Welfare of dogs: the need for a suitable diet

A dog needs a well-balanced diet to stay fit and healthy. Some dogs, such as those that are pregnant or nursing puppies, have special dietary needs.

Drinking water for dogs

Dogs need fresh drinking water at all times. Without water to drink a dog will become dehydrated. Water should never be withheld except on the recommendation of a vet.

Nutritional needs of dogs

Meals designed for people may not provide dogs with the balanced nutrition they need and some foods commonly found in the home, such as grapes and raisins, chocolate or onions, can be harmful or even fatal to dogs.

An individual dog’s nutritional needs depend on its:

  • size
  • age
  • sex
  • activity
  • the type of food it eats
  • its state of health
  • whether it has been neutered

Special dietary needs for dogs

Diets designed for adult dogs are not always suitable for growing animals and puppies, and growing dogs need a diet that provides adequately for growth. Other dogs may have special dietary needs, for example old dogs, working dogs and those with poor health.

Most dogs need at least one meal a day but it may be preferable to divide this into two amounts provided at different times. How much an adult dog needs to eat depends on the type of food, its body weight and how active it is. A healthy adult dog should have a stable weight based on its age, sex, breed and level of activity.

Weight of dogs

Dogs should be neither too thin nor too fat. Overfeeding a dog will lead to its becoming overweight, which can lead to health problems. Underfeeding a dog will cause it to lose weight and suffer.

Dogs can suffer from digestive problems if their diet is changed suddenly. Strenuous exercise shortly before, or after, food can also be harmful.

What you should and should not do to make sure your dog's diet is healthy -

You should:

  • provide your dog with clean fresh drinking water at all times - if necessary carry water, in a suitable container, with you when clean water is unlikely to be available
  • make sure your dog can reach food and water easily in all situations
  • make sure your dog eats a balanced diet suitable for its individual needs and maintains a stable weight that is neither over nor underweight for its size, age, level of activity, sex, breed and state of health
  • be aware that any change in the amount your dog eats or drinks may be a sign of ill health
  • read, and be guided by, the feeding instructions on any dog foods you buy - note that some dog foods contain additives, colourants or soya which can cause allergies or other ailments
  • provide all dogs (including puppies) that have special needs with diets that meet their individual requirements
  • seek advice on feeding your dog from a vet, a suitably qualified dog care specialist, or other reliable source if you are uncertain what to do
  • feed your adult dog at least once each day, unless your vet gives you different advise
  • allow your dog to eat its meals without being disturbed

You should not:

  • let your dog overeat or it will become obese, and do not feed too little or your dog will be underweight
  • change your dog’s diet suddenly - changes should be made gradually over several days
  • feed your dog shortly before, or after, strenuous exercise

Places to walk your dog

If your dog fouls in a public place, you should clean up the mess. Find out more:

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