Owning a dog is about more than walks, cuddles, and joy. Keeping your pet healthy is an important responsibility that you need to stay on top of so your furry family member enjoys a long and happy life.
As your dog gets older and embarks on a new part of their life, their health needs will change. Don’t let this overwhelm you, though! You don’t need a veterinary degree to understand how to care for your pooch. We have all the information you need right here!
Bookmark this page and come back to it time and time again, so you can remember the key facts and also how to change your routines as your puppy grows.
Why It’s Important to Care For Your Dog’s Nutrition
Nutrients Your Dog Needs
Nutrition is the power source behind every action and every thought we make. Without food, we will not function. However, eating isn’t as simple as grabbing whatever’s closest and shoveling it into our mouths. A plastic bottle will not give us nutrients, and it will likely bring us a ton of harm. The same goes for our dogs.
Of course, that example was dramatic, but the idea behind it is sound. If you feed your dog something that is toxic to them, they will become ill. A lot of canine illnesses come from eating the wrong foods. Skin diseases, bowel diseases, aggressive behaviors can often be traced back to bad health. Getting a handle on your dog’s nutrition is the first step to prevent illness.
Your dog should be eating mostly protein, but they also need carbohydrates, vitamins, and fibers too!
Amount And Types Of Food
Giving your dog the right food isn’t the only issue; you need to provide them with the right amount. Obesity is a problem that humans and dogs share. Lack of exercise and too much in our bowls put pressure on our bodies to perform at a higher rate, which can cause heart failure, liver failure, diseases, and diabetes!
To prevent these issues from becoming part of your dog’s life, you need to teach your dog about feeding times, give them lots of protein and plenty of exercises! Feeding times will give your dog’s body a sense of metabolism rhythm, which will allow them to create a healthy system of digestion and nutrition retention. This means your dog’s body will be aware of when their next meal is coming and won’t store lots of fat as a “just in case” pantry.
Another reason to keep an eye on your dog’s nutrition is because of allergies and intolerances. Just like humans, dogs can have digestion problems too. You might notice that a particular brand of dog food makes your pooch overly sleepy, sick, gassy, or show physical changes like dandruff. These can all be signs of allergies. If you think your dog might be allergic to something, stop feeding it to them immediately and take them to the vets to confirm your suspicions.
Are There Any Breed Differences In Nutritional Requirements?
Overall? No. You might find that some companies specialize in food for specific breeds, but in general, all dogs need the same food. Unless your dog has special needs or has low nutritional levels from an illness, you can feed all of your dogs the same food.
25 Health and Nutrition Tips
Knowing that your dog’s nutritional health is one thing, but what should you feed them, and when should you change their diets?
We have the answers for you. There are four types of dogs that you need to focus on, and these do not include breeds. Instead, you should be looking at age and weight. Puppies, adults, and senior dogs all need to have a different food plan from each other, and overweight dogs need a whole new scheme to get them to a healthy weight.
Puppies start their dietary journey by drinking their mother’s milk. After about 3 or 4 weeks, the pup should start to search for other food. When they are around 7 to 8 weeks, they should be completely weaned.
When to wean puppies from their mother’s milk to other food
In the first 3 or 4 weeks, you don’t need the puppies to feed on anything but milk. If the mother isn’t producing enough milk, you may need to give them artificial milk instead. Just like human’s formula, they have the same benefits as mother’s milk, but without the bonding.
At 4 weeks, you should start weaning the pups. Weaning often takes a couple of weeks to get right. The process is long, which is a good thing for the pups and for the mom alike. The mother uses this time to slowly stop producing milk, and the puppies play around with the social skills of dominance and biting before they have to go it alone.
How to Wean Puppies
Separate the puppies from their mother for a couple of hours on your first attempt. This will force the puppies to lower their dependency on milk. Instead, they will start to search for their own food independently.
In this separated state, give the puppies a low food bowl (like a cat’s) and introduce a small portion of food at a time.
As they become more confident and independent, you can separate them from their mother for more extended periods of time and give them more food too. This process will not happen quickly; remember that these puppies have only recently come into the world. Try to be patient with them and keep in mind that regression is normal.
What to Feed Puppies
Weaning puppies need high quality food as they go through a rapid growing season. You can give your puppy wet or dry food, but make sure that the food is moistened with warm water first. This is because puppies have sensitive stomachs and sensitive taste buds. If you give them anything too strange in comparison to milk, they might reject it.
If you see your puppy playing with their food, don’t see it as a sign of rejection. Just like a baby, they are learning about textures. Your dog will know how to eat the food you give them, but it might take time for the excitement to calm down.
Once they are weaned completely, your puppy should be around 9 weeks old and eating mostly dry food.
How Often Should You Feed Puppies
Because puppies are constantly growing and learning, they will need twice the amount of food as their adult counterparts. Their diet should consist of 25% protein which you can give in wet or dry food.
Try not to overfeed your puppy. Giving them more will not make them taller or stronger; instead, it will start an obesity mentality for their diet.
Small breeds of dogs tend to reach adult size after 9 to 12 months. Leaving a small amount of dry food in their bowl throughout the day should be fine.
Medium and large breed dogs should not have food left out for them, as overfeeding can lead to painful joint problems due to their weight. They have to carry around so much weight already that adding on the extra pounds will cause them life-long issues.
For Adult Dogs:
Adult dogs need to eat enough to help them maintain their size and fuel their exercise. If you have a tiny dog, like a Toy breed, their low walking needs and small size mean they do not need to eat that much. Larger breeds like a Springer Spaniel, who loves to run around, will need to have enough food to keep up with their hikes and sprints.
What To Look For In Dog Food
Dogs are often seen as carnivores, but in reality, their teeth structure tells us that they have become adapted to omnivorous diets. This means that meat-only diets are no longer healthy for our pooches.
Many breeds shouldn’t eat too many carbohydrates as they don’t need as much as humans do. Low quality brands of dog food will stuff their dry pellets with wheat, which means that your dog will get more carbohydrates than they need. Ideally, you should be buying the best quality food available in your budget. These foods should include meat, vegetables, and corn. When looking at the ingredients list, note that they are presented in weight order. Try and find packages that list the ingredients with meat first, vegetables second, and corn third.
How Often To Feed Your Dog
Ideally, your dog should be eating twice a day. Depending on their size, you should adjust their bowls to fit their breed. If you have more than one dog and worry that they will share food despite their massive size difference, then try feeding them in different rooms.
Feeding your dogs in different rooms will allow you to monitor how much they eat and will stop them from trying to nab their friend’s meal.
You could also attempt to feed your dogs at different times; however, that might create jealousy or confusion amongst your pooches.
Figure out which method is better for you and your household!
How Much You Should Be Feeding Your Dog
Depending on how much exercise your dog does and how big they are in general, the amount of food you give them should reflect a maintenance level. If your dog is overweight, then scroll down to our fourth section, as you will need extra help.
Ask your vet how much your dog needs to eat, as it will be affected by their breed and weight. However, keep in mind that temperature and active days may cause you to feed your dog more. If the temperature is cold, your dog will need more energy to keep themselves warm. This means they should eat more. The same if the temperature gets too hot.
If you plan on taking your dog on a longer walk than normal, maybe a hike or a swim, then give them more food to energize themselves.
Treats Should Be Given In Moderation
Giving treats is a great way to encourage your buddy to learn tricks and social behaviors, but too many can cause their health to decline. Treats should only represent 5% or less of your pooch’s daily food. 5% is surprisingly high, so don’t think that you need to cancel your training sessions altogether, but keep an eye on how many sweets they are eating.
If you run out of treats but still need to train your dog, try using physical touch like petting and cuddles, or toys like a ball instead.
Foods That You Should Avoid Feeding Your Dog
There are a lot of foods that dogs cannot eat. They might be delicious to us, but they are toxic to our furry friends. Even if your puppy is giving you those adoring eyes, do not give in. Dogs will eat out of the trash if you let them, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Here are some foods which you should completely avoid:
You’ve probably heard of this one before. Theobromine, which is found in chocolate, is fine for humans to eat but toxic for dogs. Dark chocolate has the most theobromine in, and so should be taken with the utmost seriousness. If you think your dog has eaten chocolate, take them to the vet straight away.Chocolate can cause seizures, tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death.
- Salty Foods
Salty foods can be anything from bacon to popcorn. We love the taste, and so do our furry friends, but they cannot handle the sodium ion. When eating salty foods, they will become excessively thirsty, causing them to bloat, which will push on their organs. This, in turn, can create vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and poisoning.
- Garlic and Onions
Although they are the tastiest part of most meals, these flavorings can destroy your dog’s red blood cells. Small amounts shouldn’t be too harmful, but regular amounts of a whole bowl full can lead to poisoning. Garlic and onions can cause weakness, breathlessness, and vomiting in dogs.
- Dairy Products
Dogs are lactose intolerant. They do not have the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down dairy. Just like in humans, this means that milk and cheese can cause your dog to vomit, have diarrhea and develop gastrointestinal diseases.
Set a Consistent Regular Feeding Schedule
Dogs should have a scheduled meal 2 times a day. Ideally, these should be at the same time each day too. Ask your vet how much they should be eating a day, and divide that amount by 2. Then space these meals around 8 to 12 hours apart.
This kind of schedule will tell your dog when they should be eating next (which means they should stop pestering you for more treats), and it tells their body that storing food isn’t necessary because food is available.
If your pet likes to eat whatever they can, you might want to create a portion-control feeding schedule. You pour out the food your dog needs and do not allow them to have an ounce more regardless of their begging. This should keep them remain healthy and avoid obesity.
If your dog refuses to eat in the scheduled time you have given them, you might want to introduce timed feeding. If the food hasn’t been eaten after 30 minutes of it being laid, remove it from their view.
This will teach your dog that they cannot have food when they want it, they have to be part of a schedule. We don’t recommend this method to ill pooches, as they might not understand what is happening. Only start it with dogs who ask for little bits of food constantly throughout the day.
For Senior Dogs:
At around 7 to 12 years old, your dog will be visibly different from adult dogs, but they officially become a senior when they are much younger. As dogs age, their metabolism will change, which is why we need to feed them differently.
When to Begin a Dog Senior Diet
The size and breed of your dog will tell you when to start a senior diet. On average, smaller dogs are known to live longer than big dogs, which means they won’t experience health problems that come with age at the same time.
To know when your dog is officially considered a senior, you should follow this guideline.
- Weighing 20 pounds or lighter (small breeds), start a senior diet at seven years old.
- Weighing 21 – 50 pounds (medium breeds), start a senior diet at seven years old.
- Weighing 51 – 90 pounds (large breeds), start a senior diet at six years old.
- Weighing 91 or more (giant breeds), start a senior diet at five years old.
Although your dog may not look old, their biological needs will be changing, and so you should keep an eye on them and offer them food that is more appropriate for their needs.
At this point in their life, they are more likely to get skin and coat problems, loss of muscle mass, gastrointestinal issues, arthritis, and dental issues. The right foods can help reduce these likelihoods.
Don’t Reduce The Protein
Although your dog might be moving around less, that doesn’t mean you should feed them less protein. Old dogs need protein to keep their digestion healthy and to maintain their muscle mass.
Instead of reducing the protein, you should reduce the carbohydrates. A low carbohydrate diet will help your pooch avoid the inevitable weight gain which comes with age.
Consider Increasing Your Senior Dog’s GLA And FOS Intake
GLA stands for Gamma linolenic acid. It’s the omega 6 fatty acid, which helps maintain healthy and vibrant skin, as well as healthy and vibrant coats. When dogs get older, they find it hard to produce GLA, so adding it to their diet keeps up their skin health.
FOS stands for fructooligosaccharides. It’s an ingredient found in most senior dog foods as it promotes healthy bacteria which fight against gastrointestinal disease. These diseases are more likely in older dogs, so aim for food products that contain this ingredient.
Look For Foods with High Levels of Vitamin E and Beta Carotene
As dogs age, their ability to repair their skin deteriorates. Adding Beta Carotene and Vitamin E to their diets can strengthen their immune system to better fight off these issues.
For Overweight Dogs:
One of the biggest struggles a dog owner has is over feeding their dog. We even often overfeed ourselves! Dogs love food, they love treats, but just because they want it doesn’t mean it’s good for them.
How To Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight
Humans keep their fat on their skin like water mammals. Dogs keep their fat on their muscles. This is why you can pull at a person’s skin and take the fatty areas with you, but pulling an overweight dog’s skin doesn’t shift the weight.
To tell if your dog is overweight, you should try and feel for their backbone and ribs. Place your hands on these areas; if you can’t feel these bones without pressing, then there is too much fat.
Another way to check is simply by looking. You should be able to see your dog’s waist when you look from above. Looking from the side, you should see a tight inward pull from their belly between the rib cage and their thighs. If you cannot see these features, then your dog is likely to be overweight.
What Can Make Your Dog Overweight?
Dogs, just like humans, get overweight when their exercise doesn’t match their food intake. The excess food is stored as fat. For slightly overweight pooches, a simple diet change and increase in exercise is all you need to correct the issue.
Some breeds of dogs are more prone to obesity, like Labrador Retrievers and Pugs, and as they get older, it can be hard to reduce the risk.
Health Risks Associated With Dog Obesity
Before we give you the tips on dealing with obesity, we need to explain why obesity can be extremely serious in older dogs. The extra weight placed on your dog will cause additional pain in their joints. Older dogs already suffer from issues like arthritis, but obese dogs will have to carry so much more weight on these tired limbs. This will cause them to move less.
Moving less will stop their body from shifting the weight and will have a knock-on effect. Their liver may fail, making urinating painful and infrequent.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can help them avoid these additional pains.
Correcting Your Pet’s Diet
Diet is the main problem behind overweight dogs. Correcting their food plans can help them recover. First, talk to your vet and see how many calories your dog can lose without hurting their system. Whatever you decide, try to give them a moderate amount of fat and fiber to prevent the weight loss from harming your puppies’ coats and skin.
Increasing Regular Exercise
Increasing their physical activity is the next way to help your overweight dog improve their health. Slowly increase the number of walks, swims, or games you play with your pet, and keep to an activity plan. “Little and often” might be the better approach for obese dogs, so they don’t get worn out and discouraged.
If you find yourself in a week where taking your dog for a walk was impossible, try to make up for it another day. A full day’s hike instead of a 1 hour walk five days a week is better than nothing at all.
Remember that dogs love to exercise, so increasing their walks will give them a lot of joy.
Remove Your Pet From The Room When The Family Eats
It might be tempting to give your pet an extra bite of your food, but every snack counts. Dogs shouldn’t be eating human food for a start, as their bodies need different nutrition to ours, and feeding them under the table like this means you have no idea how much you are actually feeding them.
If a family of 5 each gives their pet a sneaky slice of chicken, then this dog may have eaten one or two breasts by the time you’re all done.
The best way to avoid this confusion is to remove your pet from the room. This way, no family members can sneak in some food, and you can be sure what your dog is eating.
Feed Your Pet Several Small Meals Throughout The Day
Earlier, we said to feed your pet 2 meals a day, but overweight dogs might find this a struggle and may start to become stressed. If your dog is obese or is used to constant snacks, then a “cold turkey” approach might be too much for them. Instead, attempt to spread out the same amount of food over a longer period of time.
Again, talk to your vet to make sure that your food portions are right, and then create a schedule for your dog. 5 tiny meals might be more realistic. This way, your dog can have their comfort dinners without eating too much. As their weight improves, remove meal time until you eventually get to two meals a day.
Provide Non-Food Related Attention With Lots Of Affection
If you show your love by giving treats, you may need to find a different love language. Try a couple of different ideas to see what you and the dog enjoy. Maybe cuddles can be used instead, or words that are soothing.
Many dogs love to play, but sometimes we don’t have the time. Maybe buy a toy that allows the dog to play by themselves. A self throwing ball, for example, or a tug-of-war string that is tied to a sturdy object?
Try a bunch of new activities to show your affection.
Reduce Snacks And Treats, And Feed All Meals And Treats In Your Pet’s Bowl Only
We have talked about meal times, and we have talked about treats; now, we suggest that you only feed your dog from their bowls.
This is another comment on not feeding your dog at the table, but it also helps your dog learn where they are allowed food. If you set a location for the dog bowl and don’t move it, they will eventually learn that they have to go to the dog bowl when they are hungry.
As well as learning when they are allowed food, they will learn where. This should reduce their confusion and your stress as you get through this tricky period.
Bookmark this page so when your dog grows in age, you are able to find the next advice for their health. The most important things to keep in mind are to talk to your vet and to create a routine. Once you get up a routine, it will be easier for you and your dog to navigate the world of food. Everything will become second nature to you.