What food should my dog eat?

Written by Louise Horton RVN
May 14, 2024

There are many types and manufacturers of dog food, which can make choosing the right food difficult. We all want to do the best we can for our dogs to keep them healthy.  

It is important to remember there is not one best food to feed. The food chosen needs to suit the individual pet as well as the resources and lifestyle of the dog and owner. A basic dog food will provide adequate nutrition for your dog. However, a more premium one may be more nutritious or more tailored to the needs of your dog's breed, size or life stage.  

As an owner it is important to consider options carefully. Then choose the one that is right for you and your dog. It can be difficult to find evidence-based information online. Your veterinarian or our veterinary team will be happy to help.

History of dog food

The domestication of the dog began at least 16,000 years ago. Traditionally they were fed on food scraps and human waste food. One of the first recorded guides to pet feeding was developed in the 14th century by the eleventh Count of Foix Count in Southwestern France. He was an avid hunter and described the care he provided for his beloved greyhounds. The book describes them being fed bran bread, some of the meat from the hunt, and if the dog was sick, goat’s milk, bean broth, chopped meat or buttered eggs.

In the Middle Ages dogs were generally still fed the same or very similar diets to their owners. Little consideration was given to their nutritional requirements an they ate what owners could spare.

In approximately 1860 a businessman called James Spratt is said to have introduced the first commercially prepared pet food in England. This was the first type of dog biscuit or kibble. It was loosely based on “ship biscuits”. These biscuits contained a mix of wheat meal, beef blood and vegetables.

When was modern day dog food invented?

Veterinary nutrition emerged as a science in the late 1800’s. It has continued to evolve ever since. We now know far more than ever before about our dogs’ nutritional requirements. This is however still evolving as a science and as more is learned things change and evolve within the pet food market.

For example. the first puppy specific food was specifically formulated in the early 1960s. Since then breed and size specific foods have evolved as we have learnt more about dogs nutritional requirements.

Why do we need commercially produced dog foods?

Most dog owners feed their dogs either dry kibble or canned wet food, or a combination of the two. Both types of food are processed and may seem less appealing to us as humans. The foods have however been carefully formulated to meet the specific dietary requirements of your dog. This ensures they have what they need to stay healthy. This can be exceedingly difficult to achieve with a diet made at home. 

How is dog food it made?

The production method of pet foods is very much dependent on the form being produced. Dog food is available as dry kibble, or wet food, either in tins, trays or pouches.  

Dry pet foods are produced when the ingredients are mixed to form a dough. This dough is then extruded and baked to form the kibble.

Canned pet food are produced by blending meat and other dry ingredients with water. This mixture can be blended to a paste or left “chunky.” Once combined it is sealed into cans. These are then heated to cook the ingredients and sterilise and seal the contents.  

Where do I source my dog food?

Dog food is now widely available, in pet shops, supermarkets and online. Some owners are happy to buy food weekly like they do with their own groceries. Others may require greater quantities and choose to have this delivered from a larger retailer. Many retailers now allow easy repeat ordering, so the food arrives on time without the owner needing to remember to place the order each time. This offers the highest level of convenience for some. Wherever you decide to buy from, it is important to consider food storage, to ensure that the food remains safe and free from pests.

What dog food should I feed?

The best food to feed your dog is one that completely meets its nutritional needs. Most commercial dog foods are formulated to meet a dog’s basic needs. However, some are more tailored and specific to life stages or breed requirements. There are also specific foods available for dogs that work or have high exercise lifestyles. All dogs are individual and have slightly different requirements or preferences, just like us as humans. Some foods will be better suited to one dog than another. 

Each manufacturer of commercial dog food will have a slightly different recipe. Commercial dog foods are highly regulated and have undergone rigorous testing by veterinary specialists, to ensure they are safe and nutritionally balanced. More expensive foods may include higher quality ingredients, or a more finely tuned mix of nutrients, but all dog foods are adequate to meet a dog’s basic nutritional needs.  

The difference is similar to the difference between own brand and premium brand foods for us. All can be nutritious, but some are more palatable and made with higher quality ingredients. 

Life Stage Nutrition

Dogs’ nutritional requirements change as they age. Puppies need higher levels of protein and more calories as they grow. Senior pets need less calories and can benefit from reduced salt and more easily digestible proteins within their diet. Life stage nutrition allows these differences to be accounted for. If possible, your dog should be fed the appropriate diet for its current life stage. Dogs not fed according to their life stage will still receive the basic nutritional requirements they require, but the food will not be as tailored to their specific life stages needs.  

Size Specific Nutrition

Likewise large breed dogs and smaller breeds have very different nutritional requirements. Puppies for instance have different length growth phases at different breed sizes. Smaller dogs reach their optimum adult size more quickly than their giant counterparts. Again, a general dog food will provide the basic nutrients required for each dog but a  dog food tailored to your dog’s size will account for these differences in the  nutritional balance and feeding guides.  

Breed Specific Nutrition

Some breeds are more likely to develop particular health conditions. For example, some breeds are more likely to become obese or have joint problems, or others maybe more likely to get a genetic condition such as diabetes or liver toxicity. Breed specific diets have been designed to have the right balance of nutrients to help.

Fashionable Foods

There are many different unusual and fashionable pet foods available, including RAW, vegetarian, vegan, or insect-based diets. Each have advantages and disadvantages, but it is important to ensure each is correctly balanced before you decide to feed it. It can be incredibly challenging to make a nutritionally balanced diet at home, even if you are following a recipe, and a great diet becomes a terrible idea if you are unable to balance your dogs’ nutritional requirements correctly Try not to be swayed by popular opinion and instead make evidence-based choices. Your veterinary healthcare team will be happy to talk to you about the pros and cons of each diet to help you with this process. You can also discuss this with our veterinary healthcare team. 

Weight assessment

Keeping an eye on your dog’s weight is essential for maintaining health. Overweight dogs have been shown to have shortened lives and be much more likely to suffer from ill health. Pets that are 15% over their ideal weight can have their lifespan shortened by up to 2 years. Being overweight can contribute to painful joints, lameness, and arthritis. This can reduce not only their quality of life but also yours as an owner.

Dogs  come in all shapes and sizes, but Body Condition Scoring is a quick and effective way to assess if your pet has the right amount of muscle and fat, whatever their body size. Body Condition Scoring is based on how easy it is to feel their ribs and spine. You can easily do this at home with your pet – it’s just like having a hug with some extra checks thrown in! Why not contact one of our veterinary healthcare team so they can explain how to assess this at home? 


Supplements can be incredibly useful to support nutrition if they are used correctly. Unfortunately, many are not proven to make any difference at all, and some can cause harm to your pet. It is important to ensure any supplements you use have evidence to prove their claim; natural or herbal does not necessarily mean safe or effective. Always discuss supplements you plan to give with your vet so they can ensure they are appropriate and not likely to interfere with any current medication, just as you would do for yourself!

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  • Nutrition