Do You Know How To Best Meet Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs?

A fast-growing, toy-chasing puppy has different nutritional needs than a slumber-loving, slow-trotting older dog. Feeding your three-month-old meals meant for its elders could mean your puppy’s not getting the right amount of calories or nutrition. When the problem is reversed, older dogs could consume too many calories, leading to plump pooches. According to the National Academies’ National Research Council, an obesity epidemic now exists among dogs and cats, so we need to better match foods to our pets’ needs.

Keep in mind that your dog will have different nutritional requirements at various stages within its lifetime. 

Given these fluctuating requirements, how can you best meet your best canine friend’s breed- and stage-specific nutritional needs? Here, The Dog Daily asks veterinarian Trisha Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary Specialists, to answer the most crucial food-related doggie dilemmas.

Puppies need more calories than adult dogs.


Puppies grow rapidly, especially in the first months, and this requires the higher caloric intake of specially formulated puppy food,” says Dr. Joyce. A diet with antioxidants like Vitamin E also helps to support the developing immune system’s health and may improve your little love’s response to vaccinations.

Puppies are puppies. Large and small breeds can safely eat the same food.


“All puppy diets support growth,” says Dr. Joyce. “However, breed size does matter.” While small breed dogs can safely grow very quickly, the same is not valid for large breed dogs. “To prevent orthopedic issues (such as disorders of the skeletal system and associated muscles, joints, and ligaments), we try to slow down their growth.” To feed small-breed puppy food to a large breed puppy is to put it at risk for hip dysplasia, a gradual loosening of the hip joint that can ultimately be crippling, and other malformation problems. Joint protective agents can be important for large-breed little ones.

The Biggest health issue for today’s adult dogs is obesity.


“The food choices you make for your middle-aged dog largely have to do with whether or not it’s overweight,” says Dr. Joyce. “Owners should always be thinking about preventing obesity, and weight-control formulas can help with this.” Your veterinarian can monitor your dog’s weight, but you can also keep an eye on your canine’s physique. You should feel your dog’s spine and ribs and see a noticeable waist between the rib cage and hips from above.

Once puppyhood ends, large and small breeds can eat the same foods for optimal health.


Large-breed dogs should be fed a large-breed diet, says Dr. Joyce. For large-breed dogs, a diet that includes cartilage building-blocks, like glucosamine, can help maintain healthy joints and cartilage.

Male and female dogs have different nutritional needs.


“This is false, with one exception,” says Dr. Joyce. “Pregnant and lactating females need more calories.” You can provide this extra energy by feeding your pregnant or nursing dog puppy chow. However, make sure it’s small-breed puppy chow, whether or not your dog is small. It is higher in calories than the large-breed puppy equivalent.

Senior-specific diets should be fed after a dog reaches the decade mark.


“I’m a broken record, but it depends on the breed,” says Dr. Joyce. Veterinarians generally say that dogs in the last third of life are seniors. Larger breeds tend to have shorter life spans, so they may be considered seniors as early as six years old, while smaller dogs are not considered seniors until 10. New research also shows that a higher-protein diet can also be beneficial for senior dogs. Your veterinarian can tell you whether it’s time to start Rover on a senior meal plan.

You can prevent older dogs’ common health problems by feeding your dog an issue-specific diet — like food for dogs with kidney problems — before your dog is diagnosed.


“You shouldn’t feed a health-specific diet until a condition has been diagnosed,” says Dr. Joyce. Preventative diets focus on a dog’s general health, weight, and joint health, rather than specific conditions. That being said, weight-control and joint-health formulas are generally safe for older dogs. There are many mature foods on the market. Again, breed size should be a consideration in choosing these meal plans.

Though canine health food information may be harder to come by than the human variety, what you learn can go a long way toward helping your pet. With just a bit of dog food nutritional savvy, feeding your canine companion for optimal health is as easy as scooping out a serving of dog chow.

How Do You Know If Your Dog Chow Meets Your Dog’s Daily Nutritional Needs? 

Your dog can’t exactly take a taste test or raise a paw and tell you if he’s not getting his recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals.

As a dog owner, you can try to assess your dog’s health by behavior, activity level, outward appearance, and the consistency of your pet’s stool. You can also read pet food labels and opt for foods that meet or exceed pet food industry standards. But canine nutritional experts say there is a lot more you can learn. Take the quiz to find out.

  1. What is the optimal amount of protein your dog’s food should contain?

A. 18 percent

B. 24-30 percent

C. 50 percent or higher

Answer: B

Protein is an important dog food ingredient because it helps your pup maintain lean body mass, bone integrity, and enzymatic system. Canine nutritional standards — established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials(AAFCO), the organization that sets pet food industry standards — require that dog foods contain a minimum of 18 percent protein for adults and 22 percent for puppies. But a growing number of pet foods exceed those minimum standards today, arguing that contents of 20, 30, 40, or even 50 percent protein make the food more evolutionarily sound since, in the wild, canines would eat more meat. Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, a clinical nutrition professor at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, doesn’t completely buy that argument. Many of the dog breeds people keep domestically are a far cry from their wild ancestors. The AAFCO minimum is “adequate,” says Dr. Wakshlag, but he advises feeding dogs food that contains “somewhere between 24 and 30 percent protein.”

  1. Are all added fats and oils created equal?

A. Yes, fat is fat

B. Mineral and vegetable oils are better than animal fats

C. Fish oil can help add needed omega-three fatty acids

Answer: C

Added oils and fats can help keep your dog’s coat shiny and reduce flakiness and dryness to the skin underneath. Most foods add some animal fats for taste and vegetable fats from grains. The addition of fish oil can help balance out the fatty acids in your dog’s diet, says Dr. Wakshlag. The reason is that the industrial revolution has created a very grain-based world, not only for humans but also for our pets. Grains added to most commercial pet food provide our dogs with their necessary omega-six fatty acids. Still, they need additional omega 3s to better achieve a more natural balance to their diet, according to Dr. Wakshlag. Omega 3s also have potential health benefits aside from coat and skin health in that they may be able to help dampen chronic immune problems in your dog.

  1. Should you supplement your dog’s food with table scraps?

A. Yes, add scraps to your kibble at every meal

B. A few pizza crusts or bits of protein per day can’t hurt

C. No, table scraps can lead to obesity and throw off the nutritional balance of prepared dog foods

Answer: C

Most foods that meet AAFCO nutritional standards don’t need to be supplemented, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a veterinary medicine professor at Texas A&M University. “We can unbalance a diet by adding to it,” Dr. Beaver says. “The big problem we run into is obesity.” A good test to determine whether or not your dog is overweight is to see if you can feel its ribs through the coat without an effort. If you can’t, your dog may be overweight. However, if you can see the ribs, your pet might be too thin.

  1. Should I look for a source of glucosamine in my dog’s food?

A. Yes, glucosamine may help keep joints healthy

B. No, this is just another myth

Answer: A

Glucosamine can be found in several dog food ingredients, such as poultry and meat products. This substance helps protect and maintain cartilage, which safeguards your dog’s joints and bones. Throughout your pup’s lifetime, your dog will naturally wear down some of this cartilage. Glucosamine can help prevent cartilage degeneration, Dr. Wakshlag says.

  1. Are antioxidants, like vitamin E and beta-carotene, essential to boost immune system health? 

A. Yes

B. No

Answer: A

Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. They’ve proven to benefit dogs in slowing the aging process, improving immune responses, and 

helping vaccines work. Antioxidants include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and compounds such as beta-carotene. Dog food ingredients such as tomatoes, spinach, peas, and carrots all contain antioxidants.

Ultimately, you may have to rely on your dog to communicate to you whether it is getting its nutrients. The best way to determine if your dog’s food is appropriate is to look at your dog, says Lisa Peterson, communications director for the American Kennel Club. “A shiny, healthy coat, clear eyes, pink gums, and ideal weight are all signs that speak louder than words.”

Article written by Author: Darcy Lockman and Elizabeth Wasserman

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