Concerned About Nutrition?

Your dog should be able to get all the nutrients he needs from commercial dog food unless he has special needs or low nutrition levels because of illness. In these cases, your dog may need a special diet. Talk to your vet first. However, a professional trainer who is knowledgeable about canine nutrition requirements and feeding options can be a valuable resource for pet owners.

A dogs' nutritional needs are very similar throughout its lifespan. One of the most important things to look for on a dog food label is a statement that the food is “complete and balanced” (or similar wording).  These foods must have the proper amounts of all the nutrients on the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Dog Food Nutrient Profile. Most dog sizes and breeds can be fed the same diet, although the amount fed should be tailored to each dog's metabolism and activity to avoid obesity.

You may see dog foods labeled “for maintenance” or “for seniors” or many other specific life stages, but there are no specific nutrient requirements for these foods other than they simply have to meet the requirements for regular adult dog foods. Dog foods that claim to be “organic” must meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rules for organic human foods. Beware of labels that claim to be “premium,” “super-premium” or “gourmet” diets. These are not required to contain any special ingredients, only that they must meet the same standards as any complete and balanced dog food.

Amy Farcas, DVM (a veterinary clinical nutritionist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine) says “To help you figure out the amount of nutrients your dog needs, your vet can check your pet's current and ideal body condition score. It's like BMI (body mass index) in people. When you find out the score, your vet can calculate how much to feed your dog to reach and keep this score.”
Picking Food for Your Dog

Whatever decisions you make about feeding your dog should be based on his age and activity level. For example, a 50-pound border collie and a 50-pound basset hound have different dietary needs. The border collie will probably need more calories per day because it's a more active dog.

Diets made for active dogs take this into account. The food will likely be higher in fat, which provides more energy than protein or carbohydrates. The other nutrients in the formula will likely be the same as those needed by a less active dog.

Size also plays a role in meeting a dog's nutritional needs. Smaller dogs have a higher metabolism, which means they need more calories per pound than larger dogs, says Lisa Peterson, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club and a dog breeder for over 30 years.
The Right Diet for Your Dog

Here are some ways to tell if your dog is getting the right diet.
  • Shiny coat and skin
  • Good energy level
  • Keeps an appropriate weight
  • Has a solid stool about two to three times a day
  • Good breath
  • Clear eyes

"You need to consult with your vet to change your pet's diet," Farcas says, "if your pet has a medical condition, if your vet indicates that your pet should gain or lose weight, if your pet needs to eat significantly more or less of a diet than the package recommends, or if you are not sure if your pet's current diet is appropriate."

How can you tell if your dog's the right weight? Peterson says you should be able to feel your dog's ribs when running your hands along his side. You shouldn't need to press really hard to feel them. Also, looking at your dog's spine from above, you should see an indentation or waistline at the loin (area past the rib cage and before the hips).
Your Dog's Age and Nutrition

Dog food companies offer options for dogs from puppy to senior. Puppies need a lot of energy to grow. In the senior years, your dog's metabolism slows down and he's less active. An older dog needs fewer calories and less fat, Peterson says. If you have a puppy, he should be on a puppy formula until he’s at least nine months old to a year. Adult dogs between the age of 1 – 7 years will do well on an adult formula, and seniors over the age of seven years will need a senior formula. If your senior dog, however, is still very active then transition to a senior food can be postponed until his activity level decreases.

As your dog ages, it's important to tell your vet about any health problems your dog has. The right kind of food may help prevent some conditions, such as orthopedic disease in large breeds. As your dog becomes middle-aged or older, specific diets may help with health problems such as kidney disease or urinary tract stones. Again, the best advice is for each dog owner to consult with their veterinarian regarding their own dog since there is no “one size fits all” that applies to every dog.

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