There are many things to consider when choosing food for your dog. Some important factors include age, activity level, breed type, and individual needs.
An indoor senior may do well on an adult formula but require some extra calories due to inactivity. In contrast, a very active sled dog would need significantly more protein and fat than its couch potato counterpart (and, as such, would be fed a performance or working diet). The breed of dog also plays a role; for instance, those with short snouts like Pugs and Bulldogs often have breathing difficulties which can be exacerbated by feeding them large kibble.
A breed-specific formula can help reduce the risk of your dog developing bloat. Still, no matter what type of food is fed to your dog, it's important that it doesn't swell with too much water after feeding (canine bloat), which could lead to a condition called gastric dilation volvulus.
There are many different types of diets available on the market today, some better than others. Veterinarians and canine nutritionists have a difficult job, as there is no "perfect" food that works for all dogs.
There are, however, some guidelines that you can follow to ensure that your animal companion gets the best dog food available to them.
Identify Your Puppy's Breed Type
The first thing to do is identify your puppy's breed type. This will allow you to narrow down their nutritional requirements substantially, which should make it easier for you to choose an appropriate food. You can find out more by speaking with your veterinarian or you may want to do some research on your own beforehand (please note: the breed guidelines provided below are meant as a basic guideline only).
Small Breeds – Generally Weighing Less Than 25 Pounds
Toy and Miniature Poodles, Terriers (including Boston Terriers and Jack Russells), Shih Tzu, and similar sized breeds.
Small-breed formulas provide a smaller kibble size that can be easier for small dogs to handle. They also tend to have fewer calories so as not to risk obesity in these small dogs. Small breed food is usually highly digestible, which helps reduce the formation of hairballs. It's important, however, especially with a mini poodle or terrier breeds, to work with your veterinarian on an individual basis if your dog requires special attention for bloating, diarrhea, or other digestive issues throughout its life-cycle. It's very common for toy breeds to be allergic or sensitive.
Medium Breeds – Generally Weighing 25-50 Pounds
Cocker Spaniels, Dalmations, American Eskimo Dogs, and similar-sized breeds.
Medium breed food is typically designed for the average dog of these breeds. However, some dogs of this size may need special attention for allergies or sensitivities, so it's important to work with your veterinarian if you think your particular dog may have any issues. Many medium-breed foods are also available in grain-free formulas, which can help reduce the risk of many digestive conditions common to this size range, including diabetes mellitus and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
Large Breeds – Generally Weighing 50+ Pounds
Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retriever, Boxers, and similar sized breeds.
Large breed formulas tend to be lower in calories than the other size categories for this reason; extra weight on a large dog can lead to serious health issues such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, and even diabetes mellitus (the same way it does in humans). They're also usually highly digestible and often use special kibble materials designed to improve dental health by reducing dental tartar and calculus formation. Since many of these dogs already have weight issues that could develop into major problems with their joints or bones, fat content is usually kept very low, so obesity isn't an issue either.
Working Dogs – Generally Weighing 50-100 Pounds
Australian Cattle dogs, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, and similar-sized breeds.
Working breed formulas are generally designed for high-energy dogs that work or play hard on a daily basis. They are often used by police K9 units, rescue workers, farmhands, and others who have extremely active jobs. These large dogs need significant amounts of calories to keep them going throughout the day. Working dog foods tend to minimize carbohydrates in order to limit bloating in dogs prone to this condition (such as some of the larger breeds). Fat content is usually kept low but protein levels are typically higher than in other types of food since these dogs also tend to expend more energy during their working days versus when they're at home relaxing with you.
Some dogs may have specific dietary requirements due to medical conditions.
Dogs with pancreatitis or diabetes mellitus should be eating a low-fat, low-fiber diet that is easily digestible. Dogs with this type of food are often available in both prescription and non-prescription formulas.
Cocker Spaniels, Boxers, Bulldogs and other breeds prone to bloating may need food specially designed for their digestive needs. This can also include dogs with elbow dysplasia. These diets are typically lower in fiber so they are less likely to cause intestinal issues even in these at-risk breeds.
Gastrointestinal problems such as chronic diarrhea, chronic vomiting or irritable bowel syndrome can all benefit from special dog food treatment. The most common example is when a dog has frequent loose stools. In this case, it's best to choose a food that is highly digestible and contains a limited amount of ingredients. This will improve the chance that you're dog will absorb as many nutrients from their food as possible – since they can't use them if they're not being digested!
Foods For Allergies And Sensitivities
Many dogs have allergies or sensitivities to food ingredients. Since most dogs are fed kibble all their life, they may also be allergic to proteins in the grain-based foods that are typically used in dog food. If this is the case, you'll need to find a formula that uses novel protein sources which your dog can't be exposed to through other foods (beef vs. chicken vs. lamb, etc.).
If your dog has significant gastrointestinal issues, finding a limited ingredient diet is often much easier than if they're only experiencing milder symptoms like itchy skin, flaky coat, or occasional vomiting. This type of limited ingredient diet not only reduces potential problems with ingredients that might be causing your dog's symptoms but also makes choosing a single food easier because you've already eliminated the majority of ingredients that could cause problems.
Households with multiple dogs often need to consider special dietary requirements for their canines.
Puppies and senior dogs often have very different nutritional needs than their adult counterparts, so they may require diets specially formulated for their growth stage or reduced activity levels. Even if your dog isn't actually an older member of the family, many young active dogs still benefit from increased calories and extra fat in order to support healthy growth and development.