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    Know Your Dog's Food continued...

    Food labels often use terms like "gourmet," "natural," and "premium," Murray notes. Those words may sound appealing, but they have no standard definition when it comes to dog food -- so they tell you nothing about what's in the food.

    "They are not something to go by," Murray says.

    Your vet can be a good guide to selecting an appropriate dog food both for your dog's health and your budget. Hall often recommends the foods sold by animal clinics, but since that's not always a convenient or affordable option, she works with people to pick out a food that works for both owner and dog. Your vet can do the same.

    Would you rather make your dog's meals yourself? It's crucial that you talk to your vet first to learn how to meet your dog's nutritional needs, Hall says.

    What's Right for Your Dog?

    You have a lot of dog food choices, and you won't know whether you've made a good one until after feeding time.

    "Dogs tend to show if they are thriving on their food," Murray says. "If they look great and have firm stools, they're likely doing fine."

    Of course, if your dog develops diarrhea, vomits, or gets gassy, it's time to rethink your food choice.

    If you decide to switch your dog's food, Murray advises doing so gradually. She recommends giving your dog 75% old food mixed with 25% new food for a few days, followed by a 50-50 mix for another few days. Finally, a mix of 25% old with 75% new before retiring the old food altogether.

    "Don't make a more rapid switch unless the old food really upsets your dog," Murray says.

    When to Feed Your Dog

    If your dog is an adult, Hall and Murray recommend two feedings a day. Puppies will need to eat more often to keep up with their faster metabolism and to fuel their growth.

    This is especially true of puppies of small breeds like toy poodles and Chihuahuas, which eat small amounts and digest food quickly, Hall says.

    If you like to reward your dog with a biscuit or other snack, that's fine, says Murray, but keep in mind that small morsels of food add up throughout the day.

    She has a quick tip to avoid calorie overload: "Portion out your dog's treats at the beginning of the day, and that's it," she says. "And no greasy, fatty, unfamiliar foods. Instead, feed them what you would a toddler: something bland and cooked."