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If you were with me in the previous puppy guide, everything we talked about in terms of dog foods and nutrients, essential vitamins, how much food, and how many calories sets us up for learning what's best for your dog's diet during the adult stage of their life. Now with an adult dog, how you feed your dog depends on other nutritional requirements.
In planning nutritional needs and how to feed your adult dog optimally, we'll apply what we learned for a young dog to a different, somewhat slower-paced life stage with your adult dog focused on growth.
We'll take factors into account such as activity level, spay/neuter status, dog's breed or mix (if known)/medium breed dogs/large breeds/smaller breeds/ working dog tendencies, and your dog's digestive system.
I go into a lot more depth on the nutrients dogs need in the step-by-step guides in Needed Nutrients in the Basic Nutrition Channel here on Dogly but in general adult dogs need:
Protein needs remain relatively consistent throughout a dog's life, but the amount of fat and carbohydrates will vary based on your dog's activity level. For example, a couch potato dog will need less fat and carbohydrates than a highly active dog.
The type of protein in your dog's food is also important. Animal-based proteins like chicken, beef, lamb, and fish are all excellent sources of protein for dogs. Plant-based proteins like soy, wheat, and corn are not as easily digestible and do not provide all the essential nutrients that dogs need.
When it comes to fat, there are both good and bad fats. The good fats are unsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil, fish oil, and flaxseed oil. These fats help support a healthy coat, skin, and immune system. The bad fats are saturated fats, like those found in butter and lard. These fats can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for dogs, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Simple carbohydrates like sugar and corn syrup are quickly converted to glucose and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates like those found in whole grains, vegetables, and beans are slowly converted to glucose and provide a more steady source of energy.
The best way to ensure that your adult dog is getting all the nutrients they need is to feed your dog a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet. There are many different types of commercially available dog foods that meet these criteria. If you want to know which dog foods I recommend, go here for dry dog food and here for dehydrated/freeze-dried food. Or a canine nutritionist can help you create a recipe for your own homemade dog food.
Whether you feed your adult dog commercial food or homemade food, it is important to remember that not all dogs are the same. Some dogs may need more or less of certain nutrients than others.
Many dogs at this point can be prone to being overweight due to overfeeding (treats count too!), lack of activity, and poor (possibly carb-heavy dry food) diet. This is something we want to make sure doesn't happen as it can set up dogs for major health issues as they become senior dogs.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is one of THE most important things you can do for your dog's health and longevity. Overweight/obesity makes it 10x more difficult for dogs as they enter their senior years, making disease (cancer, diabetes, heart issues) much more likely along with joint and mobility issues from the added pressure on hips and joints.
Taking care to stay at a healthy weight sets up your dog to live his or her best life now and through the senior years.
“...feeding recommendations should be individualized. The best feeding method is one that maintains optimal body weight and condition, bearing in mind that disease conditions may require dietary changes.” - Merck Veterinary Manual
That guidance was originally created for the veterinary community but is invaluable to every dog parent focusing on the food your dog needs to thrive as an adult and in the future in the ranks of super healthy senior dogs.
Once a dog has reached adult weight and has stopped growing (remember this can vary), the dietary goal is to maintain an ideal body weight for that particular dog.
To figure this out, you can use the RER / MER methodology as discussed in the previous puppy step-by-step guide or you can also use metabolic weight (MW) which I will outline below. MW is developed for pets from the NRC Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats.
Then you will determine your dog’s energy/activity level using a scale of 90 - 130. 90 is equivalent to a geriatric senior dog who might go for a short walk once a day or every few days. 130 is for a highly active, even working dog, doing multiple hours of exercise a day. You can go lower or higher than 90 and 130 if needed. Most dogs in this stage fall somewhere in the middle.
Then you’ll take the number you calculated before and multiply that by the energy activity level, and that equals your calories to feed YOUR dog.
Here is the calculation for one of my adult dogs…
Jayne is a 2-year-old spayed female; she exercises 45 minutes-1 hour a day, sometimes doing heavy running, and she weighs 42lbs. Her initial calculated number is: 9.118. I am going to multiply 9.118 x 115 = 1,048kcals to feed her daily.
“Any daily feeding recommendation should be considered an estimate or starting point and should be modified based on continual evaluation of the dog’s weight and condition, skin and coat, performance, and general attitude.” - Merck Veterinary Manual
This is super important because Jayne’s needs will vary as she gets older. She is much more active now, but that could change in two years. This is why, whether I feed her dry dog food, wet dog food or home-cooked meals or a raw diet, it's important to know the amount of kcals she needs based on her individuality.
Now that I’ve introduced MW calculations for adult dogs, I'm going to let this sit with you for a bit and then part 2 of feeding adult dogs for life stages will talk more about the food itself.
Many owners ask about dietary restrictions (such as grain free or low-phosphorous) and best dog food for sensitive stomachs with their pets - that's where we go beyond calories numerically and consider factors like absorption and increasing your individual dog's ability to access the nutrients in nutrient-dense human grade foods like organ meats, kale, and muscle meat or in commercial foods like dry food/kibble in your dog's meal.
Dive in to Part 2 when you're ready! We’ll go over nutrient requirements for adult dogs, diet choices for the best dog food for your dog (from best dry dog food, wet food, to fresh & raw diets), probiotics, and supplements.
Now that you've gone through part one to learn what your adult dogs needs from food to thrive, continue adding to your nutritional knowledge for your dog in part two here. Or you can always jump back to the introduction of feeding for life stage or ahead to senior dog feeding guides.
Hop over to the Basic Nutrition Channel if you have any nutrition related questions for the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Needed Nutrients. And if you ever need more personalized nutrition guidance, please reach out!
Small Animal Clinical Nutrition
Nutrient Requirements of Dogs & Cats
Merck Veterinary Manual
DISCLAIMER: The content of this website and community is based on the research, expertise, and views of each respective author. Information here is not intended to replace your one-on-one relationship with your veterinarian, but as a sharing of information and knowledge to help arm dog parents to make more informed choices. We encourage you to make health care decisions based on your research and in partnership with your vet. In cases of distress, medical issues, or emergency, always consult your veterinarian.