What are the life stages of feeding my dog?

We break the dog life stages down into three critical categories. First, we have the puppy lifestyle when the puppies are rapidly growing. Their energy needs are very high, so those foods will be higher in protein and higher in carbohydrates. We have our middle-aged dogs that are not growing anymore. They generally don't have any disease states going on. And that's the regular age group that's just called adult. And then we have senior foods. The senior foods are when animals are older. Animals reach senior “status” at different ages based on the breed and the animal’s size. For instance, a Great Dane may be considered elderly at six or seven. And a little tiny poodle may be regarded as elderly more when they're 12 and older.

But these foods are lower in protein. They usually have joint supplements in there as well. They may be lower in phosphorus and calcium. And so you can see that we would not recommend food that's called "all life stages" because it would be over the amoun t of protein and calcium for an older dog. And if you fed the puppy the more senior food, it would not have enough calories and proteins for their needs. So there are three different and distinct life stages.

Dr.Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

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

We recommend feeding puppies, in particular, on a schedule. You can monitor how much they eat. You can make sure that they don't play hard and fall asleep and then forget to have lunch. So we recommend that they have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The other thing about that is it's a little easier to get them housebroken if they are on a schedule, and then they'll be more successful.

When dogs are older, and we're not trying to get them housebroken; it is okay to leave food down for them all day long if they're a type of dog that just likes to nibble here and there. In the case of dogs that are gobblers that are going to eat all of their food immediately; then I think they need to be fed specific meals. And sometimes, we need to feed our overweight dogs specifically designed meals so they do not get too many calories in a day.

How would you know if they were suffering?

Weight loss, weight gain, maybe lethargy. They don't have a lot of energy. But I would hope that you would go to a veterinarian because they were not doing well. We can then discover whether or not it was a nutritional need or a different type of a problem going on.

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

We ask you to feel along the ribs. You should always be able just gently to feel their ribs. At the top, a dog should be rounded if you look straight down from the top. They shouldn't be squared off. And if you look at a dog from the side, their tummy should be tucked up a little bit. They shouldn't just sag down. So those are some things to look for, and you can always ask us as veterinarians. We'll give you our expert opinion.

What are the essential nutrients that my dog needs?

All dogs need proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and fats in their diet.

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

That's one reason we recommend that all of your dogs have a physical exam once a year. It's a good time to talk about their weight, look at their teeth, listen to their heart and lungs, check their hair coat, their mucous membrane color, the shininess of their eyes, and we ask you a lot of questions about their behavior. Sometimes, there may be a problem that’s related to nutrition, other times it could be a different disease. Still, it’s a great time to discuss that and then actually talk about your dog’s lifestyle and how that may need to change a bit as they get older.

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

It's very confusing out there right now. We know. The first thing we think you should do is rely on a specific source for your information. Veterinarians are excellent sources of information. We follow nutrition, and we have specialists that we can always talk to about food. The second thing is to find a company that you believe in. And here at Countryside, we love to talk about nutrition and promote good nutrition for all pets.

Some of our favorite companies are Purina company and Science Diet Hill's. They make excellent dog foods. And Royal Canin is another one of our favorites. When they’re older and their kidneys are not working as well as they should, some dog food companies have nutritionists and toxicologists on board. At any time, we can call them and ask them questions about specific needs for a particular patient. They do food trials so that when they formulate a food, they make sure they feed it to the dogs and get the outcome they're expecting. So talk to a trusted source, and then let's rely on different companies that we know that we can count on.

When would my dog need a prescription diet?

There are many times in a dog's life that they may need a prescription diet. For instance, a diabetic dog might need a diet higher in protein and less in carbohydrates. Purina makes a product called EN. The EN is a diet specific for dogs that have gastrointestinal problems, vomiting, and diarrhea. It's easy to digest. When they're older and their kidneys are not working as well as they should, some dogs may need a special diet. So going to the veterinarian regularly and also using your instincts about any changes in your own animal's behavior is crucial. And if nutrition is part of the answer, then that's what you need to do: go on a prescription diet.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Nutrition - FAQs

Dr.Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

Can I feed my dog human food?

We really don't recommend that you feed them human food. There are so many needs for dogs that you should feed them the particular lifestyle that they are in. And then they can be supplemented with some dog treats, for sure, but people food - even things like grapes that are healthy for us - can be very toxic to dogs.

So the best thing to do is just, across the board, say that you're not going to feed your dog people food. They'll be less likely to become overweight. They won't beg from the table so much. They will be healthier if you follow that recommendation.

How do I know if the food I'm giving my dog is making them sick?

That should never happen. You should pick dog foods to begin with that you know you can trust. Anything from Purina and Hills and Royal Canin make excellent choices. And you should feed them appropriately within the guidelines that they recommend or that your veterinarian has suggested.

But if you fed them something and they vomited it up, they had diarrhea, they were lethargic—all of those are good clues that that was not sitting well with them at all.

Can changing my dog's diet suddenly cause harm?

Yes, we always recommend that you take at least a week to transition your dog's food from one food to another food. It gives the bacteria a chance to change which bacteria it needs to break it down.

Sometimes the fiber content of one food is different from another. We don't want any shock to their little gastrointestinal system. So make your changes slowly and I think you'll be more successful.

How does an elimination diet work?

We use an elimination diet when we think a dog has either a gastrointestinal or a skin problem related to its diet. When dogs have an allergy or a hypersensitivity to food, it's generally the protein, the beef, the chicken.

And of course, the most common protein that we feed dogs sometimes is milk protein. It's not ever very often a grain that’s causing you hypersensitivity. So a hypoallergenic food or elimination food is picking a food that has a single protein, and probably one that you've never been on before.

So if you're always feeding chicken, we might try a lamb food and also a single carbohydrate source so we can eliminate all the other possibilities. Then we feed them that for about 12 weeks, during which time your dog's GI problems or skin issues are hopefully better.

Then you can then slowly add back a few things. And if the dog does well on them, then that is not something they were allergic to. So that's how we do that.

How do I know if my dog has eaten something toxic to them?

Any sudden change in behavior, hiding, crying, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, anemia, or anything like that - if your dog has had some sudden change in the way it's behaving - is enough reason to call your veterinarian and take them in to have a visit.

At that visit, we are very likely to ask a history. Have they been outside where they might've gotten into a mushroom? Have they been inside? What do you feed them? Do they get people food? Anything like that is important, particularly with puppies, because they're known to eat things that they shouldn't.

Don't try to figure out any sudden change by yourself. Ask for some help, or you can call poison control because there is a dog poison control as well.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.