Puppy, adult and senior diets are specifically formulated to meet dogs’ nutritional needs during various life stages. Puppy or growth foods typically contain more protein, calories and fat than adult foods, which growing puppies need. Overfeeding a growth diet can cause a number of problems, including obesity and growth-related joint and bone problems, especially in giant breeds. Puppies should be fed 3 or 4 times daily. By about 6 months, they can transition to an adult diet fed twice a day. Adult or maintenance diets can be fed until dogs enter their senior years, which can vary widely between breeds. Dietary changes should always be made gradually to prevent digestive upset.
Nutritional Balance and Completeness
A complete and balanced diet is one of the most important things owners should look for when selecting food for their pets. Dogs have specific nutritional needs that include the appropriate combination of digestible protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals and water. Federal law requires pet food manufacturers to list their products’ ingredients on the label. Dog foods should meet the standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which is a nonprofit organization of state and federal experts that develops guidelines for the production, labeling and sale of food for animals. Some AAFCO standards use 6-month feeding trials to demonstrate that dogs can survive and thrive on a particular food. Prescription diets formulated to address specific medical or dietary conditions are available from veterinarians and some specialty feed stores.
Form of the Food
Commercial dog food can be canned, semi-moist or dry. Nutritionally, the form makes little difference. Many dogs like canned food the best, probably because of its higher moisture, sugar and fat content. It also tends to be the priciest. Semi-moist food has the most fillers and preservatives to make it hold its shape and appear palatable. Dry kibble is the least expensive and most convenient and has the added benefit of keeping teeth and gums in good shape. Kibble can be left out during the day without spoiling, as long as the resident pooch isn’t prone to pudginess.
How Much Is Too Much?
It’s best to start out by following the manufacture’s recommendations as to how much to feed based on the dog’s size and weight. If the pet starts to put on too much weight, cut back the amount of food. If it acts ravenous and loses weight, adjust the amount upward.
When To Feed?
Most owners feed their dogs in the morning and evening. Dogs fed several small meals rather than a single large one have a reduced chance of stomach upset and may be less likely to develop a potentially fatal condition called gastric dilatation and volvulus or “bloat.”
The final decision about what to feed often is influenced by cost. Cheaper foods can be complete and balanced and meet a dog’s basic nutritional needs. They also are apt to contain more artificial colors, sugar, fillers and other indigestible or undesirable ingredients. Premium foods cost more, but because they are made from nutritious, usable, well-balanced ingredients, they typically can be fed in smaller quantities.