How to choose the right food for your dog

Just like humans, dogs require a complex and balanced diet containing the right nutrients to keep them balanced during the day – and healthy throughout their lives. Choosing the right food can be tricky, so we’ll explore how to make the best choice for your dog based on their age, breed requirements, illnesses, and preferences.

Debbie Woodliffe, Head of Content & Outreach at Affinity Agency shares how to choose the right food for your dog or puppy, alongside some common questions surrounding digestion & nutrition

When it comes to choosing the right food for your dog, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – the type and amount you should feed them depends on several variables, such as:

  • Your dog’s age/life stage
  • Size and weight
  • Activity level
  • Whether or not they are neutered
  • Overall health
  • Preference or breed requirements
  • Allergies or health issues

Like humans, dogs are individuals that come with their own set of needs and requirements. The key thing to ensure (no matter their breed or age) is that you supply them with a nutritionally complete diet.

Whilst it might not seem entirely appealing to humans, the right kibble or wet food can provide a perfectly suitable, balanced diet for a dog. ‘Complete’ dog foods are designed to ensure that your dog is getting the correct nutrition based on their age and weight. They often contain a mix of meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables that are sourced and prepared in a way that means they’re gentle on your dog’s digestive system.

What should I feed my adult dog?

Adult dogs require a diet that will help them maintain a healthy weight whilst providing complete and balanced nutrition. When choosing the right food, ensure you are selecting something with the right nutritional mix for the size of your dog and its stage of life.

You can often find food tailored towards smaller breeds where the nutrition is packed into smaller quantities as they will eat less food. These would not be ideal for larger breeds as they need to eat large amounts to feel fuller for longer.

What about wet, dry, and raw diets?

There is a lot of debate around wet food, dry food, and a raw diet, but as long as you provide your dog with the right nutrition, it comes down to preference. Whilst it’s true that your dog would have a different diet if they were in the wild, it would be out of necessity. Your dog is a domesticated animal that requires specific and sustained nutrition to maintain optimal health. If you can find a raw diet that does that, then that will be fine.

The issue with wet dog food is that it can spoil quickly, especially in warm weather. So, pick up the dog bowl as soon as they have finished eating and clean it immediately to avoid bacterial growth.

On the other hand, dry food or kibble is a more economical option as it’s easy to store, has far less odour and can be left in the bowl during the day. Kibble is also great for maintaining your dog’s oral health as it can help remove plaque from their teeth.

Many owners prefer to feed their dog a mix of wet and dry food to switch up the taste and texture, and some dogs prefer this too. Just ensure that by feeding them a mix you are still providing adequate nutrition and not overfeeding them – you can do this by looking at the feeding guides on the label.

What should I feed my puppy?

Just as with adult dogs, puppies need specific nutrition based upon their breed and size. Compared to adult dog food, puppy food tends to have more protein for healthy growth, so it’s better to feed them it unless otherwise directed by a vet.

If you’re getting a puppy from a breeder, the breeders may recommend a specific food to you. If not, make sure to ask the breeder to explain which food they are currently eating to avoid any upset stomachs.

What about their feeding routine?

As a puppy, they will likely be on 3 to 4 small meals throughout the day to help maintain their energy levels. As they get older (around 6-12 months), their needs will change, so closely follow the feeding recommendations on the food packaging.

Smaller breeds tend to be able to make the switch to adult food earlier than larger breeds, but if you’re not sure when, ask your vet for advice. Just remember, it’s worth being cautious when it comes to making the switch, as it’s better for dogs to be on puppy food for a few weeks too long rather than being prematurely introduced to adult food.

What should I feed a senior dog?

Some owners consider changing their dog’s diet at around seven years for small dogs and five years for larger dogs as this is when they are classed as senior dogs. However, it isn’t always necessary and depends on your dog’s specific needs. If your senior dog is overweight, has ageing joints or has a sensitive tummy, consult your vet before changing their diet.

Dog food designed for seniors is made to account for some of the signs of ageing that your dog might be experiencing, so they’re typically less fatty, have more joint-supporting nutrients, and have fewer calories.

How much should I feed my dog?

The amount you should feed your dog depends on their age, breed, and size. All good dog food suppliers will have easy to follow nutritional guides on the back of the packaging or their website.

As a guide, most adult dogs are given one serving of food per day, split into two portions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Regular check-ins with the vet are vital as they will weigh your dog and give you advice for their feeding routines or health requirements that you may need to adjust the amount or type of food to compensate.

Neutered and spayed dogs generally require less food, and your vet will advise you on this after the procedure. They go through significant hormonal changes during this time that often results in a slightly more sedentary dog. But generally, you can reduce their food by about a quarter and closely monitor their weight in the coming weeks and months. If they have lost weight, increase this a little bit, or if they are putting on weight, reduce it by a small amount or consult with your vet.

Do different breeds require different food?

All dog breeds are different, which can mean their dietary needs vary. Some retailers have quizzes to help customise the food to your dog’s breed, goals, illnesses, sex and more.

For example, some breeds tend to gain weight (Beagles and Labradors), whereas small energetic breeds (Jack Russell Terriers) often burn through energy faster – especially if they are not neutered. Sheepdogs or Alsatians can be working dogs which means they will have slightly different requirements. And some dogs have a higher chance of developing ailments that will need to be considered in their diet, like German Shepherds who often struggle with joint problems and sensitive digestive systems.

If you’re not sure what to feed your dog, consult your vet or choose a breed-specific food.

How long does it take a dog to digest food?

As with all things, the amount of time it takes your dog to digest food depends. Smaller dogs don’t have as much distance for the food to travel, although larger dogs will generally eat more food overall. Dry food also takes longer to digest than wet food, and it depends on how much water your dog has been drinking and the time of day.

On average, it takes your dog about 8-10 hours to fully digest a meal, although this can be as fast as four hours or up to 12. If you’re worried your dog has eaten something they shouldn’t have, don’t wait, contact your vet immediately.