Puppy and dog diet

Is commercial food or home-made best? How often should I feed my pup? Why are treats bad? Why dogs don’t always need the same amount of food. How to check if your pooch is porky.

Puppies and Dogs: Diet


In this section we’ll look at:

  • The ideal diet for your puppy or dog
  • Puppies: When should a puppy start to eat solid food?
  • Puppies: How often should I feed my puppy?
  • Do dogs of different ages need different food?
  • How much food should I give my dog? And when should I avoid?
  • What treats can I give my dog?
  • What shape should my dog be?
  • Food and water bowls
  • Poisonous Food
  • Research

The ideal diet for your puppy or dog

A healthy, balanced diet is essential for your dog. Feeding it the right amount is important too, as obesity is a common problem among UK pets.

Feeding a complete, commercial dog food is preferable to a home-made diet: it isn’t easy to achieve the correct balance of nutrients if you make a dog’s diet yourself.

Treats should only be given for training purposes or on a very occasional basis. On days when you do give treats, reduce the amount of food given in your dog’s main meal.

Take into account a number of factors when choosing what and how much to feed a dog: their life stage (puppy, junior, adult or senior), weight, body shape and the food packet’s guidelines.


Puppies: When should a puppy start to eat solid food?

Puppies are usually ready to eat solid food when they are about 5 weeks old.


Puppies: How often should I feed my puppy?

Initially, puppies need 4 meals a day. This can be reduced to 3 a day at about 12 weeks. At 6 months, they can have 2 meals a day, which can continue for the rest of their life.


Do dogs of different ages need different food?

Yes, dogs of different ages have different nutrient requirements. So one of the best ways of ensuring your dog has the right nutrients is to feed it by its ‘life stage’. This means feeding it a different diet when it’s a puppy, adult or senior dog – e.g. puppies need more calories as they’re so energetic.

Several leading brands of commercially available dog food offer different foods for different life stages.

How much food should I give my dog?

Follow the packet guidelines so that you know how much to feed. Weigh the food out to check you’re getting it right. Overfeeding leads to obesity – the most common nutritional problem seen by vets – and causes health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.


How often should I feed my dog? And when should I avoid?

Twice a day for an adult dog is best. Avoid feeding your dog immediately before travelling , to prevent travel sickness, or within an hour before or after vigorous exercise as this can lead to a dangerous condition called ’bloat’.


What treats can I give my dog?

Most dog foods are complete meals: they contain all the nutrients a dog needs, in the right amounts. If you give your dog extra food as a treat, it needs more exercise to burn off the extra calories. If it’s not being exercised enough, your dog will turn the calories into fat.

Only ever give treats when you are giving reward-based training to your dog

Please visit our Puppy and Dog Behaviour section for more information.

If your reward is a food treat, try using something healthy such as small slices of carrot. If your dog is only interested in less healthy food, such as small pieces of sausage, reduce the size of their main meal so they don’t get too many calories on training days.

Dog obesity is a big problem in the UK. These dogs are less willing to play and exercise – and they have a reduced quality of life. Worse still, obesity causes health problems. Every day, vets see overweight pets suffering from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, urinary tract disease and arthritis. These pets die younger which for vets is tragic and for owners is heartbreaking.

You don’t need to give your dog food treats to show how much you love them. The best way is to show them by keeping them healthy: play games with them, take them on walks and give them your affection.

At PDSA we are committed to raising awareness of pet obesity. We are also committed to providing you with the information to help your pets stay a healthy shape and weight.


What shape should my dog be?

Keep a keen eye on your pet’s shape. It might sound simple, but as we see our pets every day, it’s easy to not notice extra inches creeping on over time.

There’s a real misconception about what a healthy shape is. Increasingly a ‘tubby’ pet is viewed as normal. Whilst pet breeds and species come in all different shapes and sizes, they should in general be sporting a sleek silhouette rather than a flabby tum.

Our pet’s shape is an excellent sign of whether it’s a healthy weight. It’s something we can all check at home. The veterinary term for this is “body condition scoring”.
Download our Body Condition Scoring leaflet (PDF - 424 KB) which gives great advice on how you can check your dog's weight and body shape by looking and feeling. One way to remember regularly is to put it in your diary to check every couple of months – you can take a picture on your mobile and compare the shots.

Our 'Getting Your Dog into Shape (PDF - 1.77 MB)' leaflet explains how you can achieve a healthy weight and shape for your dog. Paying attention to food and fitness is the key.


Food and water bowls

  • Your dog will need constant access to fresh, clean water from a clean bowl.

  • Choose bowls which are easy to clean. Use stainless steel or heavy pottery bowls. 

  • Throw out any uneaten food after your dog has finished so it doesn’t go stale or mouldy. 

  • Replace bowls if they become chipped or cracked to prevent your dog from cutting themselves


Poisonous Food

At PDSA we have compiled a list of human foods that can be toxic if they get their paws on them. From chocolate and caffeine to currants and chives, it’s a comprehensive list – and those are just the C’s. Check out our Poisons page to find out what they are and to keep your dog safe!


Research

PDSA reveals the state of our pet nation each year in a comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK – The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.

Since 2011, over 21,000 pet owners, veterinary professionals and children have been surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for. Here are the findings for dogs and their diet:


Overview

PDSA advises that feeding a complete, commercial dog food is preferable to a homemade diet. It isn’t easy to achieve the correct balance of nutrients if you make a dog’s diet yourself. Treats should only be given for training purposes or on a very occasional basis. On days when a treat is fed, reduce the amount of food given in the dog’s main meal. Take into account a number of factors when choosing what and how much to feed a dog: their life stage (puppy, junior, adult or senior), its weight, body shape and the food packet’s guidelines.

Key findings from our most recent report: 

Significantly fewer dog owners are giving their dog a daily treat – 35% reduced from 42% in 2011. 

  • 97% of dog owners give their dog a treat at some point, with 35% giving a daily treat.

  • Only 17% of dog owners decide how much to feed their dog based on its weight or body shape. Only 17% asked a vet or seek other veterinary professional advice. Knowing the correct body shape and weight for your pet is the first step to helping your pet stay a healthy weight.

  • Worryingly, 25% of owners use ‘common sense’ and 20% ‘past experience with dogs’ when deciding how much to feed them.

  • 6% of owners give their dogs ‘human’ chocolate. This can be fatal as human chocolate contains theobromine. Other poisonous foods we eat everyday include grapes, raisins, sultanas and onions.

  • 16% give their dogs a treat when they have one themselves. 23% of owners give treats to their dogs as it makes them happy, whilst 45% of owners say they think treats make their pet happy. The reality is different. The long-term effect is that owners are killing with kindness.

“PDSA’s Report reveals some very worrying findings with regards to the diets being fed to dogs. The use of inappropriate treats is particularly concerning, especially the frequency that these are being given. It is highly likely that these unsuitable foods are contributing to the obesity epidemic in pets.”

Dr Alex German, Leading animal obesity specialist, University of Liverpool Veterinary School.


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