A Healthy Diet for Your Dog

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on October 02, 2018
3 min read

Good nutrition is important for dogs. It keeps them healthy and happy. But there’s no set formula for how often you feed your dog or what you put in their bowl. That’s because each pooch is different.

“Nutritional requirements for dogs vary by breed, size, age, and health,” says Jerry Klein, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club (AKC).  

Ask your vet to recommend the best food for your pup. But you can also keep a few general guidelines in mind when you’re filling your dog’s dish.

It may not look like much, but commercial dog food is designed to meet all of a dog’s nutritional needs. Most products have meat, grains, vegetables, fruit, and vitamins. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition says commercial foods are safe and healthful options for feeding pets.

Be sure to pick the food that’s right for your dog’s stage of life -- puppy, pregnant or nursing, or adult. There are also foods that are approved for all stages.

Check the package for a statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) that the food is “complete and balanced.” “Complete” means the food has all the nutrients that dogs of that life stage require, and “balanced” means the nutrients are in the correct ratios.

When it comes to wet or dry food, both can have benefits.

“Dry food is believed to be better for a dog’s teeth. Wet food provides more moisture, which is especially helpful for those dogs that don’t drink a lot of water,” Klein says.

Most vets say it’s really a toss-up -- both are nutritious.

According to the AKC, puppies 6 months and younger should eat three to four times a day. At 6 months, they can eat twice daily. Once pups become adults, they can get one or two meals a day, depending on how much exercise they get. The best way to know what’s right for your dog? Check with your vet. 

The same goes for how much you put in their bowls. Klein says you can start by following the serving size guidelines on the package of your dog’s food. But your vet can get specific about the best amount for their age, breed, and level of activity. A young border collie who plays and runs for most of the day may need a lot of food to keep them going, especially when it’s hot or cold outside. But an elderly Chihuahua who mostly lounges in your lap probably won’t.

“The biggest thing we see pet owners do wrong when it comes to feeding dogs is to overfeed them,” Klein says. “It’s important to feed the right amount and right kinds of food to keep the animal at a healthy weight.”

Because not all vegetables are safe, it will take some work to make your doggie a vegetarian. Dogs need a balanced diet, just like humans, so you’re going to have to look for sources of proteins, other than meat, to give them.

“To feed a dog a vegetarian diet takes a lot of research, planning, and work to make it a diet that provides the nutrition and balance that a dog needs to thrive,” Klein says. “It can be difficult to create a vegetarian diet that provides a dog with all the nutrition it needs.”

If it’s important to you, ask your vet how to do it right.

Although there are some foods from your plate that you can give a dog, you’ve got to be careful. The FDA warns that chocolate, fatty foods, chicken bones, moldy foods, salty snacks, and raw meat are not good for pets. Also, you have to avoid foods like grapes, raisins, and onions.

If you do treat your pup from the table, keep an eye on how much you’re giving -- extras outside of their dog food should only be about 10% of their daily diet.