Basic Guide To Dog Food

When you purchase a puppy or adopt a dog, you will immediately be responsible for providing it with an adequate, balanced diet. A purpose made, complete dog food is the most convenient and safest type of food to give. There are lots of different types and brands of dog food on the market, suitable for different sizes, age or type of dog, so it can be hard to work out which is best. We have put together this simple guide to help you in establishing a diet which is right for your dog.

dog food types

Puppy food

If you have purchased a puppy, it is best to feed it food labelled for puppies. This is because it’s nutritional composition differs from adult dog food. It typically contains more protein, required for bone growth and muscle development, and less carbohydrate, as puppies shouldn’t have as much exercise as adult dogs. Dry puppy food tends to be in smaller pieces than adult dry dog food, to make it easier for their smaller teeth to bit and chew. Puppies have smaller stomachs and weaker digestive systems than adult dogs, so should be fed smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, according to the puppy’s weight and the instructions on the food packaging. 

Adult dog food

Puppies can move onto adult dog food from 12 months onward. They tend to be fully grown by 18 months, which is when their nutritional needs might change – for example onto a food lower in protein. Adult dogs need only be fed twice a day (morning and evening) again, according to it’s weight and the guidelines given by the food manufacturer. 

Also consider

Adult working dogs, such as farm dogs, will burn more calories than a house dog, so may need a larger portion or even a brand specific to working dogs.

Equally, spayed and neutered dogs will have a slower metabolism as they have no reproductive hormones requiring energy, so they may need a smaller portion. 

It’s important to observe your dog’s weight regularly by weighing them and looking at their body condition score. The PDSA has an easy guide to follow here.  

Make small changes gradually

You may need to switch brand or type of food if your dog doesn’t like it or it is causing an adverse reaction. New food should be introduced gradually, so as not to upset the dog’s stomach, eg. across a couple days. Once a suitable type of food has been identified it is best to stick to the same brand where possible as long as it continues to offer what the dog needs.

At IWCT, most of our dogs have suffered from mange prior to rescue, and we have found that dry dog food containing lamb and rice is better for dogs prone to skin conditions. For this reason, we try to stick to brands which contain these ingredients. 


Always make sure that clean, fresh drinking water is available to your dog at all times of day, but also at meal times. Ensure food and water bowls are regularly disinfected to reduce the risk of spreading diseases – especially in houses with more than one dog or if roaming community dogs are fed together. 

Store your dog food appropriately, dry dog food should be in an airtight container. Half opened tins or trays of wet dog food should be covered, stored in the fridge and used within 48 hours. 

You can provide the occasional treat or scraps of your own leftover food such as rice, potato or vegetables (nothing containing small bones such as chicken or pork as they may get stuck in the throat or stomach) but remember a lot of food nutritious to humans is actually poisonous to dogs. We have a list of poisonous foods here. 

If you are unsure as to whether your dog is on the right diet, ask an IWCT member of staff or volunteer.

Download and share the dog food guide PDF below: