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Feeding the Adult Dog | Pets

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Feeding the Adult Dog
Feeding the Adult Dog

Typically, a dog becomes an adult at 8 to 12 months of age and no longer needs to be fed puppy food, which contains higher protein content for growth and activity. The coursework materials for PSI’s Certification Program cover the topic of canine nutrition in depth. The following is an excerpt from that chapter.

Too Much? Not Enough?

When it comes to determining how much to feed a dog, there may be ballpark listings on dog food packages, but trial and error is the final rule of thumb. Pet food labels may indicate how much of the food to give an animal daily, but calculating the actual caloric needs of a pet is problematic because there are so many significant variables based on the animal’s size, metabolism and activity level.

Large dogs and some that work for a living need to burn more fuel than dogs that do not, so a working dog will need to be fed a diet that has increased fat content during seasons in which the dog works. As a dog ages, its energy requirements decrease, so the amount of food needs to decrease as well. Generally speaking, if a pet is at optimum weight, you should be able to feel its ribs below the skin, but not see them.

Adult dogs should be fed once or twice a day, depending on the preference of the owner and the physical condition of the pet. Although some pets can do fine on one feeding per day, dividing the food portion into two feedings may be more satisfying and healthier for the animal. Pets with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, may require two or more feedings at times when the pet receives insulin. A veterinarian will advise a pet owner when the pet’s medical conditions require specific numbers of feedings per day.


Many pet owners choose to “free feed” their pets by leaving dry food out at all times. If free feeding a dog, care should be taken to ensure that the pet does not over eat which results in unwanted weight gain. Regardless of whether the pet is fed controlled portions or free fed, the quantity consumed should be monitored. Loss of appetite may signal health problems and may require veterinary care. Pets that eat too rapidly or cannot control the quantity they consume should be fed controlled portions to prevent weight gain or digestive upsets.

The Role of Taste

Although dogs and cats have more smell receptors than humans, their ability to differentiate tastes solely via the tongue is more limited. Dogs have slightly more than 1,700 taste buds compared to a human’s 9,000 taste buds. In spite of their limited ability to differentiate among sophisticated tastes, dogs have no trouble coming to conclusions about what they like to eat. In addition to a food’s taste, its odor and texture may help determine its appeal. If a dog enjoys ice cream, it may be due to the feel of it in the pet’s mouth rather than the flavor. Before marketing new food products, manufacturers perform extensive taste tests with dogs to determine if they like it. If a pet is ill, offering food with a more appealing or stronger taste may help the pet regain an appetite.

Varieties of Pet Food

Manufactured pet food comes in three varieties: dry, semi-moist or canned. Pet owners wishing to control the ingredients of their pet’s food may choose to give them home-cooked diets. The animal’s preferences and health and the food’s cost and convenience determine what foods a pet owner chooses. Any health conditions that require a special diet must be discussed with a veterinarian. New information about pet nutrition is continually discovered, so pet owners may want to rotate their pet’s food among brands or varieties to ensure that their pets receive a full complement of nutrition and do not become addicted to one food that may be incomplete. Offering a variety of foods helps ensure that the pet does not develop a deficiency for an as-yet-unknown nutrient required for good health.

Food Allergies

Some pets develop hypersensitive reactions to certain ingredients in their foods. Symptoms of allergens in a pet’s diet may include vomiting, diarrhea or skin problems. The allergen may be the protein source or another ingredient in the food. Often, people assume that lamb is hypoallergenic (not causing allergic reactions), and it may be for some pets, but only foods an animal has not eaten can be considered truly hypoallergenic. Changing the pet’s diet is the only way to determine if the pet has a food allergy and what is causing it. A program of dietary restriction should be undertaken only under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Treats & Table Scraps

Food can also be used to reward a pet for good behavior, to offer positive reinforcement when training a pet, to coax an uncooperative dog in or out of its crate, to win the trust of a timid tabby or to wrap around a pill to make it easier for the pet to consume. Pets, like their humans, enjoy snacking. An occasional treat of human food should be given in moderation, as it does not contain the correct nutritional formula for the pet. As a general rule, pets should be given treats manufactured for them. Feeding table scraps may lead to unwanted behaviors such as begging for food or stealing it when the owner isn’t looking. Too many treats can add unwanted pounds, so the quantity of treats should not exceed 10 percent of a pet’s daily food ration.

Tartar control treats are intended to fight the buildup of tartar on a pet’s teeth although there is no data to substantiate the claim. Tartar control treats are no less beneficial, however, than regular treats if given in appropriate quantities. To fight the onset of dental disease, feed the pet a Veterinary Oral Health Council approved food manufactured to help prevent the buildup of tartar and have the pet’s teeth cleaned on a regular basis. Dogs may like being given tartar-control bones manufactured for that purpose.

Snacks and treats are not required to include a nutritional adequacy statement but must meet other FDA and state regulations for pet food labeling. Common acceptable human food treats include bits of chicken, cheese, slivers of cantaloupe or even a piece of popcorn or two. Things to avoid include chocolate, alcohol, onions and onion powder, macadamia nuts, bones from fish or poultry, caffeine, and human vitamin supplements and medications.


Cats have a reputation for finickiness, but when a pet owner is away, a dog may be as likely to go on a hunger strike as a cat. Warm weather, stress from changes in environment, changes in diet or simply someone else dishing out dinner may cause a pet to eat less. Dogs, particularly those who free-feed, may periodically skip a meal without ill effects. Skipping an occasional meal may be the dog’s attempt to control his caloric intake, or warm weather may make the dog less hungry. If the dog accepts dog biscuits or other treats, chances are he is fine and simply waiting until he is hungry to consume his food.

If a pet does not eat, try these measures:

  1. Make the food more palatable by pouring a little beef or chicken broth over the food. Adding one of the flavored sauces manufactured specifically for dogs may entice a dog to eat. Flavored sauces are available in pet stores or the pet food aisle of supermarkets.
  2. If the food is cold, try warming it up for a few seconds in the microwave.
  3. Offer food that is more palatable such as stronger smelling varieties of canned food.

Complete loss of appetite can signal health problems, so if a pet has not eaten for two or more days, contact the pet owner and/or the pet’s veterinarian. It is a myth that if an animal is hungry enough, he or she will eat.

The Nutrition chapter of PSI’s Certification Manual included additional, detailed information on nutrients and what they do, varieties of dog food, understanding pet food labels, grades of pet food and more. For more information on Certification or to apply for the program, visit www.petsit.com or e-mail education@petsit.com.



Laura Stauffiger is the proprietor of Laura’s Critter Care, an in your home pet sitting and dog walking service in Amherst, and a member of Pet Sitters International and PetSitUSA. She also has her own small dog rescue group called Laura’s Critter Care Dog Rescue.  For more information visit her website or send an Email.


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