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Dog Nutrition - The Role of Nutrition in Overall Dog Wellness


What is the right food to feed my dog?

I don't think there's one right food for any particular dog, as there can be many factors. Whenever we're looking at foods or lifestyle choices of any sort for our dogs, we need to be cognizant of what needs we're meeting. So what do they do? What are their calorie intakes? What sensitivities might they have based on previous diets they've been on? And then, we need to evaluate the food itself. So there are many factors that we'll go over in this video as we proceed. But the number one best thing that I can tell you is to check with your veterinarian if you have a question. We are your best source for nutrition information, as we've done a lot of schooling, and this is what we do. And our goal is to keep your pet as healthy as possible for as long as possible. So never hesitate to reach out.


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

What are the life stages of feeding my dog?

The most important one is puppyhood, especially in large breed dogs. The way that we feed puppies and the nutritional composition of the food can make a massive difference for our long-term health, to make sure that we're not growing too quickly and supporting joints. Puppyhood is when you need to spend the most time figuring out the right food for your dog. And your vet is going to be the best source there.

As dogs get older, they usually need fewer calories because they're not growing anymore. And so, most dogs end up on adult food for most of their life. And it doesn't mean that they have to stay on just that food, as there's undoubtedly some variation that we can get into as well. There also are senior dog diets on the market. The need for a senior dog diet depends on your dog and activity level. Not all dogs need to be transitioned to a senior dog diet at any particular point. It is individual to the dog, so that's something I would talk to your vet about.

How did I wean my puppy to get them on regular food?

Most puppies should be eating puppy food or some sort of kibble by the time that you're bringing them home. In the state of Maine, you're not allowed to bring a puppy home or sell a puppy until it is eight weeks of age. And puppies are typically eating a kibble by six weeks of age. So hopefully, you shouldn't have to transition a puppy onto solid food at all. But if you are having problems, sometimes adding a little bit of warm water to the diet to soften the food can encourage your puppy to eat.

Should I feed my dog on a schedule? And how do I know if my dog's nutrition is suffering?

Having a schedule is good. When dogs are puppies, we're often feeding them more frequently so that we can make sure they get enough food in those tiny little tummies. If we just fed them once or twice a day, they couldn't physically fit enough kibble in there to grow appropriately. But as we get to the adult stage, dogs should eat two to three times a day with their portions measured. Just like most of us, if you put food in front of most dogs, they will eat it. And so by having food out all the time or allowing a dog to graze, the vast majority of dogs will become overweight. And we want to avoid that. I would love it if somebody fed me like I feed my dogs and cut it back when I'm getting a little chubby just to keep me in good shape. So at least we can do that for our dogs.

How do I know if I'm feeding my dog too much?

Just as we know when we've overeaten, they may have a bloated appearance, kind of like that post-Thanksgiving meal sort of a feel. And over time, these dogs are going to gain weight. So if you start to notice that your dog's losing that bikini body, not having as much of waste anymore, and, most importantly, if you see that they're having trouble getting up from a seated position or a resting position, bring this up with your veterinarian at your dog's annual exam. We always evaluate body condition and weight to make sure that we're keeping your dog as healthy as possible.

What are the essential nutrients my dog needs?

There is probably too much attention paid to this sort of thing. When you're using quality dog food produced by a company that uses veterinary nutritionists to formulate the diet and does feeding trials to evaluate the diet, you can trust what's on the bag. They know what they're doing more than I do and far better than anybody at a pet store does. We don't need to worry about specific amounts of protein or fat in your average dog. I will trust the diet formulations if you're using a quality company. And we'll talk a bit more about how to find quality dog food. But I wouldn't worry about those individual nutrients and things like that if you're feeding them good dog food.

How will a veterinarian be able to assess if my dog is getting proper nutrition?

For the most part, you can usually tell by looking at a dog if they're getting adequate nutrition. We look at coat quality, skin quality, hair loss, thinning of hair, and whether it is dull. Are we having skin infections or skin issues? Do we have vomiting or diarrhea? Overall, nutrition is the foundation of good health. And so if we don't have good nutrition, that's going to show up in other ways that we'll be able to catch on to, either from what you're telling us or from looking at your dog.

There are so many brands of dog food. How will I know the best one for my dog?

Give me a second, as I've got to climb right up on my soapbox because this is a big issue for us right now. For the last couple of years, there's been a lot of misinformation out there about pet foods in general. There is a lot of marketing out there to try to indicate that grain-free foods are the best for your dog or that your dog should eat like a wolf or any number of things. I have to say that little Charlie the pug is not a wolf, and he never will be. Also, wolves in the wild live for about six to seven years. And they're not necessarily 100% healthy. They often have parasites, and they're not getting adequate nutrition in a lot of situations, and your dog is simply not a wolf. So when I'm thinking about pet foods and thinking about what's best for my dog, I leave it up to the experts.

I'm looking for a dog food that is formulated by a team of veterinary nutritionists—a veterinary nutritionist to somebody that went to veterinary school, got their degree and then did additional schooling, oftentimes a Ph.D. in veterinary nutrition. So they really know what they're doing. And reputable pet food companies should be using these sorts of experts to formulate their diets and then doing something called a feeding trial, where they take the diet and feed it to a group of dogs for a period of four to six months. They do several tests to ensure that those dogs are healthy and have the nutrients they need. A lot of pet food companies will basically look at what a dog should be getting and say. "Yeah, yeah. I think my diet kind of fits with that." And that's not the best way to formulate dog food.

There have been many issues in the last couple of years with dogs developing heart problems when eating certain diets. We don't understand the exact link there, but there may be a link to small food manufacturers that don't necessarily use veterinary nutritionists or feeding trials. When I'm evaluating a diet, I really want to look for those sorts of things. And there's an excellent handout linked right here on this page that goes over the common questions you should ask yourself when you're looking at a diet. You can even call up a food manufacturer and read this list of questions to them and make sure that they pass muster before you choose that diet for your dog. And if you have questions, always call is. We're always happy to help you research these things.

When would my dog need a prescription diet?

Prescription diets are generally reserved for a significant medical issue, so things like kidney disease, liver disease, and urinary issues like stones. Sometimes, when we have a dog that may have a food allergy, we'd actually use a prescription diet to figure out if food is part of the problem. There are also prescription foods as parts of dental diets. There are certain levels of prescription foods in which the kibble is manufactured or certain additives that make it better for dental health. In general, your average dog doesn't need a prescription diet. And that's why they're quote-unquote called prescription diets so that we are not getting pets on diets they don't necessarily need, as those diets sometimes are restricted and wouldn't keep your average dog healthy.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Nutrition - FAQs


Dr. Menolly Cote
Freeport Veterinary Hospital

Is a dog able to live on a vegan diet?

Dogs can do so. I think there are one to two AAFCO-approved vegan dog diets on the market. However, my question is, why? Dogs are not vegans. I know that certainly some of us decide to adopt vegetarian and vegan lifestyles. I'm one of them. But I try not to impose those sorts of restrictions or views on my dog because that's just not the way their biology is set up. I'd encourage you to talk to your veterinarian if you're thinking about a vegan diet for your dog and really weigh the pros and cons in these situations.

Is wet food more nutritious than dry dog food?

In some situations, it can be more beneficial. I think that's more so in cats than dogs, which we can talk about in another video. Wet food just has more moisture and, in some situations, can be more easily digested. But in general, if you're using a balanced, commercially-available dog diet, dry versus canned food over the long-term is probably not going to make a huge difference.

Are prescription diets better for my dog?

If your dog has a medical condition that requires a prescription diet, sure. But in general, I would say no.

If my dog eats grass, does that mean they are missing something in their diet?

Rarely that can be the case, but I would say, on average, there are two reasons for dogs to eat grass. One, they like to eat grass, and they just do it regularly without an issue. I've had several dogs like that. And then some dogs will eat grass only when they're feeling nauseous or have an upset stomach. It doesn't necessarily mean that there's something wrong with the dog. They can have stomach upset for other reasons. But if you're noticing your dog is all of a sudden starting to eat grass, let your vet know so we can look to make sure that there's not an underlying problem.

Will human food make my dog overweight?

If you give him too much of it, it certainly will. It comes down to calories in versus calories out, just like it does with people. I am a huge proponent of using fresh foods with our pets, as long as we're using safe foods. But if I'm going to add fresh foods to my dog's diet for a particular day or particular week, it's essential that we cut back on their kibble and maintain the overall calorie total that will keep them at a healthy weight.

Will free-choice feeding make my dog overweight?

Most of the time, yes. Just like people, most dogs have a hard time saying no when there's food put down in front of them. There are a few choice dogs that are able to graze and maintain a healthy weight. But the vast majority of dogs, if they're fed free-choice or just have food out all the time, they will overeat and eventually become overweight.

What are some other myths about dog nutrition that you hear as a veterinarian?

I think the two big ones are that grain-free dog food is healthier for your dog, which is entirely not true. Grains have an excellent place in an average dog's diet. And there are certainly some dogs that may have sensitivities, but the vast majority of dogs can eat grain in their food and be healthy. I think another myth is that raw foods are somehow healthier for your dog, and I disagree with that. I think a lot of dogs don't do well on a raw diet. And studies have shown that dogs on a raw diet have more foodborne illness-causing bacteria like E-coli or salmonella in their stools and on their body, so it puts owners and families at an increased risk.

And then I think another thing to think about is byproducts. Everybody thinks byproducts or corn or certain ingredients like that are a big no-no in dog food, and that's just not true. When processed correctly, corn is an excellent source of several nutrients and is a relatively inexpensive way to add some of those nutrients to food. And so it can make dog food more affordable and still very nutritious. The same goes for byproducts. Byproducts are just the parts of the bird or animal that we don't typically eat, so that would include things like the windpipe or liver or things like that that.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (207) 865-3673, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

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