Food Guidelines

From Puppy to Older Pooch: The Key Principles of Dog Nutrition

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Many pet parents have stated that their pet is sensitive to the taste, texture, temperature, and even the visual appearance of their food. We as dog parents are beginning to understand that what we feed our dogs reflects what we see on the outside with regards to overall health, vitality, energy and behavioral tendencies. Based on the above and a call for nutritional rich dog foods, pet food manufacturers now make some properly formulated foods.  

This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the key principles of dog nutrition and to explain the various nutritional requirements of our pets.

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Basically “dog food” should contain:

  1.  Nutrients for growth
  2.  Energy nutrients for heat, movement & development, and finally
  3.  Nutrients that initiate, facilitate & regulate the above (minerals)

As a responsible dog owner you should never let the price of the food dictate your purchase decision. It’s not a secret that you get what you pay for, that is, the higher the price the higher the quality.

What should I look for in dog food?

The best advice I ever received about feeding my dog and puppies was to feed my dog the highest-quality food I can afford. To go straight to the point, the differences between a premium food and budget food is found in the source of ingredients and most importantly it’s quality. Pet nutrition principles for feeding dogs continue to evolve and as such we can now say that dogs are technically omnivores even though they are classed as carnivores.  

If you have mastered the art of reading food nutrition labels you will know that pet food ingredients are listed by order of weight. Each ingredient is weighed when it is added to the batch of food, and when processed the ingredients like fresh meat which contain water lose most of it during the production. On the other hand, a dry diet that lists products like corn may be superior in terms of nutrition in comparison to the one listing meat first. 

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What are the nutritional requirements for dogs?

We asked one of the vets from the Rangersdog team about nutritional requirements for dogs and basically he quoted six basic nutrients: water, fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals and this will vary in proportion based on the dog breed (discussed further below). In a nutshell, your dog only needs these 6 essential nutrients as part of their regular diet as they are needed for all their basic body functions and general development. This brings us to the next questions of how much food do you need to feed your dog?

Your vet should be able to advise on how much calories your dog needs. If not, you can self calculate using this standard formula that shows the energy requirements of an average adult domestic dog living in your house, receives little daily exercise, and is neutered or spayed/sterilised:

30 x dog’s weight in kg (or pounds divided by 2.2) + 70 = daily calories needed

To everyone who is average like me, when we eat we don’t count our calories so why do we have to calculate this for our dogs. Therefore, don’t look at the food label to tell you how much to feed, look at your dog! The best way to judge if you’re feeding her the right amount is by visual comparison. If it appears ridiculously thin for its breed then feed the dog more dog food. If the dog appears obese and overweight, please cut back on the amount fed.

Photo by Allie on Unsplash

Benefits of each macronutrient & micronutrients to your dog?

  1. Water: Water is required to maintain life. 
  2. Fats: Fats increase palatability by improving flavour and texture of the food but most importantly, they contain essential fatty acids (EFAs) and are carriers of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. They maintain kidney function, assist in reproduction, form cell membranes. 
  3. Proteins: Proteins are essential components of all living cells and help in the regulation of metabolism, help in structure of cell walls and muscle fibres, help in growth and repair of your dog’s body and finally act as a source of energy. Protein can be found in both plants and meat sources.
  4. Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide energy to your dog and consist of simple absorbable sugars (glucose) and complex digestible sugars, such as starch, fermentable (prebiotics) and non fermentable (fibres) which are indigestible and are only used to add bulk to the bowel content.  
  5. Minerals: Minerals are inorganic compounds collectively known as ‘ash’ and some common minerals include macro – Calcium (Ca), Phosphorus (P), Magnesium (Mg), Potassium (K), Sodium (Na), Chloride (Cl), and micro – Iron (Fe), Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn), Iodine (I), Selenium (Se), Manganese (Mn). 
  6. Vitamins: Vitamins are organic compounds that help regulate the body processes. 

Read More: A Guide to Understanding Dog Food Ingredients

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Photo by Liesbet Delvoye on Unsplash

Are there any breed differences in nutritional requirements?

In the past dogs used to source their own food through hunting and as a result they have specialised gastrointestinal adaptations that allowed them to eat a large meal and this would allow them to have reserves for a few days. However, this is no longer in their DNA as we have domesticated them and therefore made them reliant on humans, most pet dogs need feeding at least once a day but most vets recommend twice per day.  

Nutritionists, researchers and pet food experts like Pet Food Sherpa have come to the conclusion that there are definite breed variations in metabolism and nutrient requirements. For example, Arctic dogs wouldn’t have the same diet requirement as savannah Africa and dogs will have adapted to specialized diets common to their place of origin but this has also been upset by inbreeding and as such pet’s diet have now been modified for optimal health benefits. 

Another great factor to consider is your dog’s lifestyle. Working dogs like sheep dogs which are used for herding or hunting dogs and field trial dogs who undergo vigorous dog training require different ratios of proteins and fats in their diets than track dogs or sedentary house dogs.

What is meant by life-stage nutrition?

Our dogs have varying nutritional needs especially during different stages of their lives. As a result, it is not appropriate to feed your dog or cat a diet that is formulated for all life stages as their nutritional needs change as they jump from one life stage to another. Feeding your dog according to its stage of life (puppy, adolescent, pregnancy, adult, senior) is now recommended by respected nutritionists to maintain your dog’s overall health and well-being and improve both the quality and the quantity of your dog’s life. This information can be found on the label of your dog’s food. That is why we reiterate and say use common sense and learn how to read the labels.

Feeding puppies. Early in life, puppies must eat often and more precisely around 5 meals a day when they are 6 weeks old and will need relatively larger quantities of food because they are growing rapidly. By 6 months, they are about 75% of their adult size and can be fed two meals a day.

Any nutritional mistakes made during puppyhood will have more severe, even irreversible and lifelong, consequences and therefore, a good-quality puppy food has advantages over adult dog food because it has been specially formulated for a puppy’s demanding nutritional requirements. When your puppy turns 1 year you can freely switch them to adult dog food. 

Feeding an older dog. Any dog over the age of 7 years can be considered a senior dog and you can switch them over to a lower calorie, less carbohydrates and low sodium diet. It’s always wise to speak to your vet first before doing the switch as some breeds live longer than others and will still be at their peak.  Senior dog diets will tend to have prebiotics or probiotics to maintain healthy intestinal microbial populations, increased omega-3 fatty acids and other antioxidants to combat inflammation, and glucosamine to promote joint health. 

Which one is better: dry dog food or canned food?

A lot of questions have been thrown to our vets and nutritionist in the past decade and with the increase in knowledge, we can help but touch on this topic during this discussion. Is dry dog food better than wet dog food in cans? In terms of digestibility and nutrition, there is no difference between wet and dry dog food. We personally advise people to make their decision based on your lifestyle, preferences, and budget should be the last factor to consider as we said before, you get what you pay for and if you want quality dog food you have to make a choice to pay more for quality ingredients.  

Like humans, we have identified that some dogs have special dietary needs, and for this group, canned foods may be a better choice especially if they require more water content within their diets. Otherwise, the majority of dogs will do fine on dry kibble.

Dry kibble has been hailed by many vets to be good for oral health. In our latest research whilst writing this article we found big brands make bold statements that their kibble can help improve dental health and their special formulation can help to mechanically remove plaque.

Related: Grain-Free Dog Food: Healthy or Harmful


A lot of questions have been thrown to our vets and nutritionists about the key principles of pet nutrition. In summary we would say every animal requires varying nutritional levels of energy to be consumed on a daily basis to maintain normal bodily function and overall health and this is why we suggest that you be guided by your dogs lifestage and  lifestyle. In recent years, we have seen natural diets hailed and the future of pet nutrition seem to be heading to more of a human grade meals and more raw diets that cater for all their key nutrients (macro and micro nutrients). 

This article has been researched and compiled by Holly from Coastal Pet friendly accommodation at the best price.

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