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What Do I Feed My Adult Dog?

Food and Nutrition for Your Adult Dog

By Mary Kearl. November 05, 2012 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

What Do I Feed My Adult Dog?

Knowing what to feed your adult dog will help them live a longer, healthier life. Find out what to look for in your adult dog's food.

Knowing what to feed an adult dog is an important step in pet parenthood—proper nutrients are the building blocks of a healthy lifestyle, so you’ll want to know what to look for in dog food.

If you got your dog as a puppy, you’ve had several great years together already, and you may be a bit of an expert on what to feed your puppy, but now you need to know what makes for good food and nutrition for your adult dog.

As a general rule for all canines, the amount of food required will vary based on a number of factors, such as age, breed, sex, level of activity, behavior, environment, and metabolism. While there’s no definitive diet, following these simple guidelines for food and nutrition can help you help your adult dog age gracefully. As the American Animal Hospital Association asserts, “good nutrition enhances pets’ quality and quantity of life.” In fact, the proper diet could help your pooch avoid, postpone, or treat disease related to aging.

Serving Up a Balanced Diet

Water: Did you know that water is the most important nutrient you can give your pet? So always make sure plenty of clean H20 is within reach.

Nutrients: Complete nutrition for dogs consists of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in the right balance, which is most easily achieved through commercially available dog food.

What to Look For:

Look for claims that say “complete and balanced nutrition,” “meets the nutritional requirements of dogs established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO),” or “complete and balanced nutrition for dogs based on AAFCO feeding trials,” on the packaging of dry, semi-moist, and canned dog food.

For your adult dog, look for these amounts of protein and fat in dog food:

  Protein Fat
Wet Food  5.5-8%  3-5%
Dry Food  22-30% 10-16% 


If you want to prepare foods at home, seek the guidance of a veterinarian or board certified veterinary nutritionist.

If you’re planning to switch to a new food, do so gradually—blending the new kind in with the old over a few days to a week to help your pet adjust to the change.

How Much Is Enough?

Store-bought pet food typically lists approximate portions to feed dogs—tailored to several different body sizes—which can be followed to start with and then tweaked to fit your pet’s needs. Remember to keep mealtime consistent and that adult dogs only need to be given a meal once or twice a day.

Free feeding, or leaving food out all the time, may promote obesity, so use your best judgment about leaving food openly available.

Weight Matters

According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, “obesity is the number one nutritional disease affecting our pets.” Why? Older dogs tend to increase their body fat and lose their lean body mass. As their activity levels diminish, they’ll develop a more sluggish metabolism. To keep them in shape, keep calories in check while making sure to maintain protein content to help them stay muscular. More fiber will help them feel full on fewer calories. And of course, you may need to reduce or eliminate their treats! 

The Numbers Guide If Your Dog Needs to Go on a Diet:

  Protein Fat Fiber
Wet Food 6% or more less than 3% 2% or more
Dry Food 24% or more less than 12% 6% or more


How Can I Help My Dog Best Prepare for the Next Life Stage?

Dogs are typically considered seniors starting at 7 to 12 years of age, depending on the breed, and this is also when you can expect to see the effects of their new phase in life, including a drop in muscle mass, intestinal problems, arthritis, obesity, dental issues, lower immunity, waning vision and hearing, cardiovascular disease, cognitive issues, and a decline in the health of your pet’s skin and coat.

You’ve likely heard of the anti-aging benefits of antioxidants for your health, and foods that include these nutrients—those high in vitamin E and beta-carotene in particular—can also boost your dog’s immunity and may be useful in slowing the development of aging-related issues. 

Ensure your dog’s skin and coat stay healthy by monitoring levels of an important nutrient, linoleic acid—an omega-6 fatty acid. Talk to your vet about when your dog’s diet could start including increased fatty acids or supplements.

Labels on Commercial Food: Before you buy a product that is labeled “senior diet” or something similar, speak with your vet about the pros and the cons of the particular item. Currently, there is no regulation behind—or credible organization validating—such claims.

Read more about diets specifically for senior dogs who need to lose weight or who are maintaining a healthy weight.

More on Nutrition for Dogs

How to Know if Your Dog is Overweight
How to Know if Your Dog is Underweight
6 Nutrients that Burn Fat

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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