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Blog /Dog Nutrition Guide
Pet Health May 29, 2024

Dog nutrition guide: tailoring nutrition to your dog’s unique needs

Learn how your pup's age, health, size, and breed can impact their nutritional needs.

One of the most important components of your dog’s at-home care is the food you feed them every day. Nutrition influences many aspects of your dog’s life, from their energy levels to their growth, weight, and overall health. Understanding your dog’s unique nutritional needs can help you determine how to choose a dog food that supports their health throughout their life.

Start with a complete and balanced diet

It’s critical that the food you give your pup provides all the essential nutrients they need to thrive. That starts with getting the building blocks of nutrition—proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals—in the right amounts to meet your dog’s daily nutritional needs. Each one of these nutrients play a vital role in your dog’s health:

  • Proteins are crucial for growth, muscle repair, and immune function
  • Fats provide energy and support skin and coat health
  • Carbohydrates offer a source of energy and aid in proper digestion
  • Vitamins and minerals are necessary for various bodily functions, including bone development, nerve function, and blood clotting

If your dog doesn’t get these essential nutrients, it can lead to a range of health issues, including lethargy, poor growth, weight problems, skin and coat problems, or a weakened immune system. To ensure the diet you select for your dog meets basic requirements, look for a nutritional adequacy statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

A complete and balanced diet, however, is just the first step. From there, you can tailor the food you choose to your dog’s specific attributes, taking into account their age, breed or breed size, and health conditions.

Puppy eating out of a food bowl on the floor.

Matching diet to life stage

Puppies

Puppies need higher levels of protein, fat, and certain minerals to support their growth. Puppy diets are formulated to meet these needs, ensuring proper bone and muscle development. Additionally, young puppies—and especially small breeds—need to be fed more frequently throughout the day.

Adult dogs

Adult dogs require a balanced diet to maintain their health and energy levels. Adult dog food is designed to provide the right amount of nutrients without excess calories, which can lead to weight gain.

Senior dogs

As dogs enter their senior years, their nutritional needs change due to slower metabolism and potential health issues, such as arthritis. Diets formulated for senior dogs often contain fewer calories, higher fiber, and additional supplements like glucosamine for joint health.

How breed size influences nutritional needs

Small breed dogs

Small breed dogs have higher metabolic rates and may require more calorie-dense food than larger dogs. However, their portions should still be carefully measured to avoid overfeeding (which is easy to do with a small pup). Additionally, diets formulated for small dogs have a smaller kibble size to accommodate their smaller mouths.

Large breed dogs

Large breed dogs are prone to joint issues and may benefit from food with added glucosamine and chondroitin. Diets for large and giant breed dogs are also typically less calorie-dense to prevent weight gain that can stress their joints.

And large breed puppies, in particular, benefit from diets formulated specifically to prevent them from growing too fast, which may decrease the risk of conditions such as hip dysplasia. Your veterinarian can advise on the appropriate time to transition your large breed puppy to an adult diet, as this may be earlier than with smaller breeds.

Small dog eating out of a stainless steel bowl on the floor.

Diets that support specific health needs

If your dog has a health condition, your veterinarian may recommend a diet formulated to alleviate symptoms or slow progression of a disease.

Kidney disease

Dogs with kidney disease benefit from diets low in phosphorus and protein but high in essential fatty acids. These diets help reduce kidney workload and inflammation.

Digestive problems

Foods for dogs with digestive issues often contain easily digestible ingredients, probiotics, and prebiotics to support gut health.

Skin and coat issues

Diets for dogs with skin problems may include high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which promote skin and coat health. Additionally, diets supplemented with vitamins A and E may support a healthy, shiny coat.

Dental issues

Dental disease is one of the most common health conditions affecting dogs. Diets formulated to support dental health often have larger kibble to encourage chewing and may include ingredients that reduce plaque and tartar buildup.

Joint problems

Joint-support diets typically contain glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids to promote joint health and reduce inflammation.

Diabetes

Diabetic dogs benefit from diets high in fiber and low in simple carbohydrates to help regulate blood sugar levels.

Heart disease

Heart-friendly diets are usually low in sodium and may contain taurine and L-carnitine to support heart function.

Liver disease

Dogs with liver issues may require diets low in copper and high in easily digestible carbohydrates and proteins.

Urinary tract issues

Diets formulated for urinary health are designed to maintain optimal urine pH and include ingredients that prevent crystal formation.

Yorkie sitting next to a full food bowl and licking their lips.

Breed-specific diets

Rather than focusing on a single health condition, breed-specific diets take into account various health concerns that the breed is predisposed to. For example, Labrador Retrievers are prone to both obesity (particularly if they carry the POMC genetic variant) and joint issues, so a diet formulated for them may contain moderate fat levels and added joint supplements. 

German Shepherds are predisposed to joint problems as well, but also are susceptible to digestive issues. So diets designed for them often include easily digestible ingredients and joint-supporting supplements.

Yorkshire Terriers are known for their long, silky coats—and also for being picky eaters. A diet designed for a Yorkie may be enriched with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and biotin to promote coat health, while also being highly palatable to encourage pups to eat.

Researching diets specific to your breed, or a breed in your dog’s mix, can help you meet their unique nutritional needs.

Partnering with your veterinarian

Understanding your dog’s unique nutritional needs is crucial for their overall health and well-being. However, finding the perfect diet can be overwhelming. The good news is, you don’t have to navigate the challenge alone. Partnering with your veterinarian will help ensure your dog receives the best nutrition based on their overall health. By working together, you can create a diet plan that supports your dog’s health and longevity so you can enjoy a long and happy life together.

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