What is dog food, what are all the different types, and why is choosing the right one so impawtent?
Welcome to your Dog Food learning journey!
The world of dog food is, perhaps surprisingly, quite complex. There’s a whole lot of choices out there, and a whole new vocabulary to describe them all. It might therefore seem incredibly bewildering knowing what’s what when it comes to dog food.
This guide is designed to cover all the major (and minor) aspects of dog food, from all the different types you can choose from, to when to change from puppy to adult food, to how much to feed your dog, and even how to read a pet food label. Relevant no matter what stage you’re at in your pawrenthood journey. Whether a new puppy is on the way, you’ve decided to rescue, or your ultimate dream is to have a doggy in the future. Ultimately this guide will enable you to make an informed decision about which food is the right one for you and your pooch. Trust us, you’ll be a dog food whizz in no time!
Explore the chapters:
- The Different Types of Dog Food
- Deciphering Dietary Dog Food
- Dog Food Storage
- Nutrients Basics
- How To Read A Dog Food Label
- Ingredients Dogs Should Never Eat
- Puppy Food
- Dog Food
- Senior Dog Food
- The Dog Food Glossary
Why dog food is so important
The first thing to align on is why we should even give a stuff about our dog’s food.
As pet parents ourselves, we know all we want is for our beloved dogs to live long, happy, and adventurous lives. The one single and controllable factor that will play the biggest role in achieving that is their diet.
The only way that your pooch gets the energy to sustain its basic (floofy) bodily needs, like growing and developing, is through a continuous (but non-overflowing) supply of nutrients and calories. Let alone all the extra zoomies, walkies, and fetching! Every single one of their billions of teeny tiny cells is reliant on this supply. Which, is clear when we take things to the extreme, as without food, your dog would only survive for around 5 days.
Whilst having a supply of food is essential for basic survival, to live a healthy life, your omnivorous dog also needs a balanced array of nutrients to meet all their needs. The core six are proteins, fats, carbs, water, minerals, and vitamins. If your dog has too much, or too little, of one of these, there will be knock-on impacts on their health. For example, too little protein and your dog may suffer from anemia, hormone deficiencies, and poor development of skin and coat.
It’s also not just too little food that can be an issue, but also too much. Vets now report pet obesity is the number one crisis affecting our four-legged friends. Plus another study even found that dogs who are fed to a lean condition from puppies can live up to two more active and zoomies-filled years!
So not only can food help your pooch live a longer, healthier life but your choice is also so important because your dog has none. You are the custodian of their diet. Therefore it’s all down to you to get their food right! No pressure, we’re here to help.
What are all the different types of dog food, what are the core nutrients your dog needs, and a step-by-step guide for choosing the best one
What types of dog food are there?
The first question you probably have on your dog food journey, is what should I feed my dog? There are a whole array of different types of dog food out there, so your starting point will be to decide which is right for you both. Each type is made differently, requires a different type of dog food storage, and will be digested by your pooch differently. Here are the main ones:
1. Dry Dog Food (cooked)
Also known as dog biscuits, pellets, or kibble, dry dog food has a low water content, which gives it its crunchier dry texture. It’s typically made by creating a dough-like mix that’s cooked, and extruded or pushed through a small hole or die to form its bite-size shape. Depending on the shape of the cutter, the biscuit can be any shape. From a simple circle to mini bones or hearts – pawfect for showing your floof just how much you wuv them. To hold its shape the dough requires a certain level of carbohydrates, which will come from ingredients like rice, oats, potato, or other cereals and vegetables.
Pros: Dry food is one of the most convenient of the lot, as it can be stored at ambient room temperature, tends to have a good shelf life, and is easy to transport.
Cons: Mainstream dry dog food brands have historically added naughty and totally unnecessary ingredients into their dry food recipes, like added sugar or artificial preservatives. As well as scrimping on the quality of proteins by using things like animal derivatives or meat meals.
Myth-buster: Dry food is no better or less better than an alternative type of dog food. The quality and mix of the ingredients as well as the process of cooking determines how good your dog food is.
Storage: You can store most dry dog food in a cool and dry place. You just need to make sure the bag or box is fully sealed, as any contact with water can cause mould to form and the food to spoil.
2. Wet Dog Food (cooked)
Wet dog food, as the name implies has lots of moisture. It tends to have a moisture level above 70%, which gives it a softer texture. You won’t find this water just sloshing about though, as other ingredients like tapioca are used to trap it in. It tends to be cooked via steaming the mixture inside the tray or can it’s served in. However, apart from this, the key ingredients can be very similar to that of dry food.
Pros: Wet food doesn’t need to hold any particular shape, which means recipes often contain higher levels of protein or fat. This can make it richer, and sometimes more palatable for fussy pups. Wet dog food can be an effective way to hide worming tablets or other treatments rather than battling with your dog.
Cons: Due to the higher water content, you typically need to feed a larger volume of wet food to your dog. This can make it a more expensive option. You also need to remember to remove this water content if comparing the nutrients of wet food to e.g a dry food, or it won’t be like for like.
Storage: Wet food can generally be stored in a cool, dry place. Once opened, cover and store in the fridge, making sure to use up in a few days. Although always check with the specific brand.
3. Raw Dog Food (uncooked)
Raw dog food is as the name suggests, uncooked. It typically comes in a wet form, however, recent innovations have enabled it to also be served as a dry food too. This is accomplished via freeze-drying or air-drying (dehydration). Recipes tend to be high in muscle meat, bones, offal, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. Raw feeding is controversial and linked to a number of salmonella outbreaks. Fans claim better health benefits but there are no studies to back these claims up.
Pros: We aren’t able to suggest any pros as vets recommend against it. If you’re keen to try raw feeding, opt for a FEDIAF approved recipe rather than DIY feeding and handle with care. Tips from the PFMA below
Cons: The PDSA, AKC, along with leading vets warn against raw feeding. Primarily due to the harmful parasites and pathogens which aren’t killed as there’s no cooking process. This harmful bacteria can not only exist in the food but subsequently in your dog’s saliva and poops. Therefore you need to wash your hands after touching or getting a sloppy kiss from a raw fed dog. The risk also increases if the raw food is prepared at home, as cross-contamination is more likely. This has even resulted in some human (and pooch) deaths from E Coli, Salmonella, and TB poisoning. On top of this, raw feeders also often use animal bones as treats. Vets recommend never to feed your dog bones, as they’re not only a choking hazard, but will fracture your pet’s teeth and can cause constipation. Raw food is typically more expensive requiring more raw food to meet the same nutritional requirements as a cooked option.
Storage: Raw wet food must be stored in the freezer, and defrosted in the fridge before serving. It should never reach temperatures higher than 4°C, must be consumed within 24 hrs, and should never be re-frozen or microwaved to speed thawing. Any equipment you use to serve raw food must also be kept separately and thoroughly washed before and after use.
5. Fresh Dog Food (cooked)
There’s no real definition for fresh dog food. It’s essentially a variation of wet dog food with fewer or no preservatives, which therefore needs to be stored frozen or refrigerated. Although the “no preservatives” part certainly isn’t true for all. Some brands also now offer “fresh kibble”, which is dehydrated “fresh” wet food. It’s often marketed as being “more premium”, and comes with a heftier price tag to match. Along with being called things like “human grade” and “free from fillers”. All pet food made in the UK is made with “human grade” meat that is referred to as non-human grade once the meat steps over the factory door line. From brand to brand the quality of ingredients, cooking methods, recipes, and storage vary wildly but most tend to operate via a D2C subscription service due to the frozen-storage and frozen transportation requirements.
Pros: With the rise of dog obesity, fresh dog food helps make portion control simple. Most fresh dog food is pre packed to your dog’s calorie requirement.
Cons: Aside from portion control there is a lot of faff involved with feeding. Recipes must be stored in your freezer and defrosted ahead. Fresh diets tend to have a lower calorific density and higher water content variation, making it trickier to maintain your pooch’s ideal weight. It’s also pretty darn costly, with prices of fresh food roughly 3x more than other high quality traditional pet foods, not to mention the higher environmental toll from the refridgerated supply chain.
Storage: Fresh dog food needs to be stored frozen, and defrosted in the fridge. You must then use it up within 24-48 hrs.
6. Homemade Dog Food
There are no tricks with this one, homemade dog food is anything you make for your dog at home [mind-blown]. This means it could be raw, cooked, dry, or wet. As the recipe and cooking method, entirely depends on the chef, it can vary hugely. The standard view amongst the veterinary community is to not prepare your dog’s meals yourself, as it’s so difficult to get the nutrients right on your own. It’s also an absolute no-no for puppies or nursing dogs, who have even more specific requirements. If you do choose this option, it’s essential to speak with a vet or nutritionist to develop a plan.
Pros: We aren’t able to suggest any pros as vets recommend against it.
Cons: It’s incredibly tricky to create a balanced diet for your dog yourself at home. If certain nutrients are provided in sufficient quantities, you could make your dog ill.
Storage: This depends on whether you’re baking kibble, DIY raw feeding or cooking wet food.
7. Complete/Complementary Dog Food
Any of the previously mentioned types of dog food can be classified as being complete or complementary. Complete means the food is packed with all the nutrients your pooch needs to thrive, aka you don’t need to supplement with anything else. Whilst “complementary” means you can’t feed it on its own. Examples of incomplete recipes include things like “toppers”, which are biscuits designed to be sprinkled over food for extra crunch. The PFMA always recommends feeding a complete diet, so you can be confident you’re giving your dog what they need. Dog treats count as complimentary food, intended to be fed alongside a complete diet.
To summarise we’ve created this handy table to show all the different types of dog food:
Deciphering the different dietary dog foods
Okay, so hopefully you’ve just got your noggin around the different types of dog foods. However, if that wasn’t confusing enough, these different types can be further split up by which diets they’re suitable for. New diets are constantly emerging, and whilst some are strictly necessary for certain pooches, others come in and out of fashion. Just like that knitted poncho you used to own! The difference between these comes down to the ingredients they do or don’t contain, and/or the analytical constituents. Here are the most common ones you’ll see:
Hypoallergenic Dog Food:
This means the recipe is free from common allergens. Although there is no officially recognised list of common allergens that must be excluded, so from brand to brand the excluded ingredients will vary. What’s more, and perhaps surprisingly, the most common allergens for dogs are actually beef, dairy, wheat, chicken, and egg. However, chances are your “hypoallergenic dog food” will contain one of those. Therefore if your dog is truly allergic to an ingredient, which is very rare, do not simply watch out for this phrase but check the ingredients to ensure it’s not included.
Gluten Free Dog Food:
Gluten free dog food is designed for dogs that are allergic to gluten, have gluten intolerances, or are sensitive to it. Fun fact Irish Setters are the only breed of dog reported to be gluten-sensitive.
Grain Free Dog Food:
During the last decade, the grain free dog food trend has soared in popularity. Partly due to imitating gluten-free trends in human diets, as well as potentially in response to a pet food contamination incidence. This is one of the ones that really is just a fad, as dogs can digest grains and most do great on diets that contain them (in the right quantity), especially whole grains. No doggy can also be allergic to “all grains”, so eliminating the whole food group based on one allergen isn’t necessary.
Sensitive Dog Food:
Some pups require more TLC than others, so sensitive dog food is one that’s designed to be easier to digest for sensitive tums. The main thing that affects how digestible a recipe is, is the protein source. Every protein has its own digestibility score, so opt for one that’s above 87% like chicken which is said to be around 92% digestible. Equally the more ingredients in the recipe, the more difficult it is to digest, so the recipe should have few ingredients or single-source protein. Finally added pre or probiotics will help support the normal function of the gut, so these are a great component of sensitive dog foods.
Weight Management Dog Food:
With obesity being the number one condition vets now see, specific “dieting” foods are growing in popularity. For the majority of pooches, this isn’t necessary though, as you should be able to get your dog back to a healthy weight simply by living a more active lifestyle and reducing the quantity of their existing food. Here are our tips on keep your pooch a healthy weight. Gradual weight loss is key so avoid an intense doggy detox.
Natural Dog Food:
This is food that’s made entirely from ingredients that derive from a naturally occurring product. Again, slightly misleading, as the majority of ingredients will originate from something naturally. Certain ingredients like salt and sugar are natural but not something you want your dog overindulging in.
Low Fat Dog Food:
Dogs need fat to thrive, however, some medical conditions mean your vet may recommend a low-fat diet. This includes if your dog suffers from illnesses like pancreatitis or exocrine pancreatitis insufficiency. A low fat dog food tends to be considered as one with <18% fat on a dry matter basis.
Despite their prevalence, the majority of dogs do not require one of these dietary pet foods to live healthy lives. It’s also not the case that a dietary food will be any better quality or healthier than one that’s not. You’ll have to look at the ingredients and analtyical constituents for that!
- The Truth About Grain Free Dog Food
- The Low Down on Gluten Free Dog Food
- The Truth About Vegan Dog Food
- The Truth About Hypoallergenic Dog Food
Dog Food Storage
It’s essential to store your dog’s food correctly to maintain its tasty freshness, prevent bacteria build-up, and stop any other critters like mites from getting at it. Depending on the type of food, you’ll need to store it either in a cool dry place, in the fridge, or freezer. Always check the manufacturers’ advice though, as not all types of food are stored in the same way.
However, wherever you need to store it, it will always be best to keep it in an airtight container. This will keep the food fresher for longer, and prevent your fridge/cupboard/freezer from getting a bit pongy or attracting rodent friends.
For dry food, you can use a tin or cereal-box type container and for wet food, tupperware. If you love our planet like us, there are also eco-friendly and reusable alternatives to cling film, like beeswax wraps that you can use to cover the wet food between feeding.
Here are two of our favourite dog food storage containers we think you’ll love, or check out our full guide with 9 of our favourite dog food storage containers.
The Independent Option: Dandy Dog, From £15.75
The Techy Option: Simply Human, From £130
Dog Food Nutrients
If you choose a complete food, you should feel assured that it contains all, and the right amounts of the core nutrients your dog needs. But just so you know, here’s a little extra info on the role that each plays:
Protein is made up of smaller amino acid building blocks that are needed to build body tissue, like muscle. Your dog requires 22 amino acids, however, they can synthesize 12 of these on their own. Leaving 10 that must come from their food which are considered “essential amino acids”, like arginine and histidine. For adult dog food, the protein content on a dry matter basis should be between 13% and 30%, and for pups between 22% to 32%.
Fun Fact: 30% of your dog’s daily protein intake is used for fur maintenance. No wonder they’re so floofy!
Fats / Oil
Fats, like salmon oil, act as the key source of energy for your dog, help your dog absorb certain vitamins, and supply vital fatty acids. These fatty acids form essential substances like DHA, a type of omega-3 fat that plays a vital role in puppies’ brain and eye development, as well as senior dogs’ cognitive ability. Like amino acids, there are also “essential fatty acids”, including linolenic acid and arachidonic acid.
Carbohydrates, once broken down and converted into glucose, are another key source of energy. They exist in high quantities in ingredients like whole grains, which have other nutrient benefits like iron, fiber, and minerals. Cooking carb-rich ingredients makes them more easily digestible for your dog.
There are 7 key vitamins your dog needs to be healthy; Vitamin A, B (e.g biotin), C, D, E, K, and Choline. These are required for everything from dental development and immune function to energy regulation and metabolism. A commercial complete and balanced food will contain all the vitamins your dog needs, without having to supplement. Too much of one can actually cause issues, like too much vitamin, which can cause dehydration.
Minerals / ash
Back in 2018, there was a bit of an uproar from pet parents about ash. This essentially stemmed from confusion and misinformation that dog food brands were adding the remnants of your fireplace to food to bulk it out. This certainly isn’t and wasn’t the case. In food, ash aka inorganic matter means what’s left behind after combustion, and what’s left behind are minerals (the proteins, fat, and carbs all burn away). There are lots of key minerals like calcium and phosphorous, which your dog needs at different levels. Most dog foods have an ash content of around 5-8%, but it’s best to know the specific quantity of each mineral rather than just an overall %.
Water is the last but not least nutrient, in fact, it’s possibly the most important of them all! However, your dog’s food will never provide enough, so your dog needs to drink too. Water facilitates every single metabolic process, and without enough, can cause dehydration which consequently can cause everything from diarrhoea to urinary infections.
How to Choose the Best Dog Food: AKA How to Read a Dog Food Label
Now that we know what the core nutrients are, we better learn how to read a dog food label correctly. This is essentially the best way to choose a dog food, as it’s the ONLY way to tell if it contains what your dog needs, and avoids what they don’t. With all the marketing poop floating about like “grain-free” and “hypoallergenic”, a common mistake is to infer that these are a sign of quality. The ingredients list gets rid of any misinterpretation as it’s the one place manufacturers can’t lie, jazz up, or tactfully “forget” something.
If there’s one thing you take away from this guide, it’s to ALWAYS LOOK AT THE INGREDIENTS LIST! Say it with me, ALWAYS LOOK AT THE INGREDIENTS LIST.
That being said, there are some cheeky tactics used, mainly by the big guys, to be as vague as possible. But fear not, we’re going to glue your eyes wide open and give you a step-by-step process so you know how to read a label like a top dog. This is also essentially how you can choose the best dog food.
Simply ask yourself each of these questions about the food you’re considering, and the answer in bold is the one you want.
Step One: Do you recognise all the ingredients?
Yes/No. If you’re looking at the ingredients list and getting flashbacks of your Chemistry GCSE, it’s probably safe to assume they’re totally unnecessary (and potentially not great) for your dog to be eating.
Step Two: Are ingredients grouped together?
Yes/No. Low-quality pet foods often try to hide their true ingredients by grouping them together into umbrella terms. These include things like “cereals”, “meat and animal derivatives” and “derivatives of vegetable origin”. If the manufacturer isn’t happy to tell you their exact ingredients, it’s either because a) they don’t actually know or b) they’re not particularly proud of them. Therefore if you spot these vague terms, expect the worst. I mean why bother when there are so many brilliant alternatives that give you proper clarity? Cough, cough, Scrumbles!
Step Three: Are there more than 10 ingredients?
Yes/No. As a general rule of thumb, the more ingredients there are, the harder the food will be to digest. Don’t forget to look out for pointless ingredients that are just in there to “look good”, without actually doing any good. E.g 0.001% of Salmon Oil, this quantity is insufficient for any benefit. Aim for under 10 ingredients (excluding vitamins and minerals) for healthy digestion, and those all-important pretty poops.
Step Four: Is meat the first ingredient on the list?
Yes/No. As omnivores, our doggies can digest lots of different foods. However, meat is still the numero uno ingredient that they’re best adapted to digest. Ingredients have to be listed in order of their abundance in the recipe. So, if meat is first, it means it makes up the largest percentage of the recipe. This is another reason why some brands use those umbrella terms, as by grouping (or ungrouping) ingredients, they can manipulate the order that they show. Super sneaky hey!
Step Five: Is it a high-quality source of meat?
Yes/No. By high quality, we mean that you know the source of the meat aka it’s not just “meat meal” or “animal by-products”. Even better if the meat or fish comes with accreditations like being cage-free, ASC, or MSC. These will not only indicate its quality but also that it’s been produced in a way that’s better for animal welfare and the environment.
Step Six: Is the meat fresh, frozen or dried?
We haven’t provided an answer for this one, as neither is inherently better. There are marginal differences in digestibility but any type of meat is perfect for your dog. It’s important to remember that fresh and frozen meat will have a much higher water percentage than dried. Therefore if comparing a recipe that uses fresh meat vs one that uses dried, remember that dried meat is the equivalent of about 3x as much fresh meat. Or if you’re looking at a fresh meat recipe on its own, by removing the water content (about 75%) you’ll get a better idea of its true volume in the recipe. Aka it might actually sit further down the list of ingredients.
Step Seven: Does the recipe include lots of ingredients from the same food group or break down one ingredient?
Yes/No. Whilst every ingredient can provide your doggy with slightly different nutrients, some brands use “ingredient splitting” to get around the fact they have to list ingredients by volume. For example, by listing each separate grain, they may appear further down the ingredient list. But if you added them all up, they’d make up the largest portion of the recipe. Similarly, they can even break up on single grain into different components to the same effect. Like in the below example maize is probably the first ingredient but by splitting it up into Maize Flour, Maize Gluten, and Maize Starch, Meat shifts to being the “#1” ingredient.
Step Eight: Are whole grains used?
Yes/No. As previously mentioned, grains in their whole form offer more extra nutrients. Examples of this would be to opting for brown rice vs rice flour.
Step Nine: Does the recipe contain artificial preservatives, flavours, or colours?
Yes/No. Artificial additives and preservatives hinder your dog’s digestion, which is why we avoid them from all our own gut-friendly dog food recipes. They normally have unfamiliar names like sodium benzoate or butylated hydroxyanisole, so you might have to do a bit of a Google. Opt instead for foods with natural preservatives like tocopherols or antioxidants. In the UK the majority of pet food is free from artificial ingredients but a quick google on the brand of your choice will quash any doubts you may have.
And there you go, by answering those nine questions and getting the correct answer, you should feel confident you’ve made the right choice!
Ingredients Your Dog Should Never Eat
The final pointer when looking at your dog food label is to look out for ingredients that are toxic to your dog. The main ones are; chocolate, onions, macadamia nuts, garlic, grapes, sugar, xylitol, salt, alcohol, and caffeine. Commercially available recipes designed according to FEDIAF guidelines and approved by the PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturer’s Association) are safest and won’t contain poisonous ingredients.
Other ingredients you should avoid include those that pose a hazard, such as bones and corn on the cob. As these can easily get stuck in their throat or cause dental issues. As well as other ingredients, that whilst aren’t toxic, your dog might be sensitive to. These include things like dairy, as the majority of dogs are lactose intolerant, and especially blue cheese, which contains a harmful fungus called Roquefortine C.
The Proof Will Be in the Poo
What goes in, must come out. Therefore one of the best ways to tell if you have chosen the best dog food is to look at your dog’s poops. Glamorous it ain’t, but insightful it is!
Not only can poop-perving tell you if their diet is right, but it could also indicate if they’re suffering from certain conditions. A good diet should equal what we at Scrumbles call a “pretty poop”. This is brown in colour, solid-in form, has smooth defined edges, and is shaped like a slightly unappetising sausage.
Poor diets may produce a brown, loose or sloppy poop, potentially indicating too many carbs, or highly processed. Whilst a yellow do-do may mean their diet is high in bone meal. Or check out more options via our Healthy Dog Poop guide.
We believe all parents should be poo proud, so don’t forget to explore our range of gut-friendly dog food and treats, specifically designed for pretty poops and healthy digestion. Every doggo is a beautiful individual and it’s normal to see some poo variation from time to time e.g. transitioning to a new food, during times of stress and if your dog isn’t up to date on flea or worming treatments.
So, what should I feed my dog?
Right, so it’s safe to say there are a fair few different types of dog food to choose from. But reading your mind, I know you’re wondering which is the best dog food for my dog? I’m psychic, I know.
Ultimately all dogs and dog foods are different, so there’s no “one-size-fits-all” answer. It’s therefore not a question of is dry dog food better than wet dog food, or is fresh dog food better than raw dog food. The right choice for you will depend on your individual dog’s needs and then the practicalities like what you can afford, what you have access to, what your dog likes the taste of, what you’re able to store, and if you’re happy to buy the product based on the brand’s values. Don’t forget that the only way to tell if it will meet your dog’s individual needs, is to look at the ingredients list and analytical constituents yourself. From this, you’ll be able to tell if the food is complete, balanced, digestible, palatable, and safe.
As the main variations in your dog’s needs depend on their size and life stage, we’ve broken the rest of the guide up into life stage sections; puppy food, adult dog food, and senior dog food. Plus a section on feeding fussy dogs, dogs suffering from common illnesses, and eco-floofs. So, tap on those links to jump to the relevant sections.
(8 weeks to 1 year)
What makes puppy food different to adult food, how to choose the best one, and when’s it time to switch to adult food?
Puppies keep their “puppy” status until they’re at least 80% fully grown, which for your typical small to medium breed dog is around the 1-year mark. Although larger breed dogs like St. Bernards are a little later to the adult party, at around 2 years. During this stage, your puppy has to develop their teethies, coat, organs, and muscle, grow rapidly AND learn all of life’s key lessons. All this means they require higher levels of calories, proteins, vitamins, and minerals proportionate to their size. With the exacting requirements specified in this Puppy Nutrients Table by the NRC.
What is puppy food?
Puppy food is one that’s been specifically designed so as to meet these needs. Ensuring your pup develops not only at the right speed but properly too. Giving them the greatest advantage to a fabulously healthy life ahead!
Not all puppies have the same requirements though. Perhaps contradictorily, large breed pups require fewer calories proportionate to their body weight, as they develop over a longer period. If their diet is too calorific, it can lead to an accelerated growth rate and/or obesity. Which in turn can both result in bone and joint issues like hip dysplasia. Therefore puppy food specifically designed for larger breeds tends to be lower in calories, and has different optimal calcium and phosphorous ratio.
Small breeds on the other hand have a super speedy growth rate and therefore have a much higher energy requirement. This is why small breed puppy food is more calorific. As well as typically having a smaller-sized bite for those ickle mouths – duh.
Some foods will also be labelled as “suitable for all life stages”, rather than specifically stating “puppy food”. These will meet the nutritional requirements for puppies, so are perfectly appropriate to feed.
How much to feed a puppy
How much to feed your puppy will depend on their breed, age and activity levels. Larger breeds unsurprisingly require bigger bowls of food. Nutrient density differs from brand to brand and the recipe you’re feeding. For that reason, you’ll want to start off by working out what your puppy’s specific calorific requirements are, then seeing how much this equates to in grams for the food you’ve chosen.
So if my pup was 6 kg, I’d need to make sure that the volume of food I fed equalled 537 kcal/day.
Most pet food brands also have their own feeding guidelines or interactive feeding calculators making it much easier for you to work out. Like this one:
How often to feed a puppy
Although there’s no set rule, most pet parents tend to feed their pup between 3 to 5 small meals a day when they’re under 6 months old, and 2 meals a day when they’re over. Simply take their total daily amount, and divide it by the number of meals to get the right weight. Their first meal should be around 7 am, and their last meal at 5 pm. This will give them enough time to digest whilst you tuck them in and sing them a lullaby.
If you’re at all forgetful like us, you may want to create a puppy feeding schedule like we did with Smudge, so you can tick off each mealtime.
How to choose the best dog food for puppies
For the majority of pet parents, the main decision about what to feed tends to be made when you bring home your puppy. This is also the time when your pup is developing most speedily, so it’s an especially important time to get your choice right! Your puppy’s first few days in their new home can be quite stressful so it’s recommended to stick to the puppy food they’re used to and then start the transition to the food of your choice after a couple of weeks.
Ensure that it is a complete recipe, that meets the special nutrient requirements we’ve just mentioned. Then besides this, you can follow the same steps we listed in the “How to read a dog food label” section to choose the best puppy food.
Common FAQ’s about puppy food:
1. What makes the best puppy food for sensitive stomachs?
If you think your puppy has a sensitive stomach because they’ve had; intermittently loose poops, abnormally stinky farts or occasionally vomit, you first need to work out what the cause is. We know food is often the first thing to blame, but sensitive tums are more likely to be caused by environmental or social factors, like stress from moving house. These symptoms could also be a sign of a possible illness, like pancreatitis.
If you have identified food as the cause, specifically certain ingredients, then the best sensitive stomach puppy food will be one that contains the right level of nutrients (not too fatty), and is made up of an easily digestible protein like white meat or fish, and doesn’t contain the problem ingredient.
How digestible a recipe is, is primarily impacted by the type of animal protein it contains and the quality of the ingredients. Certain proteins are more digestible than others, so opt for e.g chicken and fish over red meat. You’ll then want to choose a recipe with fewer ingredients, as this will be easier to digest.
There are some foods for puppies that go the extra step by including gut-friendly goodies like pre or probiotics. Don’t worry if you don’t know the difference, we’ve explained what probiotics vs prebiotics for pets are here.
2. Can puppies eat adult dog food?
If a puppy eats adult food as a one-off, it won’t cause any harm. However, if fed over a longer period, your puppy may not get the specific nutrients they require to grow and develop properly. Some adult dog foods are suitable for puppies though, so you need to verify if this is the case by looking for language like “suitable for all lifestages”.
3. When to switch from puppy to dog food?
The right time will depend on a number of factors like age and breed, as well as what you’re feeding. For small to medium breeds, it’s around the age of 1 that you start the transition to adult food. Your pup should be at least 80% of their full adult size. For large breeds weighing over 20kg as adults, you’ll want to move on to adult food around the 2-year mark (or again when they’re at least 80% of their full size).
Don’t forget that when you do transition onto adult food, you need to do so over a period of 7-10 days. Even if it’s the same brand. This will help prevent any upset tums, although if you do notice looser stools during the transition, this is quite normal. Don’t forget to recalculate the correct feeding amount, as this will change and the amount per bowl if you’re shifting from 3-5 meals a day, down to 2.
(1 – 7 years)
What is adult dog food, using a dog food calculator, and how to choose the best one?
What is adult dog food?
Small and medium dogs are typically considered adults when they turn one, and larger breeds when they turn two. Adult Dog Food is therefore one that’s been designed to provide all the nutrients they need during this stage of their life. Again these needs will depend on factors like whether your dog’s a small or large breed, has been neutered, or is a working dog.
Small and toy breeds require more nutrient-dense recipes as they have a high metabolic rate. For this reason, it may be suitable to keep them on their puppy food, which is likely to have an easier-to-eat kibble size. Larger breeds on the other hand will benefit from adult food that contains extra goodies like chondroitin, glucosamine, and MSM for joint care.
Whilst puppy food is designed for “growth”, adult foods are designed for “maintenance”. This is because adult dogs require overall fewer calories per kg than puppies and fewer calories to come from proteins in particular. For example, adult dogs should get about 18% of their calories from protein, whilst puppies need about 22.5%. For our golden oldies, it’s lower again.
How much should I feed my dog?
Most pet parents feed adult dogs twice a day, firstly around 7-8 am and lastly around 5-6 pm. The quantity you need to feed will depend on your dog’s body weight, activity level, and brand.
To calculate this, start off by working out your dog’s specific calorie needs.
Once you’ve established your dog’s daily calorie needs, you need to convert this into the weight of your chosen food. The majority of pet food brands will provide their calorie content per 100g. So as an example, if my dog needed 730 kilocalories/day, and my chosen pet food contained 129 kcal/100g, the calculation would look like this:
 /  = 1.39kcal (aka the calories in 1 gram)
[1.39] x  = 1014.7g (the weight your dog needs per day0
[1014.7] / [2 – or the number of meals per day] = 507g of food each meal time
Or an easier option will typically be to look at the packaging or website of your chosen dog food. Most notable brands will provide their own feeding guideline or calculator.
Dog Food Calculator
Here’s our feeding calculator which you can use to calculate how much Scrumbles wet or dry recipes you’d need to feed to your adult dog.
How to choose the best adult dog food?
To choose the best adult dog food, besides ensuring it’s a complete recipe, you’ll need to turn the pack around and look at the ingredients and nutrients analysis. You should be able to recognise all of the ingredients, a quality meat source should be the first mentioned ingredient, and you should be wary of recipes where ingredients are grouped together like “animal and meat derivatives”. For our step-by-step checklist with more tips, jump back up to our “How to read a dog food label” section.
Common FAQ’s about dog food:
1) How long does it take dogs to digest food?
Dogs take between 8 to 10 hours to fully digest a meal. However, this of course depends on how digestible the food is, how much they’ve eaten, and their breed or life stage. Meaning it can take up to 12 hrs or longer! The main factors affecting how digestible food is are; 1) the protein source 2) how many ingredients are in the recipe 3) how processed it is. Chicken and fish are the most easily digestible protein sources for dogs, and we recommend no more than 10 ingredients for easy digestion. Other additions like pre and probiotics can also improve digestion speed by increasing the size of and diversity of gut flora.
2) Why is my dog not eating his/her food anymore?
There are many reasons why your dog has gone off their food. Any changes to their environment, stress, illness, the recipe, or even simply changing their food bowl could be to blame.
3) Can dogs eat cat food?
As a one-off incident, it won’t cause your dog any harm to have eaten cat food. However, omnivorous dogs have very different nutritional needs than their obligate carnivore siblings, so stick to a food that’s specifically designed for dogs.
4) Can I feed my dog human food?
You should avoid feeding your dog human foods, as these tend to be higher in calories, fat, sugars, and salt. Feeding human titbits is one of the main causes of the growing dog obesity epidemic.
Senior Dog Food
What is senior dog food and when should you switch to it, if at all?
What is Senior Dog Food?
Pooches over 7 are considered seniors, but we prefer to think of them just living out their golden years. Again this age bracket fluctuates slightly based on the breed size, with small dogs becoming senior more around the age of 10, and large breeds showing signs as young as 5 years.
As dogs age, their metabolic rate and energy exertion typically slow down, meaning they require fewer calories. Therefore Senior Dog Food is typically one that contains fewer calories. It might also contain certain supplements like chondroitin, glucosamine, and MSM to support joints.
Whilst plenty of specifically designed senior dog food exists, it’s by no means essential to transition one. It’s just as effective to simply reduce the quantity of their adult food.
If and when to switch to Senior Dog Food
As mentioned, there’s no need to switch to a food that’s specifically designed for senior dogs. However, if you do choose to, for small dogs it should be around 10 years, medium around 7, and for senior dogs as early as 5-6 years.
Another factor to consider is that as your pooch ages, they’re more likely to start struggling with dental issues. If your dog is missing a number of teeth or has a sore mouth, you may want to explore a softer or wet food that’s easier to consume. Equally, senior dogs are more likely to suffer from illnesses like diabetes and kidney failure, so they’re more likely to require a specialised diet.
Don’t forget that whenever you transition to a new food, even if it’s the same brand, do so over a period of two weeks. Gradually increase proportions of the new food to the old food until you reach 100%
What is the healthiest dog food for senior dogs?
Overall the healthiest senior dog food will be much the same as their adult food. Older dogs do have a slower metabolism and are more likely to suffer from constipation, so do have slightly different nutritional needs including needing 1) fewer calories and 2) plenty of fibre. However, neither of these require you to move on to different dog food, as if you’ve chosen a good adult food, this should already provide enough fibre. So you can simply reduce the portion size to lower the calories. If in doubt, speak to your vet.
Fussy Dog Food
Perhaps it’s due to us pet parents spoiling our beloved furbabies, but pets of today are becoming ever-fussier. In fact, if we base things on the number of Google searches for the term “fussy dog food”, it would suggest dogs are now 300% fussier than they were in 2010.
With all these fussy pups, owners are increasingly looking for extra tasty recipes to ensure their dogs lick their bowls clean. Perhaps surprisingly, there’s actually quite a bit of science behind how tasty pet food is. So much so, that it’s even got it’s own name used by the industry – “palatability”. All commercial pet food recipes should have a palatability score, provided as a percentage. With 100% being the tastiest flipping bowl of food EVER! The score is calculated via something called a “two-bowl test”. Essentially a dog is presented with two bowls of grub simultaneously, and you see which they eat the most in a set period of time. Fun fact: our beloved labs are not allowed to partake in palatability testing as they effectively rate everything 100%!
Dogs rely heavily on their olfactory senses (whiffing) before eating anything, so the smell of the food is as, if not more important than the taste. Once they do take a chomp though, they use their 1.6k tastebuds to detect sour, bitter, salty, sweet, and umami tastes. Much like we do.
Besides these tastes, other factors affecting how palatable a recipe includes the texture, quality of raw ingredients, balance of protein and fats, and moisture content. So if you’re looking for the most palatable dog food, here’s what we’d recommend:
- Opt for a high meat content recipe. Dry or wet food is fine but often higher moisture content increases palatability so wet food or a mix might be preferable.
- Ensure the recipe is primarily quality meat or fish, aka it’s from a named source
- Choose a wet food with some texture to it, aka you can see bits of the ingredients still intact
- Make sure the packaging provides a thorough barrier, as exposure to oxygen can cause off-flavours
Besides the food itself, there are a whole load of external factors, which may affect your pooch’s desire to eat. Including everything from their stress levels to the type of bowl, they’re eating out of. For example, our Smudge only eats out of stainless steel bowls, and NEVER one that’s been touched by any other dog. Yet she loves a good ol’ puddle… So it might not be the food itself that’s deterring your pooch!
Food For Dogs With Health Issues
Sadly many pooches suffer from illnesses that affect how and what they should eat. Food can also play a role in recovery, so we’ve covered how to feed dogs with some of the most common conditions including pancreatitis, giardia, colitis, and vestibular disease.
What to feed a dog with pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is sadly a very common condition amongst our pooches. It occurs when digestion-aiding enzymes activate too quickly, causing inflammation of the pancreas. Whilst it can occur in any dog, the risk of developing it is greatly increased if you feed your pooch food that’s too fatty. Vets report large spikes around Christmas and Easter when the temptation to treat soars.
If you think your dog has or has had pancreatitis, the first thing to do is to visit your vet for an accurate diagnosis. It’s likely they will then recommend one of two options a) specially designed over-the-counter food b) a prescription diet. Although All About Dog Food recommend against prescription diets if possible. The main purpose of either of these will be to make digestion as easy as poss and reduce strain on the pancreas. This is done by having a low-fat content (under 18%), a lower protein content (still from a high-quality source), and no nasties like artificial additives.
We’ve designed our Salmon and Sweet Potato Dog Food recipe specifically for pooches with pancreatitis. This has a lower protein and fat content vs our other dry food recipes, with 50% responsibly sourced salmon and just 11% fat. Or you can also take your pick of our range of dog treats, which all have a fat content below 18%, our lowest being our Dental Sticks for Puppies at just 7.7%.
How to feed a dog with vestibular disease?
Vestibular disease affects a dog’s brain and inner ear, impacting their perception of space and making them feel like they’re falling or rolling at standstill. The cause of the condition is unknown but tends to be more common in senior dogs, or those suffering from other conditions like cancer or hypothyroidism. Whilst episodes tend to only last for around 72 hrs to a week, it’s important to know how you can help them to eat or drink during this rather stressful time.
As I’m sure you can imagine, constantly feeling like you’re falling would make anyone feel pretty sick. Hence dogs tend to lose their appetite, or even if they still want to eat, may not be able to hold down their food. Whilst tempting, it’s best not to change their diet, as you won’t have time to transition properly and may cause further problems from upset tums. Therefore the main ways to help them will be in how they eat, rather than what.
Keep them well supported whilst eating using props like pillows, or positioning them against a wall to help them feel less likely to fall. Try elevating their food and water bowl so it’s just below their chest to prevent them from having to move their head too much. Finally, remove any objects which may cause them to slip, like blankets or rugs, as these will just exacerbate nausea.
What to feed a dog with giardia?
Giardia is a nasty little parasite that causes diarrhoea. Treatment will involve eliminating the infection via medication provided by your vet, as well as treating the diarrhoea and subsequent healing of the GI tract.
Whilst your pooch is suffering from diarrhoea, ensure plenty of water is available and opt for an easily-digestible and simple diet like chicken and rice dog food to get those poops pretty again. This should take between 3 and 10 days. Once you’ve managed to get to this point, it’s time to focus on getting their gut microbiome back to its healthy state. This can be done by adding probiotics to their diet, either as a supplement or for ease, choosing a food with the probiotics already added. Like our range of dry dog food, which has a billion of probiotic “Enterococcus Faecium” per kg already added.
What to feed a dog with colitis?
Colitis is the inflammation of the colon, a fairly common condition in dogs. Like with giardia, one of the most common symptoms is diarrhoea. Therefore treatment will focus on making those poops pretty again, and enabling their GI tract to function normally again. Whilst suffering from diarrhoea, ensure plenty of freshwater is available, and opt for food with a highly digestible protein, like single source chicken or fish, and fat content of around 15%. Once the diarrhoea has subsided, we recommend adding probiotics to their diet to get their gut microbiome back to normal. This can be done by feeding supplementary pastes or opting for probiotic-packed dog food.
Eco-Friendly Dog Food
For planet-loving pets and parents, eco-friendly dog food is the way forward. But what makes dog food better for the planet?
We all want to do our bit for the planet, and our pets are no different. However, with all the information, misinformation, and green-washing about, it’s no easy task to know what really makes your dog’s food better for the planet. It’s also not just what goes into the food, but how it gets to your dog’s bowl, what it’s served in and how the company as a whole operates that matters. You have to consider the whole cycle! Therefore we’ve split the next bit up into the following sections:
Ingredients tend to be the focal point when thinking about the sustainability of dog food. They’re responsible for the largest chunk of emissions. However, for the most part, recipes are made using the by-products of the human food supply. AKA the bits left on the bones that would otherwise go in the bin. They’re still the most influential. By choosing foods made with more emission-intensive ingredients like red meat, or ingredients produced in unethical ways (like battery farms), you’re handing over your cash to those farms, enabling them to produce even more. Your pooch needs a high-quality protein source to live a happy life. And it’s evident from the chart below you should opt for poultry or fish. This helps your pooch minimise their pawprint. We recommend avoiding beef, lamb, and dairy!
You should also look out for credentials like Organic, ASC, MSC, and Cage-Free. This ensures the meat has been farmed in an ethical way.
The single largest change you can make to reduce your dog’s environmental impact is avoiding beef and lamb!
We made the decision from day dot to commit to a fully pollo-pescatarian diet. This means will never use red meat purely to reduce our impact. On top of this, we opt for local ingredients where possible like British poultry. This reduces our food miles! All our poultry is cage-free, and all our fish is either MSC or ASC certified.
Type Of Food
Not only is what goes into your dog’s food important, but what type of food it is all together. Wet food is packed with a higher water content which means pooches need to eat a larger volume of it to get the same nutrients. This also means it’s heavier to transport. Both make it more emissions-intensive transport-wise vs dry food.
Fresh food on the other hand requires you to store it in the freezer or fridge at home, as well as requiring cold-storage transportation to get it to you. A process that also requires extra packaging, more emissions-intensive than both traditional wet and dry dog food.
The transport of your ingredients and food only makes up about 6% of emissions. Opting for locally produced ingredients reduces transport emissions and helps support other local businesses. Knowing where your ingredients have come from, can offer a clue as to the ethics of how the food’s been produced. Different countries have different legislation on animal welfare. Some having much higher standards, like the UK and the rest of Europe.
Packaging always gets a big focus as it’s the most tangible aspect. Choose a food that’s served in packaging that’s either widely recyclable or home-compostable. This ensures it doesn’t end up in dreaded landfill. It’s equally important to ensure the packaging is fit for purpose, protecting the food with the appropriate moisture barriers. This is where recyclable mono PE plastic comes into its own.
Our final point is that you don’t have to do all the work examining a brand’s sustainability credentials yourself. There are a whole host of certifications available that you can look out for, which to qualify, will mean the company has passed their testing. Of course, these certifications range in rigorousness. You’ll want to look for one that’s verified and fully explains how companies get to certify. One of the best known in the UK is B Corporation. B Corp assesses all areas of a company’s sustainability, from its social to environmental impact. To date, it’s still one of our proudest achievements to have been the second-ever pet food company in the world to certify as one.
You’ve made it to the end!!
If you’ve gotten to this point, congratulations, we officially award you with our Scrumbles Certificate of Dog Food Wizardry. An owl will be delivering your real certificate shortly, so keep your window open.
We hope we’ve explained and answered any questions you may have had about dog food, but of course, feel free to drop us a line if we’ve missed something. You should now feel confident to make a decision about the best food to choose for your puppy or dog. And how to jump around all the obstacles and misinformation that might come your way. Perhaps you’ve also decided you’d like to give any of our gut-friendly dry dog food, wet dog food, or treats recipes a try. We’d also love to treat you to 20% off your first two subscription orders with us. Simply visit this link, build your box, and apply the coupon DOGFOODBIBLE at checkout. We can’t wait to hear your feedback, especially if it relates to #2’s!
Dog Food Terms Glossary
If you’ve been reading our Ultimutt Guide to Dog Food, or spotted a word on your pet food packaging that you’ve thought “what the heck do you mean”, no worries! There’s pretty much a whole “dog food language” to learn. No one’s expecting you to get them all straight off. Here’s our glossary to help:
Ash – Minerals, i/e the inorganic matter left behind after combustion of an ingredient.
Bio-appropriate – Meant to describe foods that dogs have adapted to be able to digest during their evolution
Carrageenan – A naturally occurring extract from seaweed, used as a gelling agent in wet food
Cold-pressed – A manufacturing method where pre-heat-treated ingredients are cooked at a lower temperature and require gelatin
Complete – Contains all the nutrients your dog needs to thrive, can be fed mixed with any other complete recipe
Complimentary – Doesn’t contain all the nutrients your dog needs, cannot be fed alone
Crude – Unrefined or un-processed
Dry Matter – If all water content is removed, the part that’s left behind
Food allergy – An immune system response to a certain food, however little is consumed. Symptoms include digestive issues, difficulty breathing, and hives.
Food intolerance – Difficulty digesting certain food, potentially resulting in physical reactions like bloating
Grain Free – Free from grains, i.e barley, rice, corn, wheat
Human Grade – Ingredients that originally met the legal edible standards to be consumed by humans. As soon as any ingredient enters a pet food manufacturing facility, it loses this status.
Hypoallergenic – Free from common allergens
Life-stage – The stage of life, typically either puppy, adult or senior
Natural – Only contains ingredients that naturally occur or derive from naturally occurring products
Prebiotics – Indigestible carbs that act as the food source to fuel probiotics
Prescription – Specially formulated for certain illnesses or conditions
Probiotics – Good bacteria that live in the gut, supporting healthy digestion, immune function + pretty poops
Single-Source Protein – Only including proteins, fat or by-products from one species of animal, i.e just chicken
Toy Dog – These are very small breeds, for example, Chihuahuas
Working Dog Food – Specifically designed for working dogs, however in practice the recipes are very similar to adult dog food. The main difference is that it’s always VAT free.