Your dog's diet
Your dog's diet has a huge impact on their health and happiness. The wrong diet can lead to obesity and life-long health issues, so it's important to feed them the right food to keep them at a healthy weight and make sure they're getting all the nutrients they need.
Why is diet so important?
Feeding your dog the correct diet is really important for their health. Just like us, your dog needs to eat a balanced diet each day to give them all the nutrients they need to keep them fit and active.
Diet also plays a big part when it comes to your dog’s weight, and with the right exercise, diet can go a long way towards helping your dog stay in perfect shape. Being overweight or obese is harmful to your dog’s wellbeing, as it can stop them from being as active as they need to be and put them at risk of certain, serious health conditions.
To find out whether your dog is an ideal weight, take a look at our weigh-up campaign.
What should I feed my dog?
Our vets recommend feeding a high-quality, complete diet suitable for your dog’s life stage. Here are our top tips of things to look for when selecting the right food for your dog:
- Complete: Always look for a food that is labelled ‘complete’ because this means it contains all the nutrients that your dog needs, in the correct amounts.
- Commercially available: It’s really difficult to give your dog everything they need in a homemade diet, so we recommend always buying a commercial dog food rather than making your own at home. You can buy these from pet shops, vets or the PDSA Pet Store.
- Life stage appropriate: Make sure you’re feeding your dog the right food labelled for their current stage of life (puppy, adult or senior). For more information, take a look at our guide below.
- Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association (PFMA): Look for a manufacturer who is part of the PFMA. Food manufacturers who are members of this organisation meet extra quality standards than the legal minimum
- Wet vs dry: Complete diets can come in wet or dry forms. Many owners choose to feed a combination – you’ll just need to make sure that you’re feeding the right amount of each by looking at the packets and working out the amount you need to feed of each one. For more information about the pros and cons of wet and dry foods, read our advice.
- Ingredients: While it’s nice to know what’s in your dog’s food, the ingredients list can be baffling! Rest assured that all ingredients need to legally pass a vet inspection, so it doesn’t matter which you choose, as long as your dog is happy eating it.
If you are worried about which diet to choose, speak to your vet or vet nurse and they will be happy to provide advice on which food is right for your dog’s individual needs.
Some owners may decide they wish to feed their dog a raw diet, rather than the cooked variety. If you choose to do so, we recommend choosing one that is complete and commercially prepared, to ensure that your dog is getting the nutrients they need – you can find these available in pet shops and supermarkets. Don’t attempt to make your own raw diet at home, as it’s very difficult to ensure that your dog is getting the correct balance of nutrients in a homemade diet.
If you’re thinking of feeding a raw diet, always consult your vet first so they can advise what’s best for your dog. For more information, read our full advice on raw diets.
Vegetarian diets for dogs
If you’re not a meat eater yourself, it can be a moral dilemma as to what to feed your dog. Dogs are omnivores, which means they can eat both meat and plant-based foods. As long as you buy a complete commercial food appropriate for your dog’s age and lifestyle, your dog will be getting all the nutrients they need whether you’re feeding meat or not. As with any feeding, however, we don’t recommend a homemade diet as it’s harder to make sure your dog is getting all the goodness they need.
If your dog has special dietary requirements, a vegetarian or vegan diet may not be right for them – in this case, speak to vet or vet nurse for advice.
Life stage feeding
Your dog will grow and change throughout their life, and as they do so, their nutritional requirements will change too. Many commercial dog food companies research and design diets for specific ages, to make sure your dog gets the right balance of nutrients, including energy, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. These are often known as ‘life stage’ diets, as they help to keep your dog healthy throughout the different stages of their life. Don’t forget to change your dog’s diet slowly between each life stage to avoid tummy upsets.
Feeding your puppy
Most dogs will need to be fed a puppy diet while they are growing towards their adult shape and size. Many puppy foods are designed to suit a particular size or breed, as these factors will impact on your puppy’s rate of growth and the nutrients they will need. If your puppy is on a high quality, complete puppy diet that’s designed for their size/breed, they shouldn’t need any additional supplements even if they’re a fast growing or giant breed. Over-supplementation of minerals (such as calcium or phosphorous) can cause bone development problems.
Your puppy will start on puppy food with their breeder, and they should be fully weaned by the time they come home with you at 8 weeks old. It’s a good idea to continue feeding the same food as your breeder to begin with, and try stick to the same feeding routine for the first few weeks. Initially, puppies often benefit from around 3 meals spread throughout the day to help maintain their energy levels – possibly more if they are a small or toy breed. Once they are a bit older, this can be decreased to two meals a day.
As your puppy grows and ages, the amount of food they will need will change. It’s very important to check the packaging for instructions to make sure your dog is getting the correct balance of nutrients. It’s also a good idea to weigh your puppy regularly to check they’re growing at the correct rate. You vet will be able to provide you with lots of advice on which diet will suit your growing puppy, and help if you have any concerns.
Want to know more about feeding your puppy? Read our puppy FAQs.
Feeding your adult dog
Adult dog diets are designed to keep your dog at a healthy size and weight once they have grown up. There are many adult dog diets available, so look for one that will suit your dog’s individual needs and lifestyle. For example, there are diets designed for working dogs, or dogs that have been neutered. You may also need to feed your dog a specific diet if they have certain medical conditions or need to lose weight. If you’re not sure which diet is best for your adult dog, ask your vet for help.
Feeding your older dog
As your dog ages, they need a diet to meet their more mature needs. Dogs are generally considered to be older or mature when they reach about half their life expectancy. This is around 7 years for small dogs and 5 years for larger dogs. There are also diets available for senior or aging dogs, which are often designed to be fed in their last few years of life.
Diets for older dogs are more easily digestible and contain a balance of nutrients that can help to compensate for some of the aging changes dogs can experience. This can include helping to support their joints, and reducing levels of nutrients that your dog’s body might struggle to process when they’re older.
When your dog is aging, it’s even more important to monitor them closely to check how much they’re eating and drinking each day. Eating less, eating or drinking more, having less energy or losing weight can be a symptom of problems such as arthritis or dental problems. If you’re worried, it’s important to speak to your vet for advice.
There are certain conditions that can be treated or managed by feeding your dog a prescription diet, including diseases such as kidney disease or diabetes. Some dogs can also develop allergies or intolerances to certain ingredients in their food, with symptoms such as itchy skin or diarrhoea. To help reduce your dog’s symptoms, there may be certain types of food that you’ll need to avoid. Always speak to your vet if you’re not sure what your dog should be eating, and always follow your vet’s advice. They may recommend a diet trial to help with your dog’s diagnosis and management.
How much food should I feed my dog?
Feeding your dog the right amount of food is really important, as it will keep them healthy and prevent obesity. Just like us, no two dogs are the same so the type and amount of food your dog will need will vary depending on their breed, type, age, health and lifestyle. A working sheepdog needs much more energy than a smaller dog who spends most of the day indoors, for example!
When figuring out how much to feed your dog, use the guidelines on the packet as a starting point. You’ll need to feed them for their target weight, which might not be their current weight – especially if they need to lose or gain weight to reach their ideal size. It’s a good idea to weigh out their food each day to make sure they’re getting exactly the right amount, and to check that they’re not getting extra food from different members of the household. If you’re not sure how much food you should be feeding, speak to a vet or vet nurse who will be able to help tailor your dog’s feeding plan, and work out whether your dog needs to lose or gain weight based on their body condition.
Watch our video for rough guidance on how much you should feed your dog:
Our vets also recommend feeding your adult dog twice a day, splitting your dog’s daily food intake into two equal-sized meals. This can be beneficial, as it can help your dog feel less hungry between meals. If you struggle with your dog eating their food too quickly, puzzle feeders or slow feeder bowls are a great way to slow them down!
Dogs who have difficulty absorbing nutrients or maintaining weight may, however, benefit from several small meals a day – always speak to your vet if you’re unsure.
If your dog changes their eating habits or they start to gain or lose weight, call your vet for advice as it could be a sign that your pet may be unwell.
Free feeding is when owners leave food available throughout the day so their dog can eat whenever they like and as much as they like. While this may be suitable for dogs who have very active lifestyles, or those who struggle to maintain a healthy weight, it is not recommended for puppies or other dogs, as they are likely to eat more than they need and therefore develop obesity. There is also a risk that the food might go off if it’s left out too long, especially if your dog is fed a wet food diet.
Changing your dog's diet
If you need to change your dog’s diet for any reason, remember to do this slowly and carefully wherever possible. Sudden changes in food can cause stomach upsets, so you need to gradually introduce the new food to them and phase the old food out.
It can be tempting to think you need to show your dog how much you love them by feeding them tasty treats, but remember – what might seem like just a couple of biscuits to us, could actually be like you eating a whole chocolate cake on top of your normal meals!
Just like us, giving your dog the odd healthy treat is fine, but feeding too many could cause them to become overweight. Not only that, but as treats are a ‘complementary’ and not a ‘complete’ food, they won’t contain the correct balance of nutrients for your dog in the same way that their routine diet does. Remember that there are lots of other ways to show your love to your dog or to reward them, such as spending quality time with them, playing, a new toy, walkies, or grooming – after all, this is what they will enjoy the most!
If you do decide to give your dog the occasional treat, make sure that their treat allowance doesn’t take up any more than 10% of their daily food, and factor this in by reducing their daily food by 10%, saving it for treats.
Your dog's food
If your dog has a condition that needs managing or supporting through their diet, or you're just looking to give them the best dog food out there, we've got what you need.