxic and carcinogenic.
  • Did you know dogs have a sweet tooth just like people? Many brands use sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup to make food more tempting. The added sugar is as bad for dogs as it is for people.
  • Bright colors, fun shapes, a lot of unnecessary frills: humans believe food should look good to taste good. Luckily the canine community couldn’t care less. Avoid dyes and artificial coloring.
  • Terms like natural, holistic, and human-grade can be tricky. They can make a food seem like the obvious choice if you want the best quality. Unfortunately, there are no regulations on how these words are used or what they really mean. Again, flip the package over: if it is actually natural, there should not be any artificial ingredients.

Wet vs. Dry dog food

You may have heard that kibble doesn’t deliver proper nutrition. Or that wet food is too rich for dogs’ stomachs. Maybe you’ve heard you have to feed both. According to most veterinarians, if your dog has no special dietary needs, it doesn’t matter whether you feed him wet or dry dog food. Dry food is perfectly nutritious and has some benefits in terms of daily dental care. On the other hand, pets with existing dental problems may be better off with canned dog food to accommodate their sensitive mouths. Wet food is perfectly nutritious and has a higher moisture content, which can be important for seniors or dogs with chronic illnesses that lead to dehydration. Ultimately you can let your dog’s preferences help you decide.

When should you switch a puppy to adult dog food?

Dogs have special dietary requirements at different ages. Puppy food is recommended as a main diet for the first year of a pet’s life and can be introduced at four to six weeks. Puppy formulas have extra nutrients to help them grow strong and healthy. Some dog breeds grow more quickly than others which makes it even more important to establish an early relationship with your vet to track your pet’s development.

After the one-year mark (or at your vet’s recommendation) you can switch your dog to a standard adult formula. Always phase a pet onto a new diet gradually as an abrupt change may upset his stomach. Try mixing a quarter portion of the new food with his old food for the first week, a half for the second week, and three-quarters for the third week.

As dogs age, senior formulas cater to their special needs. Various types of dogs have different life expectancies and therefore mature differently but all dogs are generally considered seniors at seven years. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to switch to senior food but it is a good time to initiate semi-annual exams which will aid in early detection of late-in-life illnesses. There are also various joint aids, probiotics, and other dietary supplements to complement your senior dog’s regular meals and help him combat the aches and pains that accompany aging.

Planning your pet’s diet may seem complicated at first but no matter what, it’s all about giving him the best care and consideration you can offer. Some elements of feeding your pet will come down to trial and error, others might actually be fun—like choosing a nice dog food bowl or making his dining area special to him. Just do your best, talk to your vet, and don’t forget to keep your dog company while he chows down—everyone likes a dinner date!

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