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November 2023

What Do Dogs Eat? Food Diets and Types

Diet and Nutrition

Just like us, our dogs are what they eat. Their health and happiness are reliant on being fed a nutritionally balanced diet.

Whether it’s wet, dry, raw or homemade food, our pets require the same benefits from their diet as what we need as humans, including:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Vitamins & Minerals
  • Water

Many different varieties of food available cater to your pet’s needs depending on their breed, age, and health. Make sure you do some research and consider all the different types on offer before selecting a diet for your dog. Plus, always consult your vet for more tailored advice.

What’s the Best Diet for Dogs?

It’s an age-old question that can be answered in many ways, depending on the expert or person you consult. With lots of research and studies available, you might find similarities and some inconsistencies in the information presented. However, what’s certain is dogs require a nutritionally balanced diet high in protein, and fat, with lower levels of carbohydrate, including fruit, vegetables and other plant-based matter.

“It’s essential to ensure a balanced diet for your dog, as an excessive or inadequate intake of any nutrient can bring a detrimental effect to a dog’s health, sometimes causing irreversible damage to their bodies.” – Dr Natalia Li, PETstock VET.

Common Types of Dog Diets and Food Types

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Due to the varying research mentioned above, answering the question ‘What do dogs eat’ isn’t as straight forward as you might think, as the types of diet options available to your dog has increased significantly over the past few years. It is up to you to interpret the research, consult professionals you trust, and feed with caution to find the right fit for your pet.

Every dog, like humans, can respond differently to a specific diet, so just make sure your dog is getting regular health check-ups, and immediately consult your vet if you notice any health issues.

Breed Specific Dog Food

Developed based on the specific attributes of your dog’s breed, breed specific dog food takes into consideration what your dog was initially bred for, the strengths of their breed and any health issues they may be prone to. This food provides balanced nutrition depending on what your dog needs to be their best. Royal Canin is one of main brands of dog food which caters to breed specific needs.

Find out more about Royal Canin's tailored nutrition for pure-bred dogs.

Natural and Holistic Dog Food

Natural and balanced, these diets are jam-packed with fruit, vegetables, and meat, as well as nutrients essential to your pet’s health.

You’ll find natural or holistic pet food consists of only natural ingredients without any chemical alterations. Generally, this includes no added colours, flavours, or preservatives; it is just the best ingredients nature offers. The thinking behind this diet is similar to that of raw dog diets, where studies look into the way dogs consumed food and nutrition before domestication.

Grain-Free Diets

Grain-free food has become popular among pet owners (just like grain-free and gluten diets for humans), and it’s a diet free from all grains, including wheat, corn, rice, oats and barley. A grain-free diet is mostly chosen by a pet owner due to a food allergy diagnosed by a vet; however, other sources also promote it is a more natural diet, free of excess carbohydrates.

Despite some of the heralded benefits of a grain free diet, many studies and vets warn against pet owners choosing a grain-free diet without proper research and reasoning. You shouldn’t automatically choose a grain-free diet because you’ve heard it’s ‘healthier’.

Raw Diet for Dogs

Many pet owners now choose to feed their dogs a raw diet founded on the basics of what dogs would eat in the wild (wolves and canines) before domestication - their prey, fish, eggs, vegetation. Many people who feed their dog a raw diet claim the benefits of a shinier coat, healthier skin, more energy, and even improved dental health.

If you’re considering switching your dog to a raw diet, make sure you consult a vet and do it gradually – as it can make your dog sick (as with any major change in a dog’s diet).

BARF and RMBD models

BARF, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, is one of the most common models of a raw diet for dogs. It is based on fresh, raw animal meat, bones, fruit and vegetables, and other tasty nutrients like live probiotics, cold-pressed ground flaxseed and kelp powder.

Another common model is RMBD, which is similar and otherwise known as the Prey-Model, but it excludes grains and vegetables. It also includes organs, muscles and bones.

Mixed feeding diet

Some people choose to feed only kibble to their dog, while others feed only wet food. However, mix feeding can offer unique benefits, i.e. getting the best of both worlds. It all comes down to personal choice, and some dogs may prefer the taste of one over the other – usually, wet food wins out. As with all other diet choices, you just need to ensure your dog is getting the right balance of nutrients. Dry food is also beneficial in its texture, being able to gently remove any excess food or grit from your dog’s teeth.

The most important nutrient that differentiates wet and dry dog food is the moisture or water content. In dry foods, the moisture content is around 8%, while in wet foods, this is usually around 75%. This means about 92% of the dry food, and 25% of the wet food contains all the other essential nutrients and energy for your pet. - Royal Canin

The Raw Food Collection

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Dehydrated Diets/Dog Food

Dehydrated diets and food are made from raw ingredients; however, different preservation methods are employed to eliminate pathogens in raw meats. Essentially, all the raw feeding benefits, without the preparation fuss and pathogens often found in raw meat.

Dehydration involves removing moisture from the ingredients with warm air to preserve them while maintaining all the nutrients and keeping enzymes intact.

Science Diets

The thinking behind a science diet is all about individual needs, based on a whole range of differentiating factors, whether it’s life stage, breed, health conditions or more.

Some food brands actively produce these diets and food options in line with formulated research conducted by the likes of pet nutritionists, vets, scientists, and individual case studies, to provide biology-based, tailored nutrition. Some of these brands include Hill’s and Royal Canin.

Food and diets produced by these brands:

Mobility, Weight, Puppy, Adult, Large Breed, Adult Active, Healthy Ageing, Active, Digestive Health and more.

Many of the studies and thinking behind these diets are conducted in specified research institutes and centres worldwide, including WALTHAM Petcare Science Institute and the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Centre.

Homemade diets

Getting in the kitchen and creating your dog’s weekly menu is best done under vet supervision and guidance - especially if this is to be your dog’s sole source of food. Striking the right balance of nutrients for your dog requires lots of research and time, which is why it’s often easier to purchase premium foods and brands off-the-shelf. When you buy from brands who have already done the research, and you can see the evidence, it means less work on your end when preparing food. It’s all about finding a product that suits your dog’s needs and is manageable to monitor.

If you are looking to feed your dog a homemade diet, please consider the following:

  • Do your research – it is important to know what you can and cannot feed your dog as well as the core nutrients they rely on.
  • Speak to your vet before you make the transition and seek their advice on the diet you are planning to feed your dog. As a minimum, remember:
  1. Must be balanced between protein, plant based foods, grains and ‘good’ fats.
  2. Only use good-quality, human grade foods and avoid fatty cuts of meat.
  3. Avoid scraps and left overs. These should be given in moderation to your dog, as a treat only.

So, when finding the answer of ‘what do dogs eat?’, you’ll see there are more options than you think.

Food for Your Dog’s Life Stage and Specialised Health Requirements

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As humans grow, we need different food formats and nutrients, which is similar for your dog. When a puppy is growing, the right food is essential in their development and health. Similarly, as a dog begins their senior years, they may need an adjustment to their diet. It’s important to ensure you’re feeding your dog the right types of food at the correct stage of their life, including anything specific to health issues or conditions.

Here’s a breakdown of what dogs should eat based on their life stage:

Puppy food

Premium puppy food gives your dog all the essential nutrients required during this important stage of your dog’s life, helping them grow and develop into happy adults. It features high calcium and phosphorus for bone health and higher calories.

“Protein is needed for growth and because their GI tract (gut) is physically smaller than an adult. They need to be able to consume more calories with less quantity.” – Dr Natalia Li, PETstock VET.

Puppy food is also available in natural, holistic, grain-free and breed-specific diets so you can find the right fit for your puppy.

If you are not sure which food is best for your puppy, chat to your vet or head in-store where our team can help you talk through the options.

Adult food

Once your dog hits their adult years, you should transition to adult food. The food made for adult dogs features less calories and is well-balanced to ensure your dog maintains a healthy weight. You’ll also notice adult food is broken down further (some brands only), available specifically for small breed dogs and large breed dogs, as smaller dogs generally need more protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre than larger dogs. Kibble size is also bigger for large breed dogs, to encourage slower eating.

Mature dog food

Depending on the breed, your dog is considered ‘mature’ from about seven years old. Mature food varieties are designed for older dogs who have started to take life a bit easier and, as a result, had a change in their nutritional needs. With large breed dogs, this change will take place at around five years old.

An often-overlooked segment in a dog's life stage cycle is their more mature years, typically between seven and twelve. While your dog still has lots of life and probably doesn't have problems playing and exercising with you, you may notice that they are starting to slow down a little, and play sessions aren't as long as they used to be. Dogs are no different from humans in this regard. Just as we slow down with age, so do they, so it is vital to feed a dog food that meets their mature adult needs. (Hills Pet Nutrition)

Senior or Mature foods contain ingredients that address your pet’s health needs as they get older, such as glucosamine to support their joints, as well as other vitamins and minerals that help them age with care.

Special needs dog food/prescription diets

If your dog has a health condition or specific health needs, specialised diets and food are available, including prescription diets. Prescription foods are only available from a vet and should only be adjusted under vet advice.

“Prescription diets are a really good way to supplement medication for specific diseases and can also act as a preventative. For example, putting middle-aged dogs on a joint diet to promote moderate joint health before the signs of arthritis kicks in, or feeding cats a dental diet as they’re quite prone to dental diseases but less likely to tolerate teeth brushing than dogs.” Dr Natalia Li, PETstock VET.
Prescription food types cater to:

  • Metabolic and Mobility
  • Joint Care
  • Skin and Food Sensitivities
  • Digestive Care
  • Dental Care
  • Kidney Care

Premium Food and Non-Premium Food

When it comes to premium food and supermarket food, you shouldn’t directly base the ‘quality’ of the food solely on its price point. Instead, you should look at the nutritional value (displayed on the back of food packaging) it offers your dog.

If you look at your nutritional label, some cheaper options offer lower quality ingredients and a higher proportion of carbohydrates. Whereas premium offerings should provide all the essential nutrients without any hidden preservatives or fillers – this is the cornerstone of ‘premium’.

Due to the research and care which goes into creating super premium food, there are many different varieties to suit the health needs, life stage and development your pet. We recommend you do your research, speak to your vet or a pet nutritionist if you want to ensure you’re selecting the right food for your pet.

So, what’s the best diet for dogs? And what do dogs eat? A healthy diet for your dog should always include key sources of nutrients, but choosing the perfect diet isn’t always going to be the same for every dog. Make sure you read up, consult professionals you trust, and speak to your vet for further advice.

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