Feeding Your Adult Dog for Health and Longevity

Posted by Jennifer on December 23rd, 2010

Written by Dr. Jill Cline, Ph.D.

An adult dog requires a balanced diet containing all of the essential nutrients to replace losses due to cell turnover, tissue repair, and the energy and nutrients needed for the body’s normal functions. Providing high quality nutrition contributes to your dog’s well-being, health and vitality, throughout the adult years.

Selecting the Best Food for Your Adult Dog

Above all else, every dog is an individual – both in terms of personality, and also with respect to his energy needs, activity level and lifestyle. Feeding every dog as an individual is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind when selecting the best food for your dog. High quality dog foods that are formulated to be complete and balanced for all life stages or for adult maintenance are good choices for adults. Even within this category, there are several types of food to choose from.

Dry Foods: Dry dog foods are palatable to most dogs and are generally the most economical and convenient type of food to feed. They have the advantage of staying fresh for a long period of time and lend themselves well to free-choice feeding and for use in automatic feeders. The chewing that is needed with dry foods can also aid in reducing plaque formation on dogs’ teeth. Dry dog foods are available in a variety of flavors, textures and shapes, allowing owners to select a food that best meets their dog’s needs.

Canned Foods: Canned dog foods are generally very appealing to dogs because of their texture and because they contain a relatively high level of fat and protein. Because canned foods may dry out or spoil if left in a food bowl, canned foods should only be offered as meals rather than as free-choice feeding. Dogs may also tend to over-consume canned foods because of their high appeal. For this reason, many owners use canned dog foods to supplement their dog’s dry food as an added treat or to encourage finicky dogs to eat.

Soft-Moist Foods: Soft-moist dog foods are softer in texture than dry foods and are very appealing to many dogs. Soft-moist foods do not spoil as quickly as canned foods and so can be used in free-choice feeding or in automatic feeders, provided that the food is replaced daily. These foods come in convenient meal-sized packages and also are very suitable to use as rewards during training sessions.

Feeding Tips: Keeping Your Dog Fit and Healthy

Adult dogs should be fed a high quality food that supports ideal body condition, healthy skin and hair coat, and an active energy level. Here are a few feeding tips to keep in mind:

• Select an appropriate feeding bowl – one that is suitable for your dog’s body size and head shape. Ceramic or stainless steel bowls with a broad base are durable and easy to clean. If you are feeding free-choice, discard old food and replace with fresh food every day.
• Feed your dog as an individual. This is equally important in homes with several dogs as it is in single-dog homes (see Box). Each dog has his or her own activity level, energy needs, and food preferences.
• Monitor your dog’s weight and body condition. Provide enough food to maintain ideal body weight and prevent overweight conditions. Instructions on the dog food label can be used as a general guide to estimate an initial volume of food to offer. Gradually adjust this amount in response to your dog’s weight and body condition.
• Dogs can be fed with portion-controlled meals or free-choice (i.e. having food available all day). Because many dogs tend to over-consume when allowed free access to food, meal feeding is the preferred method for the most adult dogs. Feeding two meals per day supports gastrointestinal health and helps to prevent hunger-related behavior problems.
• Have water available to your dog in several areas of your home. Bowls should be cleaned and filled with fresh water daily.
• Enjoy several types of activities with your dog. Daily walks, jogging, swimming and playing fetching games are fun for dogs and owners alike. Training classes that include activities such as agility, fly ball, Rally, and tricks training can also provide exercise and an enjoyable social activity.
• Your dog’s activity level and nutrient needs may vary somewhat during his adult years. If your dog’s weight increases or decreases (and there is not a medical cause), consider switching to a food that is more or less energy dense to better fit your dog’s needs.
• If it is necessary to change your dog’s diet, introduce the new food over several days to prevent gastrointestinal upsets. Add a small amount of the new food to your dog’s current food currently and increase the proportion of new food each day.

Feeding Practices to Avoid

Although your dog may enjoy sharing your meals and snacks with you, some human foods and feeding practices are not safe for dogs! Here are a few tips for healthy feeding practices:

• Avoid feeding table scraps to your dog. Most of the scraps that owners provide (and that dogs enjoy) are not nutritionally complete and can contribute to nutrient imbalances or obesity. If you enjoy giving occasional tidbits to your dog, limit these to less than 5 percent of your dog’s daily food intake.
• Do not feed raw eggs or raw meats to your dog. Raw eggs can cause nutrient imbalances and raw meat may transmit certain types of food-borne illness.
• Dairy products – Adult dogs have a limited ability to digest lactose, the primary form of sugar that is found in dairy products. Feeding large amounts of milk or other dairy foods can result in gastrointestinal upsets and diarrhea.
• Chocolate – Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound that is toxic to dogs when consumed in large quantities. Avoid feeding chocolate treats to your dog and keep all chocolate out of your dog’s reach to prevent accidental ingestion.
• Onion and Garlic – The consumption of large amounts of onion or garlic is toxic to dogs and can cause a loss of red blood cells and anemia. Many dogs love the taste of garlic and onion, so avoid feeding foods with large amounts of these foods and keep garlic and onions used for cooking safely out of your dog’s reach.
• Other foods that may be toxic – There are reports of toxicity in dogs who have been fed macadamia nuts, grapes, raisins and avocados. Because the causative agents and the amounts of these foods that cause toxicity are not known, it is best to avoid feeding these foods to dogs.
• Supplementation – When a nutritionally complete and balanced dog food is fed, nutritional supplements are not necessary and can pose the risk of imbalancing your dog’s diet.


Today, more than one-third of American homes with dogs include two or more dogs. Understanding dogs’ normal eating behaviors help owners to provide a comfortable feeding environment in which each dog can consume meals peaceably and without competition.

• Dogs originally evolved as pack-hunting predators, working cooperatively to chase and kill large prey species. Because of this “social eating” history, most dogs naturally compete over access to food, will increase their rate of eating in the presence of other dogs, and tend to guard food from other dogs during mealtimes.
• The best feeding regimen for multiple-dog homes is portion-controlled meal feeding. Each dog’s meal should be a pre-measured volume of food that can be consumed within several minutes. Mealtime manners should be taught to each dog, including a sit-stay prior to being fed and not allowing dogs to redirect their excitement to other dogs (i.e. no nipping or barking).
• When two or more dogs are fed at the same time and in the same room, each dog should be trained to eat from his or her own bowl and should not be allowed to approach another dog’s bowl until all of the dogs have finished eating.
• Some dogs still tend to guard their food bowl even after they have finished eating and the bowl is empty. If this occurs, pick up all bowls as soon as each dog has finished and do not allow dogs to investigate one another’s bowls.
• Another approach to managing mealtime with multiple dogs is to simply feed dogs in separate rooms or in different areas of the house. When using this method, feed the same dog in the same area every day and do not allow dogs to reconvene until they have all finished eating.
• If food guarding behaviors develop or escalate to aggression between dogs (or toward human members of your family), seek the advice of a professional trainer or behaviorist.

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