Dog nutrition serves as the foundation for your dog’s long-term health, so you must pay close attention to both the quality and quantity of food being eaten. To weigh the various food and diet options available, you’ve likely turned to the internet for guidance. At Owings Mills Veterinary Center, we work extremely hard to bring you the accurate information you need. We’ve taken the most frequently asked questions about dog nutrition and answered them here to help you get your dog on the path to optimal wellness.
If you have questions about what to feed your dog and are in the Owings Mills, MD area, we’d love to see your dog and discuss a nutrition plan that will give them a long, healthy life, so please call us at (410) 807-8193.
What is the right food to feed my dog?
While there isn’t one correct food for any particular dog, there are many factors to consider including calorie intake and any food sensitivities experienced on previous diets. Your veterinarian is your best source for nutrition information, so always feel free to get their input. Their goal is to keep your dog as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
What are the life stages of feeding my dog?
Life stages diets are typically divided into three categories:
- Puppy food – The most important life stage is puppyhood, especially for large breed dogs. The way we feed puppies and the nutritional composition of their food makes a significant difference in their long-term health, as we want to make sure they’re not growing too quickly and that we’re supporting their joints. Puppyhood is when you need to spend the most time figuring out the right food, with your veterinarian’s help.
- Adult maintenance food – As dogs get older, they usually require fewer calories because they're no longer growing. Most dogs end up on adult maintenance food for most of their life, which doesn't necessarily mean they need to stay on one particular brand of food.
- Senior diets – A senior dog diet depends on your dog and their activity level. Not all dogs need to be transitioned to a senior dog diet. It’s individual to the needs of the dog and any health concerns they might have.
How do I transition my puppy to regular food?
Unless they are born in your home, most puppies should be eating puppy food or some sort of kibble when you bring them home for the first time. You should start to wean dogs from puppy food to adult food at around 10-12 months of age, which is best done gradually over a 5-7 day period. If your dog has an especially sensitive stomach, it's better to transition even more slowly. Simply reduce their puppy food gradually, while increasing the amount of adult maintenance food that's added to their diet. Most dogs will adjust fairly easily within a week.
Should I feed my dog on a schedule?
Having a feeding schedule is a good idea. When dogs are puppies, we feed them more frequently to make sure they get enough calories and crucial nutrients. If we fed them just once or twice a day, their small bodies couldn't accommodate the amount of kibble needed to grow appropriately. As they reach the adult stage, dogs should eat two to three times a day with their portions measured. Just like humans, if you put food in front of a dog, they will eat it. When you have food out all the time and allow a dog to graze, the vast majority of them will become overweight. If your dog won’t eat on a schedule, be sure to track and control the number of calories they’re getting. A feeding schedule is also a good idea for the sake of giving medications. If you are free-feeding, it's hard to predict when they're going to eat and have food with their medication.
How do I know if I'm feeding my dog too much?
Just as we know when we've overeaten, your dog may have a bloated appearance after eating too much. Over time, overfed dogs are going to gain weight, so you’ll notice less definition in their bodies and they might even struggle to get up from a seated or a resting position. It’s critical to keep dogs lean through their whole life, as many weight-related chronic diseases can develop later in life.
It's difficult to see weight gain when you see your dog every day, so the best thing to do is to familiarize yourself with body condition scoring. There are body condition scoring charts available online, like this one from the American Animal Hospital Association. Basically, when you look at your dog from the side, their abdomen should tuck up. When you're looking down from a bird's eye view, they should have a “waist” in front of their hip bones. With fluffy dogs, you’re not going to see these areas as easily, so you need to feel for them. The best place to feel a dog to see if their weight is appropriate is along the rib cage. You should be able to easily feel those bones, so if there's a jelly-like feeling there or a little extra tissue, your dog will benefit from cutting back on their food.
What are the essential nutrients my dog needs?
If you're using quality dog food produced by an established company that uses veterinary nutritionists to formulate the diet and that conducts feeding trials, you can trust what's on the bag. Many nutritional details are included on the back of a dog food bag—most notably, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. AAFCO is the regulatory agency for pet foods. For dog protein, the minimum standard is 18% or higher, but try to aim for the 20-30% range. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog's specific needs in this category.
How will a veterinarian be able to assess if my dog is getting proper nutrition?
For the most part, we can usually tell by examining a dog if they're getting adequate nutrition. Nutrition is the foundation for good health, so if they don't have good nutrition, that's going to show up in other ways too.
During a wellness exam on your dog, we’ll look at:
- Body condition score
- Coat quality
- Nail quality
- Skin quality
- Hair loss
There are so many brands of dog food. How will I know the best one for my dog?
For the last couple of years, there's been a considerable amount of misinformation out there regarding pet foods, such as the claim that grain-free foods are the best for your dog. At Owings Mills Veterinary Center, we suggest leaving it to the professionals and looking for a dog food that is formulated by a veterinary nutritionist—someone who graduated from veterinary school and completed additional schooling to earn their Ph.D. in veterinary nutrition. Reputable pet food companies use these experts to formulate their diets and conduct a feeding trial, where they feed the diet to a group of dogs over 4-6 months and conduct regular testing to ensure that those dogs are healthy and have the nutrients they need. As reported in the last couple of years, some dogs have developed heart problems when eating certain diets, which may be linked to small food manufacturers that don't use veterinary nutritionists or feeding trials.
When would my dog need a prescription diet?
Prescription diets are generally reserved for significant medical issues, and are sometimes used to determine if food is causing an allergy.
The most common reasons a dog would need a prescription diet include:
- Adverse reactions to over-the-counter foods
- Inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, or liver disease
- Cognitive dysfunction in older animals
- Dental issues
- Urinary issues
- Skin allergies
In general, the average dog doesn't need a prescription diet, as those diets are restrictive and won’t keep the average dog healthy. But when we start dealing with medical issues, then it’s nice to combine diet with other treatments to try and slow the progression or even reverse changes seen with those diseases.
Does my dog need to be on supplements in addition to their diet?
Supplements are a huge market, but there’s both good and bad information out there. Many supplements are poorly regulated. In general, a dog on a good diet that's thriving and healthy does not need supplementation. There are many medical conditions, though, for which we do recommend supplements. For example, in breeds that are prone to arthritis, we do consider supplements that may be beneficial for their joints, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids are also good for older dogs, as they have been known to help preserve brain health and slow cognitive decline.
A lot of dog owners also question if human food offers any nutritional value for their dogs. The American Kennel Club offers some great insight on this topic. If you have further questions about your dog’s nutrition, give us a call.
If you live in or near Owings Mills, MD, we’d love to discuss your dog’s nutrition and long-term health, so please call us at (410) 807-8193.