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The Right Diet for Your Dog

Here are some ways to tell if your dog is getting the right diet.

  • Shiny coat and skin
  • Good energy level
  • Keeps an appropriate weight
  • Has a solid stool about two to three times a day
  • Good breath
  • Clear eyes

"You need to consult with your vet to change your pet's diet," Farcas says, "if your pet has a medical condition, if your vet indicates that your pet should gain or lose weight, if your pet needs to eat significantly more or less of a diet than the package recommends, or if you are not sure if your pet's current diet is appropriate."

How can you tell if your dog's the right weight? Peterson says you should be able to feel your dog's ribs when running your hands along his side. You shouldn't need to press really hard to feel them. Also, looking at your dog's spine from above, you should see an indentation or waistline at the loin (area past the rib cage and before the hips).

Your Dog's Age and Nutrition

Dog food companies offer options for dogs from puppy to senior. Puppies need a lot of energy to grow. In the senior years, your dog's metabolism slows down and he's less active. An older dog needs fewer calories and less fat, Peterson says.

When Peterson feeds her two Norwegian elkhounds (medium-sized Nordic hunting dogs), she carefully measures the amount of food at each feeding. Adding more means extra calories, which could lead to weight gain. She cuts back if she has given treats to make sure that the number of calories they get per day stays the same.

Peterson picks food to meet nutritional needs based on age. For example, one dog is on a senior formula.

As your dog ages, it's important to tell your vet about any health problems your dog has. The right kind of food may help prevent some conditions, such as orthopaedic disease in large breeds.

As your dog becomes middle-aged or older, specific diets may help with health problems such as kidney disease or urinary tract stones, Murray says.

"The best advice," she says, "is for each dog owner to consult with their veterinarian regarding their own dog. There are no hard-and-fast rules that apply to every dog, since each dog's situation is so individual."