Choose your pet for guidance & info
Choose Your Species
0
medium sized, fluffy puppy dog laying in dog bed with front dog paws on the wood floor, sitting next to dog food bowl waiting to eat with light shining in through the white window curtains

Understanding Dog Food Nutrition: How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog

Choosing the right food for your dog means more than finding one that they love the taste of — though that is an important feature! Dog foods are tailored to give dogs a complete and balanced diet — exactly what they need to look and feel their best. But the essential nutrients dogs need from their food depends on factors like their age, size, breed and any dietary sensitivities.

Here are some of the top questions (and answers) to consider when choosing the best food for your dog.

 
medium sized, black short hair puppy dog sitting and waiting patiently for pink bowl of dog food at feeding time medium sized, black short hair puppy dog sitting and waiting patiently for pink bowl of dog food at feeding time

What do I need to know about dog nutrition?

Your dog’s food, and the nutritional value of that food, is an important part of how they stay healthy over time. On a day-to-day basis it provides energy and keeps their body running. On a long-term basis it supports an active lifestyle.

You can learn more about the ingredients in your dog’s food by carefully reading and understanding the information on dog food labels. To learn more about the ingredients used in Nutro dog food recipes, check out the Ingredient Reveal.

What nutrients do dogs need from their food

Dog foods are carefully formulated to provide everything your dog needs to feel their best and live a happy and healthy life. Macro nutrients like proteins (including amino acids), carbohydrates, fiber and fats (including fatty acids) are important to balance so your dog gets everything they need.

Protein in dog food

Proteins provide the amino acids that support your dog’s healthy muscles, digestion, immune system, and skin and coat. NUTRO™ dog foods use high quality animal-based proteins like beef, chicken, fish and lamb, as well as plant-based proteins like potato protein and pea protein.

Carbohydrates in dog food

Carbohydrates give your dog’s body energy and help support healthy digestion. NUTRO™ dog food recipes include grains like brown rice, sorghum and barley as well as grain-free sources like potatoes, chickpeas and lentils.

Fiber in dog food

Fiber promotes healthy digestion and good bacteria in the gut. NUTRO™ dog foods include natural fiber sources like beet pulp, whole grains and split peas to support healthy digestion.

Fat in dog food

Fats and oils provide the energy your dog needs to perform daily functions and get a healthy amount of exercise. Fatty acids support their skin and coat health. NUTRO™ dog food recipes include fat sources like canola oil, chicken fat and fish oil.

medium size breed puppy dog standing on wood floors eating dog food from silver dog bowl at feeding time medium size breed puppy dog standing on wood floors eating dog food from silver dog bowl at feeding time

Does my dog need size-specific food?

You’ve probably seen dog foods designed for “large” or “small” dogs, but what do those differences really mean? Dog foods designed for a particular breed size have been formulated with tailored nutrition to support that specific breed size’s unique needs. If your dog’s breed or mix of breeds falls into one of these categories, it’s likely that a size-specific dog food would be a good choice for them.

Dgo foods for small breed dogs

Dog food for small dogs is designed to pack the nutrition and calories they need into small servings they can comfortably eat. Dry dog foods for small dogs are made with smaller-sized kibble too, making the food easier for little mouths to chew and swallow. NUTRO™ Natural Choice Small Breed Adult recipes are specially formulated to meet your small dog’s nutritional needs in a kibble size they can easily chew.

Small dogs generally maintain a healthy weight of 10-25 pounds as adults. Beagles, cocker spaniels and Scottish terriers are all good examples of common small breeds.

Dog foods for large breed dogs

Dog food for large dogs is made to fit their appetite and meet their nutritional needs, containing the right density and balance of nutrients for their larger bodies. Recipes designed for large dogs have larger kibble pieces that are satisfying and suit their larger mouths.

Healthy dogs weighing more than 50 pounds as adults can be considered large. Bernese mountain dogs, boxers and greyhounds are all examples of large dogs.

Fun fact: Large mammals (like whales) tend to live longer than smaller ones (like hamsters). But as you may already know, this isn’t the case for dogs. While scientists aren’t quite sure why, smaller dogs generally live longer than larger dogs. When it comes to maturation, larger dog breeds take longer to reach their full adult size than smaller breeds do: The age at which puppies reach adulthood varies by breed size. Understanding what large dogs need to thrive is an important part of caring for them and providing the right nutrition for their bodies.

new puppy sitting next to empty silver dog bowl waiting for feeding time or the next pour of dog food new puppy sitting next to empty silver dog bowl waiting for feeding time or the next pour of dog food

What's the best puppy food for my dog?

Whether you have a young small- or large-breed dog, feeding your growing puppy a nutritious diet is crucial for their long-term health. Specialty foods designed for puppies in particular provide the nutrients they need to build healthy bones, muscles and tissues as they grow up. Plus, the age at which a puppy reaches adulthood varies by breed size. Choosing a puppy food that’s appropriate for your dog’s size and life stage will set your puppy up for success, no matter their size.

Puppy food for small breed dogs

Small breed puppies usually reach adulthood by the time they are 9-12 months old, which is a good time to talk to your vet about transitioning them to a small breed adult formula. Small breed puppy foods give puppies what they need to grow into healthy adults, with kibble that’s easy for small dogs to chew.

Puppy food for large breed dogs

Large breed puppies keep growing past their first birthday, typically reaching adulthood between ages 18-24 months. Because large breed pups have a longer maturation period, it’s important to check in with your vet to make sure you’re feeding your dog an age-appropriate formula and that they’re growing at a healthy rate.

Caring for a large breed dog starts with the puppy years when it’s especially important to feed them a large breed puppy food, not simply a regular puppy formula. Their bodies have unique needs that large breed puppy foods like NUTRO™ NATURAL CHOICE™ Large Breed Puppy Lamb & Brown Rice Recipe provide for. For example: Did you know that too much calcium in a large breed puppy’s diet can create problems in their skeletal development?

large dog breed puppy dog with ears down, silver dog food bowl in mouth, asking for more dog food large dog breed puppy dog with ears down, silver dog food bowl in mouth, asking for more dog food

What's the best senior dog food for my mature dog?

While your pet may still seem like a puppy in your eyes, their age can have an impact on their nutritional needs. The senior years can bring shifts in activity levels and interest in eating, which can consequently lead to weight gain or loss. Finding the right food for your senior dog may come down to making meals as palatable as possible. Some dogs will take an interest in wet food instead of dry, warm (but not hot) wet food instead of room temperature meals or even moistened dry food that makes chewing a little easier.

Senior dog food for small breed dogs

Small breed dogs are generally considered seniors by the time they are 8-12 years old. Small breed senior dog foods like NUTRO™ NATURAL CHOICE™ Small Breed Senior Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe help support your older dog’s health as they mature.

Senior dog food for large breed dogs

Large breed dogs reach their golden years around 6-7 years old, significantly sooner than their small breed counterparts. Large breed senior dog foods like NUTRO™ NATURAL CHOICE™ Large Breed Senior Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe help keep your big dog healthy as they age.

How can I help my dog lose weight?

Diet and exercise are important and can help dogs maintain a healthy weight, and any weight loss plan should be tackled with the help of a doctor. Always check with your vet before making changes to your dog’s diet and exercise routine, they’ll know what measures are right for your dog.

Dog foods designed to help with weight management have calculated feeding guidelines to help dogs lose weight while still providing all the calories and nutrition they need to stay active and healthy. NUTRO™ Healthy Weight dog food recipes make helping your dog lose weight easy for you and delicious for your dog.

How do I know if my dog is lacking nutrients?

Dogs are great communicators about what they want when it comes to walks, treats and affection, but aren’t quite as clear about their health. That’s why it’s so important that loving pet parents like you pay attention and look for clues that they might not be feeling their best.

While most commercial dog foods are formulated to provide complete and balanced nutrition, if you notice your dog's food isn't agreeing with them, observe changes in their physical appearance like weight gain/loss or a dull coat, see changes in their activity level or personality or notice poor stool quality — it's time to call the vet. But malnutrition signs aren’t always linked to digestion, so keep an eye on their other health indicators. Watch their eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and coat for changes, and pay attention to their sleep, activity level and overall well-being. Poor nutrition could also impact existing health conditions your pet may have, so watch for any differences in those areas too.

If you’re concerned that your dog might not be getting everything they need from their current diet, it’s best to talk to your vet. Try to document the reasons you’re concerned, too. That information, kept in a notebook, a calendar, a notes app on your phone or even photos, will help them understand your concerns and your dog’s health. And remember: If your dog ever avoids eating or drinking for 24 hours, it’s time to call the vet.

two medium size, long haired, puppy dogs both with hesds down in their dog bowl busy eating out of silver dog bowls on wood floor at feeding time two medium size, long haired, puppy dogs both with hesds down in their dog bowl busy eating out of silver dog bowls on wood floor at feeding time

What if my dog has a sensitive stomach?

Just like humans, dogs can have or develop sensitivities to particular foods. Certain foods like beef, chicken, milk and dairy can cause food sensitivities in pets. And just like with human dietary needs, there are simple steps you can take to help!

What should I do if my dog's food seems to make them sick?

If your dog is showing signs of digestive trouble, the best thing to do is talk to your vet right away. It’s also a good plan to log any symptoms your dog shows. That will help your vet identify what might be causing your pup discomfort.

What can I feed a dog with a sensitive stomach?

Once your vet identifies what may be troubling your dog, they may recommend a limited ingredient diet. Limited ingredient dog foods do just that: Limit the ingredients so you can selectively avoid any foods that don’t agree with your dog. NUTRO™ Limited Ingredient Diet wet and dry dog food recipes avoid ingredients that commonly cause food sensitivities in pets and come in a variety of flavors dogs love.

Does my dog need grain-free food?

Grain-free dog foods can be a great option for pet owners who prefer to avoid common grains like corn, wheat or rice. For most dogs, grains can be a valuable and tasty source for nutrients they need, just like they are for humans! Your vet is the best resource to help determine if your dog should make the switch to a grain-free diet and can help you choose one they’ll enjoy.

Nutro Grain Free wet dog food recipes contain no corn, wheat or soy, and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.† Plus, they’re made at facilities committed to zero waste to landfill.

† Trace amounts may be present due to cross-contact during manufacturing.

How much should I feed my dog?

If it were up to dogs, meals might happen at any hour of the day, and as often as possible! But dog nutrition specialists and veterinarians agree that it’s best to follow their advice and not your dog’s insistence. Dog obesity is a serious concern and overfeeding, either through providing too many meals or overly generous portions, is one of the primary causes. Fortunately, once you know how much to feed your dog, monitoring their food intake and measuring the appropriate serving sizes is simple. But how can you know how much to serve your dog to keep them healthy?

The packaging for your dog’s food should include guidelines on how much to feed your dog, but it’s best to get your vet’s advice. They understand important details about your dog’s activity level, nutritional needs and more. Some dogs may require more or less food than is generally recommended for their size and age. And if your dog enjoys mixed feeding — combining wet and dry foods and even treats in a meal — paying attention to the portions of each food you combine is essential. As always, it’s best to ask your vet and then follow their advice.

orange / brown short hair, large breed puppy eating dog food from a mint green bowl on wooden floor of the kitchen at feeding time orange / brown short hair, large breed puppy eating dog food from a mint green bowl on wooden floor of the kitchen at feeding time

Is it OK to give my dog human food?

While it’s tempting to share your own food with your furry best friend (especially if they beg), it’s best to stick to dog food for dogs and human food for humans. Dog foods have complete and balanced nutrition — everything they need in the proper proportions. Giving your dog human foods, even human foods that are safe for dogs, can easily upset that balance and give their digestive system a hard time.

Human foods that are toxic to dogs — like chocolate, caffeine, onions, xylitol (found in sugar-free gums), grapes and raisins — should never be shared and always be kept out of your pet’s reach. Even small amounts can be dangerous, especially for small dogs. Why? A portion that might not affect a large dog as severely could be dangerous to a small dog’s body.

Ready to choose the best dog food for your pet?

Canine dietary needs vary from dog to dog, just like human needs vary from person to person. Understanding dog food nutrition and your vet’s assessment of their needs can help you pick a delicious food to help your dog live a healthy and fulfilling life. Get started now by exploring NUTRO™ dog foods and use the filtering options to help find the best food for your unique, wonderful pet!

Was this article helpful?

Yes No