The Beginner's Guide On How To Feed Your Dog

What’s in a dog’s diet? Kibble, canned, or something else? How do I pick a quality brand? How often and how much to feed? We explore how to feed your dog in detail.

December 7th, 2018

Before getting Yuna, I had no clue how to feed your dog.

A dog in a Mickey bandana with her tongue out.
Hey human! Do you know how to properly feed your dog? *smickity smack*

How much? How often? And what kind of dog food? I didn’t even know what kibble was.

If this is you, or if you’re looking for answers to some of your questions on how to feed your dog, you’ve come to the right place.

Taking a few moments to optimally select the most nutritious food for your dog and executing a consistent feeding schedule could potentially add years to their life.

This post aims to be the most comprehensive guide on how to feed your dog. Regardless of how much prior experience you have with dog care and dog food, this guide will be a handy reference for you.

Read on to learn how to properly feed your dog a healthy diet and keep his tail wagging throughout the entire process!

First Off – What Are The Essentials In a Dog’s Diet?

I’ve found that people like to jump straight into deciding on a food without first considering what kinds of nutrition your dog needs to stay healthy.

Let’s slow down a bit. Part of learning how to feed your dog is to first get an idea of what your dog needs to function properly.

Obviously, dogs differ wildly in size and breed, so there is no definitive answer that holds true for all dogs.

This article that I found gave a good attempt at one though. It contains nutritional guidelines as well as percentages which I will not regurgitate here. You should check it out to feel for the percent daily values, but keep in mind it is not a one size fits all solution.

I’ll focus on the high level essential components that make up pretty much every dog’s nutritional needs. When considering what and how to feed, make sure that the diet and schedule you choose for your dog contains all of the following (included links to GREAT sources that I used for this list at the end):

Protein

Did you know that when given the choice, dogs naturally seek out foods with high-protein? Proteins are the basic building blocks for cells, tissues, organs, and other biologically active compounds.

There are 20 amino acids that form proteins. Humans and dogs alike produce around half of them naturally, but the other “essential amino acids” need to be supplied through food intake.

Dogs can acquire these essential amino acids through animal-based meats, which are a key ingredient in most commercial brands of kibble and canned food.

Fats

Fats contain a large amount of concentrated energy, about twice the energy of proteins or carbohydrates. They deliver fatty acids that the body can’t produce on its own.

Different fatty acids play multiple roles in your dog’s body. Many are responsible for maintaining a healthy coat, and maintaining good vision. Internally, they absorb certain fat-soluble vitamins and protect various organs.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are not as essential in dogs as they are in humans, since dogs can obtain all necessary energy from protein and fat. For this reason, sources say there is generally no minimum carbohydrate requirement for dogs.

However, this is slightly misleading because carbohydrates are still a key component of a dog’s diet.

The digestive system breaks carbs down into glucose. This glucose is required for critical organs such as the brain to function properly.

Carbs can be found in most commercial brands of dog food in the form of vegetables, fruits, or rice etc.

Vitamins

Vitamins play a role in metabolic processes in your dog’s body. They are essential, but only required in small amounts. 

Each vitamin has different specific functions. You usually shouldn’t accompany your dog’s diet with an extra vitamin supplement, unless your vet notes a particular vitamin deficiency.

Minerals

Again, there are multiple minerals each with its own functions. This source does well to list them all.

The key ones are Calcium and Phosphorus to support all your dog’s bones and all the chewing your dog does with his teeth.

As with vitamins, do not purposely add a mineral supplement to your dog’s diet unless approved by a professional. Too much of a particular mineral can be harmful for your dog.

Water

Be sure you provide fresh water to your dog available at all times, especially if you choose a dry kibble food. Most dogs are good at self-regulating their water intake, barring a specific medical condition.

Dog nutrition tips

EXTREMELY useful Dog Nutrition Tips PDF

Canine Nutrition Basics

These six key components should be present in any diet you choose for your dog.

Credit to Cesar's Way - https://www.cesarsway.com/dog-care/food-and-treats/Why-dogs-eat-and-eat-and-eat

The Basics – WHAT To Feed Your Dog (Dry Kibble vs. Wet Food vs. Others)

Now that we know the basic building blocks of your dog’s diet, let’s actually decide on what type of food to feed your dog.

This is one of the first considerations you have to make when welcoming a new dog home.

If you are rescuing a dog, your job might be pretty easy. Just ask the rescue how to feed your new rescued dog. This includes what foods and supplements they’re currently on.

(Note that switching your dog’s food too abruptly can cause them to have diarrhea.)

We’ll need to do some work if you’re bringing home a new puppy, since you may need to drive the transition between different types of food. Or maybe you’re just not sure what food your new dog was previously on.

Anyway, the first step is to pick a food. Usually, this boils down to the classic debate of dry kibble vs wet dog food.

This, along with many other nuances of dog ownership, is a longstanding debate with no clear winner.

There are a wealth of resources out there that will fight dogmatically for either side. Some extreme cases will contend that one way is the only right way on how to feed your dog. I will just synthesize the arguments and summarize them here so you can make a quick decision.

The Dry Kibble Argument – Pros & Cons

First of all, what is kibble? I did not know what it was starting out.

How to feed your dog - A bowl of kibble
Credit to atpeacewithpink.blogspot.com

The first kibble was invented back in the 1860s, but it did not gain traction as a staple dog food until late in the 20th century and beyond.

Essentially, you get kibble from mixing food ingredients, grounding them up, and mixing them into a paste. You then put that paste through a cooking process known as extrusion. The paste is fed through an expander, a machine that uses pressurized steam to cook the paste.

The high pressure forces the paste to extrude through various holes where it is cut off into kibble shapes. After drying these chunks of paste, this becomes the final kibble product.

The “food ingredients” that go into this kibble include real animal meat, fat, and grains—covering three main components of your dog’s nutritional needs.

Pro – The Convenience & Shelf Life of Kibble

Kibble rose into popularity because of its convenience. Unlike wet food, which can go bad easily if left exposed to the air for a while, dry food takes much longer to rot.

In addition, many pet owners can place kibble into their own separate containers for ease of storage.

Kibble is less messy than wet foods, and easier to clean if your dog makes a slight mess while eating.

Pro – The Uniformity of Kibble

Because kibble is so uniform, you can pretty much guarantee very similar nutritional values just by properly portioning each meal. Just grab a measuring cup and you’re good to go.

Wet canned food composed of many ingredients may be harder to portion. Since each spoonful may contain different proportions of the food, each serving may be different.

In addition, most canned foods are coated with gravy which usually sinks to the bottom of the can, so the degree of moisture in each meal will not be uniform.

Pro – Kibble Allows Dogs To Chew

Many brands of kibble nowadays like to advertise that they are specially formulated and shaped to clean the teeth as your dog chews on the food. Wet dog food is much more likely to require more teeth brushing and dental care.

(Note that dry food doesn’t necessarily have these benefits—it can cause tartar buildup just like any other food)

If you have a puppy, kibble is heaven for his teething.

All dogs in general experience gratification while chewing—it’s why they love doing it so much. Hard dry kibble gives their teeth a workout.

Pro – The Cost-Effectiveness of Kibble

Kibble is the clear choice if you’re on a budget. Kibble costs significantly less per serving than most canned dog foods.

In fact, it’s likely even cheaper than if you home-prepared all of your dogs meals.

Con – The Blandness of Kibble

If you’ve ever tried some of your dog’s kibble (and yes… I have), you’ll know that kibble is incredibly bland.

This is not exactly a bad thing, since dogs are not used to and should not eat foods high in sodium or sugar—their bodies don’t take them the same way we can. (Don’t feed your dog dinner scraps!)

However, considering that we humans have some 9,000 taste buds compared to dogs’ 1,700, we may be torturing them a little bit with the blandness. Wet food is definitely more aromatic and tasteful than kibble.

A dog reaching out to sniff the air.
Can you smell the aroma?

Some dogs ultimately end up getting bored of eating the same kibble every day. I’ll have an article out soon providing tips on how to satisfy a picky eater or a dog that easily gets bored.

Con – The High(er) Grain Content of Kibble

The high grain content of kibble and whether it belongs in a dog’s diet is perhaps one of the biggest arguments against kibble by canned food advocates.

According to this site, kibble generally contains a higher proportion of grains than in comparable wet canned foods.

The comments have expressed doubt at the statistics presented there, but other sources corroborate this with the fact that kibble requires a higher concentration of carbohydrates (and lower amounts of fat) in order to maintain its shape. This could be a more serious consideration if you have a very active breed.

Proteins and fats are the two most important nutritional elements for dogs. The lower amounts of these are one primary reason why kibble is cheaper than wet food. It’s a tradeoff you must consider.

Con – Kibble Can Contain Artificial Ingredients

Kibble often contains artificial flavors or coloring to enhance flavor.

Other artificial preservatives may be present in certain brands of kibble. It’s advisable that you stay away from these brands—do your research into the nutrition facts and ingredients before selecting a brand of kibble.

Summary of Dry Kibble

For dry kibble, here’s a summary in one handy little list:

Pros:

  • Convenient
  • Easier storage
  • Uniform
  • Allows chewing
  • Possible dental benefits
  • Cost-effective

Cons:

  • Bland
  • Higher Grain Content
  • Lower Protein, Fat Content
  • Artificial Ingredients

The Wet Food Argument – Pros & Cons

Now let’s take a closer look at wet food. Before kibble became popular, wet canned food was all the rage. It continues to be the staple food for many dogs today.

How to feed your dog - wet food
Credit to dogfoodaid.com -- Cesar's Wet Food

Pro – Wet Dog Food Is More Aromatic And Tasty

Wet canned food fills up the taste void that dry kibble left behind. Open up a can and you should immediately experience new smells—some are even quite pleasant if I might say so myself (I’ve mentioned that I tried kibble but I have never tried wet dog food).

The ingredients in wet dog food tend to be less processed than those in kibble, and this makes the food more appetizing overall.

Some wet canned foods are even coated with gravy to satisfy your dog’s taste buds.

Pro – The High(er) Protein & Fat Content

Usually, it’s pretty clear right upon looking at a can of wet dog food that meat is a key ingredient. It’s a little more of a mystery when it comes to kibble—you’re not so sure what went into that pellet until you read the nutrition label. And even then, you may doubt the contents.

As mentioned in the “Con – The High(er) Grain Content of Kibble” section above, this is the main point of debate between dry food and wet food advocates.

Most brands of wet dog food do boast higher concentrations of protein and fat, and much lower grains and carbohydrates, if any at all. Just be sure that the brand you choose lists a specified meat source as the very first ingredient in the food.

Pro – Additional Water Content in Wet Food

Obviously, wet food contains higher water content than kibble—about 75% to be exact (compared to 10% water in kibble).

This is a great advantage if you think your dog does not drink enough water during the day. Wet food is an alternate way to quench your pup’s thirst.

Pro – Satiety

Satiety is the feeling of being full. Because wet food contains higher liquid content, to your pup it can feel like they’re filling up quicker.

Some pups just need to knock off a few pounds. Feeding your dog wet food can be a good way to start.

If only real weight loss were that easy. Dogs can get more tasty food and lose weight at the same time? What a life…

Pro – A Solution For Dogs Who Have Trouble Chewing

Even dogs who don’t have the strongest teeth can get all their nutrients happily through wet dog food.

Some smaller breed dogs with smaller mouths and teeth can also have trouble biting through hard, dry kibble. Indeed, it does seem like in general that smaller dogs have a more joyful time when consuming wet food.

Con – The Cost of Wet Food

You’re going to be spending more per serving of wet food as opposed to kibble—a lot more.

This article suggests that a complete wet food diet costs around $7/day, compared to just $1/day for kibble for a 60 pound dog. There’s a huge difference there!

Con – The Inconvenience of Wet Food

How you feed your dog is a little tricker with wet food since it is harder to store—you can’t just open it all up at once and dump it into a container. It will lose its freshness.

Once you open a can, it needs to be refrigerated and then immediately consumed the next meal if unfinished. You shouldn’t keep it in there for longer amounts of time.

This is also more annoying whenever you need to portion out your cans—for example, if a dog needs to eat 1.2 cans of food per meal, it’ll be measure out that number each time.

Con – Wet Food Can Make A Mess

Dogs could potentially get wet food all smeared up in the fur around their mouth. They could also make a mess around the floor while eating it.

It’ll be more of a nuisance to clean up. Hope you don’t have carpet!

Con – Missed Opportunities to Chew And Other Dental Problems

Dogs won’t get to satisfy their desire to chew with soft food. It can be a plus for dogs without strong teeth, but for many teething puppies, they may need the extra outlet.

Wet food could also cause more tartar buildup and provides less dental benefits than dry food has. Now, there are sources out there debunking the myth surrounding dry food and cleaner teeth.

Just be sure to watch their dental health no matter which type of food you choose.

Summary of Wet Canned Food

For wet canned food, here’s a summary in one handy little list:

Pros:

  • More tasty
  • Generally more protein and fat content
  • More moisture
  • Dogs feel full faster
  • Lenient on dog’s teeth

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Relatively inconvenient
  • Can get messy
  • Softer—not as much chewing activity
  • Possible more tartar buildup in teeth

“I don’t want to feed my dog either of these.” Other Types Foods And Feeding Methods

Most likely you’re going to pick either dry kibble or wet canned food, but it’s worth it to briefly go over some of the other popular options out there.

Be sure to consider them because every dog is unique and has differing needs.

A dog in a Mickey bandana posing in front of the Seattle Space Needle.
Truth: Every dog is unique.

I’d seek the guidance from a professional before deciding to go all out with one of the following options, simply because they are less mainstream and need be tailored to your dog’s specific needs.

Semi-Moist

Semi-moist food is a third option that decorates dogs food shelves. It is less known to dog owners but still exists as a good intermediate option between the two extremes of dry food and canned food.

How to feed your dog - Semi Moist Food
Credit to Eden's Semi-Moist Dog Food - edenpetfoods.com

Semi-moist started to become a very popular option for cats and dogs alike starting in 1973, as this New York Times Article states. Apparently, it held 17% of the market back then. Many of the companies that produced these foods no longer exist, and semi-moist foods have also gone through multiple transformations since then.

Today, semi-moist food is approximately a 2.65 billion dollar global industry. This is less than 4% of today’s dog food market, which is around 70 billion dollars globally.

While it’s much less popular now, 4% is a significant chunk, so it has not fallen completely out of favor. In fact, if you’re a dog parent torn between the benefits of dry food and wet food, you may choose to look into semi-moist.

How Does Moisture Content Compare?

Most current semi-moist foods contain around a 60% water content.

Semi-moist contains less moisture than wet food. You can preserve them more easily than wet food, and it does not go bad as easily after being opened. Yet, it still retains the softness of wet food with additional chewiness for dogs that enjoy putting their teeth to work.

Many sources advise dog owners to take note of the larger amounts of sugar and salt content in semi-moist food. This enhances the flavor of the food, but is not appropriate for all dogs.

Semi-moist foods can be just as healthy and just as nutritious as kibble or canned. Here’s a quick list of pros and cons for semi-moist foods:

Pros:

  • Tasty—most dogs find semi-moist more palatable than kibble
  • More moisture than kibble
  • Relatively convenient to open and store
  • Good middle-ground between softness and chewiness
  • Generally less expensive than canned
  • Not as messy as canned

Cons:

  • Extra sugar and salt may not suit all dogs
  • Contains more artificial colors and preservatives
  • More expensive than kibble

Side Note: Mixing Dry And Wet

Then there is the option of mixing dry and wet food, in order to enhance the flavor of kibble or soften it a bit for dogs that have trouble chewing. It’s sort of a DIY moist food, with a kibble base.

In most cases, you’ll only need a spoonful or two of wet food per meal if you do this, so it still is cost effective.

This is a great way to satisfy a picky eater. It also adds lots of moisture to the meal and offers a combination of the benefits of both types of food.

I’ll be honest—I’ve tried this many times myself, and the result looks anything but pleasing… but Yuna does go crazy for it every once in a while.

Home-Cooked

You may think, after taking a trip to the pet store, that you want no part of these bags and cans and artificial preservatives and weighing the pros and cons.

You also dislike how so many dry and wet foods alike get recalled every year.

To get around these issues, you could choose a home-cooked diet for your dog. It is much more time-consuming and potentially requires a lot of research and planning, but the benefits are endless.

How to feed your dog - raw ingredients
Credit to Whole Dog Journal - whole-dog-journal.com

I won’t get into details of this here because this article would get way too long, but a future article about this is on the cards. For now, this link provides excellent guidelines about this choice.

Before deciding on this, you’d best consult with a professional. The six essential components to dog nutrition outlined at the beginning of the article are must haves in the diet you design, but specific portions and food groups should be discussed with a professional.

Raw Diet, or BARF

Actually, I didn’t even know that some dogs were on a raw food diet. It’s even funnier that the raw diet is also called BARF, short for Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods.

How to feed your dog - Raw (BARF) Diet
Uhh, that actually looks really darn amazing? Credit to primalpooch.com

Like with the home-cooked diet, I won’t get into details here. This article provides an excellent guideline about this choice.

Do note that this type of diet is more controversial than the others. Raw foods can contain salmonella, E-coli, and other dangerous pathogens. These harmful bacteria can spread in the house if your dog ever has an accident inside. Safety is definitely an issue, and you’ll have to make sure you’ve got the freshest ingredients.

However, dogs are meat-eaters after all. Giving them the meat they so desire in their most raw form is sure to wag their tails. You just need to do your research and be more careful with your ingredients. And again, consult with a professional.

Final Verdict on Choosing A Food

So we’ve gone over the main differences, benefits, and drawbacks of kibble and canned food, and briefly looked at three other options.

Weigh the pros and cons for each and make the most educated decision you can.

Portrait of a dog with a Disney Pluto critic bandana on.
Or be like Yuna and think everything is delicious.

How And What To Feed Your Dog – Other Miscellaneous Considerations

  • What is the activity level of your dog? If you’ve got a high-energy breed, you may want to find a good wet food with a higher fat content to supply all that extra activity.
  • Do you have a very small breed dog? Kibble can actually be a choking hazard for small dogs as it can get caught up in their smaller esophagus.
  • Do you have a very large breed dog? You’ll be surprised how much they can and need to eat. The whole cost discussion matters exponentially more the larger your dog is.
  • Do you live in a very arid, hot climate? Wet food could be more practical to maintain water levels in your dog.
  • Does your dog have a more sensitive stomach? Unfortunately, you’ll have to think more about how to feed your dog. Breeds like Schnauzers can develop fat intolerance problems in their adulthood, and wet food only exacerbates such problems, leading to possible pancreatitis and other conditions.
  • Does your dog have a weaker nose or sense of smell? If so, the extra aroma of wet food could better satisfy your dog’s appetite.

Remember, you don’t have to make too big of a deal making sure your selection is the most “correct” for your dog.

You can always change your dog’s food in the future if they don’t like their current food, or the food just isn’t suitable for their current needs.

How To Feed Your Dog Starts With Reading An Ingredient List and Label

Regardless of whether you choose kibble or wet food, you have to learn how to read an ingredient list to pick the best bag to feed your dog. For a complete beginner, here are some of the key things you need to know.

The most important concept

An ingredient list is required to display all ingredients in decreasing amounts (by weight) used in the product.

This means that the first few ingredients must be high quality and ideally contain loads of protein. The first ingredient especially should ALWAYS be some kind of meat. If you see some grain or vegetable taking the pole position, that should set off some alarm bells.

Dog Food Jargon

You may notice a couple of word “decorators” that are added on to a type of meat. There are usually three main types you will see:

  • “Meat” is defined as the muscle tissue or fat of an animal, and does not include any bones. Essentially, this is identical to a cut of raw meat you might buy for human consumption. High in protein, highly delicious.
  • “Meat by-products” are essentially most parts of the animal that aren’t “Meat,” for example lungs, spleen, hearts, bones, liver, blood, etc. Most of these are not too scrumptious for us humans (some aren’t even edible), but they are still highly nutritious for our furry friends.
  • “Meat meal” is defined as the rendered product from mammal tissues. The rendering process destroys harmful bacterias and is very palatable to carnivores like dogs, and retains a high protein content.

“Meat” and “Meat by-products” must be identified by a species—for example, beef. If left unidentified, it must come from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats.

“Meat meal” may be from mammals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats and could be left unspecified.

A Note On Those Obscure Ingredients

You may also come across a load of jargon on an ingredient list, most of them chemical names. I don’t have the background to explain what these are either, and I think I’m doing fine with my dog food selections, so don’t freak out about them. Google is handy if you’re very curious—most of these chemicals fall near the end of the list anyway so they are only very minor ingredients.

Don’t miss the forest for the trees—read the product name and associated labels.

More Dog Food Jargon

The term “beef” means that beef must make up at least 70% of the entire product, including water content (not including water content, it should be around 95%). This is true of all pure meats mentioned.

If the word “dinner” is appended—i.e. “beef dinner,” this is wildly different! “Beef dinner” is only required to have 10% of the protein including water content (not including, around 25%).

Now, if the label says “with beef,” then only 3% of the total product must be beef.

Think that was a load of jargon? The good news is now you’re well equipped. Let’s dive into some specific examples so we can make the most educated purchases once we hit the store.

How To Select a Kibble to Feed Your Dog (Key Things To Look For) with Real-Life Examples

Now let’s suppose you choose kibble. There are dozens of brands out there to choose from. How would you go about selecting one to feed your dog?Ho

A dog at the beach looking off to the side.
Choices choices choices to make! Ugh..

Obviously, you want the best bang for your buck—this comes in the form of superior ingredients.

Let’s walk though the ingredient list and nutrition facts for a couple dry foods out there and analyze them for practice.

Merrick Grain Free (Dry)

A quick look at the label reveals the words “Real Duck,” indicating that it must make up at least 70% of the entire product. The label reassures us that 70% of the kibble contains protein and other healthy fat ingredients. A good sign so far.

List Of Ingredients

Here’s a list of the ingredients: Deboned duck, turkey meal, salmon meal (source of omega 3 fatty acids), sweet potatoes, peas, potatoes, deboned chicken, natural flavor, lamb meal, potato protein, duck fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), apples, blueberries, organic alfalfa, salmon oil, salt, minerals (zinc amino acid complex, zinc sulfate, iron amino acid complex, manganese amino acid complex, copper amino acid complex, potassium iodide, cobalt amino acid complex, sodium selenite), vitamins (vitamin E supplement, vitamin A supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin D3 supplement, niacin, riboflavin supplement, biotin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid, thiamine mononitrate), choline chloride, Yucca schidigera extract, dried Lactobacillus plantarum fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus casei fermentation product, dried Enterococcus faecium fermentation product, dried Lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, rosemary extract.

Ingredient Quick Analysis

Usually, you’ll only have to look at the top 5 (maybe 6 or 7) ingredients to get an idea of what’s going into your dog’s stomach.

The first ingredient we see is deboned duck—a quality pure meat. This is the benchmark of a solid dry kibble.

The second ingredient is turkey meal—another high quality ingredient packed with protein.

The third ingredient is salmon meal—same as above, but with some more fat content.

The fourth ingredient is sweet potatoes. This is a main source of carbohydrates for dogs, but usually potatoes and sweet potatoes only contain medium nutritional value for dogs—they are there to keep the kibble’s shape and provide caloric content.

The fifth ingredient is peas. They add on to carbohydrates and also contain a lot of fiber, which can prevent diarrhea or constipation.

The first five ingredients are high quality and contains a pretty good balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

Scanning a few more items down the list, we see chicken, lamb meal, duck fat, and a couple fruits. Ultimately this reveals that the kibble is mostly meat-based, and is a high quality dog food. A more detailed analysis can of this food can be found here.

What about a kibble that is not as high quality?

Diamond Maintenance Dry Dog Food

The label doesn’t tell us much. This dog food is for moderately active dogs, so we can expect that it doesn’t contain as high of a protein or fat content, which can be okay for less springy dogs. However, let’s also look at the ingredients.

List Of Ingredients

Here’s the list of ingredients: Chicken by-product meal, wheat flour, whole grain ground corn, rice bran, dried beet pulp, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), millet, ground white rice, fish meal, egg product, flaxseed, natural chicken flavor, potassium chloride, salt, choline chloride, vitamin E supplement, iron proteinate, zinc proteinate, copper proteinate, ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, potassium iodide, thiamine mononitrate, manganese proteinate, manganous oxide, ascorbic acid, vitamin A supplement, biotin, niacin, calcium pantothenate, manganese sulfate, sodium selenite, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), vitamin B12 supplement, riboflavin, vitamin D supplement, folic acid.

Ingredients Quick Analysis

The first ingredient is chicken by-product meal, which essentially means a rendered version of all parts of the chicken excluding the meat. Perhaps all the popular cuts were reserved for human consumption. It is still high in protein, but we’d prefer a real meat here.

The second ingredient is wheat flour—a grain. It’s mostly just a filler in dog food, and certainly has no place being the second ingredient on the list.

The third ingredient is whole grain ground corn—another grain.

The fourth ingredient is rice bran, a byproduct of milling refined grains. It contains high levels of carbohydrates and proteins, and is overall a healthy ingredient for dogs.

The fifth ingredient is dried beet pulp. It’s controversial to say the least.

The first five ingredients leave much to be desired. A full analysis on this food can be found here.

The lesson is, do your homework and really scrutinize the top ingredients in the foods you pick. You’re now a label and ingredient list reading expert! These are all the practical skills you need to figure out how to pick a bag of dry food from the store to feed your dog.

How To Select a Wet Canned Food to Feed Your Dog (Key Things To Look For) with A Real-Life Example

Now let’s say you pick a canned food instead. The exercise is very similar to dry dog food—read the label and the ingredients. We’ll walk through one very high quality canned food for completeness.

Taste of the Wild – Southwest Canyon Canine Canned Dog Food

The label says “Beef in Gravy,” which sounds pretty awesome even to us humans. This product must be at least 70% beef, so let’s see if the ingredients support that.

List Of Ingredients

Here’s the list of ingredients: Beef, beef broth, vegetable broth, beef liver, dried egg product, peas, potato starch, lamb, wild boar, chickpea flour, guar gum, tricalcium phosphate, natural flavor, sunflower oil, sodium phosphate, salt, potassium chloride, inulin, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, blueberries, raspberries, flaxseed oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), choline chloride, Yucca schidigera extract, fish oil (preserved with mixed tocopherols), zinc amino acid chelate, iron amino acid chelate, vitamin E supplement, copper amino acid chelate, manganese amino acid chelate, sodium selenite, thiamine mononitrate, cobalt amino acid chelate, niacin supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin A supplement, riboflavin supplement, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement, potassium iodide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin D3 supplement, folic acid, rosemary extract.

Ingredient Quick Analysis

The first ingredient is beef—a meat. This is exactly what we wanted to see.

The second ingredient is beef broth. Broths are very common to see in wet foods because they comprise so much moisture. By themselves, broths don’t offer much nutritional value but they usually hit the top of canned foods ingredient lists just because of the water content.

The third ingredient is vegetable broth—similar to above.

The fourth ingredient is beef liver—a high protein ingredient.

The fifth ingredient is dried egg product—another healthy ingredient. Eggs are a highly nutritional addition to a dog’s diet.

The next few ingredients include lamb, and wild boar—great additional sources of protein and real meat. Peas contain loads of fiber, and potato starch contains some carbs, despite being a bit lacking in nutritional value.

All in all, this is a wonderful choice of canned food for your dog—it’s almost overflowing with protein. A full analysis of this food can be found here.

How To Feed Your Dog – Scheduling: Portioning and Frequency

Once you’ve actually picked out a food, you may be like me and wonder how you’re supposed to portion out a meal.

And then I read the label and noticed it was written on there. Silly me, I’ll just follow that. Or should I?

Well, Yuna was already two and a half years old when I adopted her, so her eating schedule was pretty easy to fix up—twice a day to feed the amount posted on the food label.

Yeah hooman, it's easy!

But you have a different dog on your hands. Should you always follow the guidelines on the packaging? There are definitely other nuances to consider, especially if you’ve got a young puppy on your hands.

We’ll take a look into scheduling your dog meals—how often you should feed and how to portion it all out.

It makes the most sense to divide these sections by age.

Eight Weeks to Twelve Weeks (Three Months Old)

Most dogs go from breeder to owner at around 8 weeks of age. This is when the puppy should already have transitioned from her mother’s milk to being able to eat puppy food.

As this link suggests, you might not even need to have a feeding schedule dedicated for this time period, because many dogs can regulate their own food intake.

However, personally I think it’s never too early to begin enforcing a schedule for your dog. If you just leave food out like you leave a water bowl, your dog may begin to associate that food is always free for the taking.

The general recommendation for young puppies is that they are fed four times a day during this stage. Whatever portion is shown on the label for your dog food, divide that by four and serve one portion in regular intervals throughout the day.

It’s critical that you give your dog enough food at this young age. During this time frame, underfeeding is worse than overfeeding (though obviously you should aim for just right). You should be getting your puppy out for walks every three hours anyway during this time so your dog gets to walk off all those calories (you do too).

Four Months Old to Six Months Old

During this time, you should begin to lower the number of meal times but increase the amount per meal. The general recommendation is to change the number of meals to three, and to serve one-third of the suggested label amount each meal.

This is when chubby puppies begin to develop more mature bodies. Many breeds experience super rapid growth during this stage and lose their baby look entirely.

A very small puppy peeking out of a cup.
Credit to Pexels - Pixabay

Six Months Old to One Year Old and Beyond

Many dogs are now able to transition entirely to regular dog food away from puppy food. Usually, puppy food is higher in calories and you’ll want to pick a quality adult dog food that is high in protein content as discussed above.

So although you think you’ve still got a cute little puppy on your hands, in the food realm he’s already fit for the big adult bags!

Dogs during this period should transition to eating twice a day, with half the suggested label amount served each meal.

You should continue this feeding schedule each day for the rest of your dogs life!

Listen To Your Dog, NOT The Label.

This is another reminder that these are only GENERAL guidelines. How to most optimally feed your dog depends greatly on a variety of factors specific to them. 

Your dog is the one who will let you know when something’s wrong with his feeding schedule, so pay close attention to their eating habits, especially during the first few months of bringing your dog home.

Most importantly, if you notice your pup is overeating or never finishing his meals, adjust them accordingly.

If you suspect that you feed your dog too much, this handy little infographic describes how to gauge your dog’s weight based on figure.

Infographic of how to tell if your dog is overweight
Credit to PetObesityPrevention.com

Changing Your Dog’s Food

A quick note on changing your dog’s food: it’s generally accepted that you should never abruptly feed your dog a new food, unless you want to deal with diarrhea.

You should change up your dog’s food every once in a while. If you had to eat the same thing for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you get pretty bored of mealtime?

But you should change the food gradually. At least a week before you run out of your current supply, you should mix in a small serving of the new food you wish to change into your dog’s meal.

Then maybe the second day, you raise it to two spoonfuls of the new food. The third day, you add 1/4th cup. And so on until the end of week when your dog is munching happily on the new food.

It’s good to let your dog try out new foods. She’ll thank you for it!

A happy dog playing with her dog plush toy.

Conclusion

Well, that was a doozy! I hope you’re a few steps closer to figuring out how to feed your dog.

Reading this guide from A to Z should get you up to speed on making a great food choice to feed your dog, and then how to portion out meals.

Every single dog out there deserves the best nutrition you can offer. It will lay a solid foundation for your dog’s health if you get it right early, and is a primary factor in extending your dog’s overall lifetime.

Do your homework and learn as much as you can about how to better feed your dog! There have been many links shared in this post, but I urge you to read up on other sources too to be as complete as you can.

I am constantly learning, and as such I keep my posts updated with new information I find useful.

Be sure to check out Yuna’s Instagram for more daily updates and dog tips!