The food you choose can be split into two types: complete or complementary. Complete foods are designed to give your dog all his nutritional requirements without feeding him anything else. Most dry foods are complete and there are complete wet foods too.
Complementary foods include treats and biscuit mixers, which are often added to wet food to give a balanced diet.
If you choose to give your dog a complete food but still want to give him treats, that's fine. Some treats offer health benefits such as better oral hygiene. Just remember to take away the equivalent number of calories from his main meals to avoid overfeeding.
How much to feed
A Great Dane wouldn't eat the same as a Chihuahua, and an old dog will not have the nutritional needs of a puppy - that's why there are so many varieties of food on the market. Most manufacturers produce lifestage foods which are formulated for different periods of your dog's life, broadly split into puppy, junior, adult, and senior. There are also breed-specific foods and specialist foods for dogs with certain health conditions. The packaging of food should clearly indicate what type it is.
Instead of commercially produced foods, some owners prefer to feed a natural, home-made diet. If you wish to do this, it is best to get some expert advice as with DIY diets it can be difficult to ensure your dog is getting the balanced nutrition he needs.
Types of food
With the shelves bursting with different pet foods, you need to know what you're buying. There are three main types of dog food:
Wet: Containing high moisture content, this is usually chunks of meat in a jelly or gravy. Your pet will find it tasty but it can be expensive in comparison with dry foods.
Dry: Consisting of pellets, kibble, cereal, and biscuit mixers, dry food has a low moisture content but still contains the meat your dog needs. The food can be served dry or the manufacturer may recommend adding water to make it more palatable.
Semi-moist: Soft and chewy foods, usually in pellet form. Most treats fall into this category.
How often you feed your dog depends on the individual pet. Puppies usually start eating four meals a day - as pups are growing they need lots of calories but their stomachs are still small. The number of portions can be reduced gradually, so that by 12 weeks they are getting three meals, and then just two at four or five months old.
Many owners feed their adult dogs just once a day; but some dogs, such as larger breeds or older dogs, benefit from two smaller meals. Lactating bitches need lots of calories so will require extra meals. You may like to spoil your dog, but overfeeding doesn't do him any favours. Weigh out portions. A little extra food may not look much but could have long-term health implications.
Once you've put your dog's bowl down, leave him to eat. If, after half an hour, any food is left, take the bowl away. If the meal isn't eaten in one go this may be a sign you are feeding too much.
A good food bowl is important. Anti-gorge bowls are designed to slow down the pace at which your dog eats; eating too fast can cause digestive problems, such as bloat. You should also avoid feeding your dog an hour before or after exercise as this can contribute to bloat.
There are also bowls for long-eared breeds, such as spaniels, designed to prevent their ears from falling into their food or water.
It is estimated that a third of dogs in the UK are overweight. Being overweight can aggravate any existing health conditions and provoke new, potentially serious ones. Monitor your dog's weight and do not overfeed him.
If your dog is heavier than he should be, speak to your vet about helping your pet to lose weight.
The wait command
Teaching your dog to wait for his food is good for his self-control and can form part of your feeding routine. Here's how...
1) Hold the food bowl above your dog's head and ask him to sit.
2) Put the food bowl down and instruct your dog to wait.
3) Ensure he has gained eye contact and is looking at you before giving him a release command such as ‘Get it'.
4) Gradually build up the length of time your dog has to wait before being released.
- Make sure your dog always has access to clean drinking water.
- Changes to your dog's diet should always be made gradually, usually over a week.
- After each meal wash out your dog's bowl and any utensils so no mouldy food accumulates.
- How you feed your dog is just as important as what you feed him. Developing a feeding routine will help to avoid health issues and encourage good behaviour.
- Leave your dog to eat in peace. Taking the bowl away while he's eating causes anxiety and could lead to food aggression.