Your dog's diet

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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. The right diet keeps them slim, healthy and in good condition.

Our vet’s recommend feeding your dog a high-quality commercial dog food, available from pet shops or the PDSA Pet Store. These contain all the nutrients your dog needs, in the right amounts. Follow the feeding guidelines on the back of the packet and weigh out your dog’s food to make sure they’re eating the right amount.

If you are worried about your pet’s diet, speak to your vet or vet nurse who will be happy to give advice on an appropriate diet for your pet. They can also help you work out how much to feed and whether your pet needs to lose or gain weight.

Why is diet so important?

Every year vets across the country see lots of overweight dogs, who often develop other conditions because of their size. Being overweight is really harmful for your dog – it can stop them from being as active as they need to be and lead to all sorts of problems. PDSA run our annual weight loss competition, Pet Fit Club, to help overweight pets get back in shape.

However, prevention is better than cure. Along with the right exercise, diet can go a long way to helping your dog stay in the best shape. If you think your dog might be overweight, read our advice on obesity on our PetWise Pet Health Hub:

What should I feed my dog?

There are so many pet foods on offer, it can be difficult to pick one. Here's our top tips for selecting the right pet food for your dog:

  • Buy a commercial dog food rather than making one at home, as it’s really difficult to give your pet everything they need in a homemade diet.
  • Look for a food that is labelled ‘complete’, which means it has the minimum recommended nutrients that your dog will need.
  • Make sure the food is designed for your pet’s life stage – for example a puppy food, adult food or senior food. If your pet has any extra requirements (for example, they are very active, overweight, or pregnant) make sure the food is suitable for this, too.
  • Look for a manufacturer who is part of the Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association (PFMA). They voluntarily meet extra requirements.
  • Veterinary staff will have a good idea of which brands are established, high-quality and do the right checks, so ask your vet or vet nurse for a recommendation if you’re not sure.
Infographic explaining how to choose the right dog food

There are some things that can just come down to personal choice when it comes to pet food.

  • Ingredients. Some pet foods specifically advertise that they have ‘human-grade’ ingredients, or that they list out their ingredients in full. It’s nice to know what’s in your pet’s food, but all ingredients used in pet foods legally need to pass a vet inspection as ‘fit for consumption’. Ingredients or categories listed on pet food labels like ‘meat and meat derivatives’ (a legal term for proteins from animal sources) or ‘oils and fats’ can be used rather than listing them all out. This is a labelling choice by the manufacturer and doesn’t always reflect the quality of the food or how good nutrition your pet will get from it, so unless your pet has a food allergy it doesn’t help you select a food.
  • Flavour. Some dogs seem to prefer (or dislike) certain flavours of pet food, so you might want to stick with ones they like. Some dogs aren’t picky and will eat whatever is going. The best flavour is one your dog will eat!
  • Texture. Different dog foods might be in different forms, for example meat chunks versus pate, or different sizes of kibble. Again, which you pick doesn’t matter as long as your dog is happy eating it.

Read our full advice on different types of dog food.

Medical conditions

If your pet has a medical condition follow your vet's advice on what to feed them. For certain conditions, for example kidney disease, special diets are available which will help them live longer or more comfortable lives.

Raw diets

Some owners choose to feed their dogs a raw diet. While some owners report benefits to this, our vets would recommend feeding your dog a complete, commercial dog food. This is so you know that your dog is getting the right nutrients, which can be harder to monitor in a raw diet.

You can read our full advice on raw diets for dogs online.

 

How much should I feed my dog?

The type and amount of food a dog needs depends on their breed, type, age, health and lifestyle. For example, a working sheepdog needs much more energy than a small dog who spends most of the day indoors.

Use the guidelines on the pack as a starting point and always weigh out your pet’s food. If you’re not sure the right amount to feed your dog, speak to a vet nurse who’ll be able to help you tailor a feeding plan to your dog.

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 of disease.

How often to feed your dog

Most owners feed once or twice a day. Smaller dogs and dogs with active lifestyles may need to be fed twice a day in order to keep energy levels up.

Dogs who have difficulty absorbing nutrients or difficulty maintaining weight may benefit from being fed several small meals per day. Your vet or vet nurse will be able to advise you on how often you should be feeding your dog.

Free feeding

Free feeding is when owners leave food available throughout the day and dogs can eat whenever they like and as much as they like. This may be suitable for dogs who have very active lifestyles or dogs who struggle to maintain a healthy weight. It is not recommended for puppies or other dogs who will likely eat more than they need and gain weight.

 

Changing your dog's diet

If you need to change your dog’s diet for any reason, remember to do this slowly and carefully. Sudden changes in food can cause tummy upsets, so you need to gradually introduce the new food to them and phase out the old food.

Read our full advice on how to safely change your dog’s food over.

 

Can I feed my dogs bones and other food scraps?

Our vets advise owners not to feed bones, leftovers, bits of meat and other scraps, because:

  • Bones can get stuck in your dog’s throat, and splinters can damage the stomach and intestines.
  • Human food isn’t always good for dogs: some, like chocolate and grapes, are poisonous.
  • Dogs who get scraps may refuse to eat their normal food without them.
  • It unbalances the dog’s regular diet and they often get overweight.
  • Your dog may misbehave during your mealtimes, as they think they’re going to get food, too.
  • Too many vegetables can cause wind. Not a problem for your dog, but it could be for you!
  • Fatty foods can cause tummy upsets, which can be as serious as painful pancreatitis.
  • Human foods contain lots of extra calories for our pets. To a medium-sized dog, eating a cube of cheese is like a person eating two scones – and to them a Christmas dinner would be the equivalent of us eating 3,000 calories.

You can download our free guide to feeding your dog, including an example food diary to help your dog on their way.