How does nutrition relate to emotional wellbeing? 

As well as providing complete and balanced nutrition that dogs need to physically thrive, feeding plays an important role in delivering enjoyment and pleasure. Food can help you reinforce desirable behaviours, encourage the expression of natural behaviours, provide a source of mental stimulation and strengthen the bond between you and your dog. There are so many ways in which thoughtful feeding can help nourish your dog’s emotional wellbeing, as well as their physical health.

Intro

dog food being eaten by dog shine image

In this section…

You will learn more about: 

  1. Understanding dog's natural diet and feeding behaviour
  2. Diets for changing life stages and lifestyles
  3. Veterinary Diets
  4. Treats
  5. Key Messages

Key terminology

The process of providing and obtaining the nutrients necessary for the health and growth of animals.1 For optimal emotional wellbeing of your dog, nutrition should also provide enjoyment and be delivered in a manner that encourages mental stimulation and the expression of natural behaviours 

The food and drink that are regularly consumed by an individual.2 Diet is how a dog gets the nutrition that they need. There are seven main different categories which go into a diet3,4  

A diet that has been carefully formulated and balanced to provide all the nutrients required by a healthy dog, at the right ratios for a particular life stage (puppy, adult, pregnancy/lactation)

Foods that can be given in addition to a complete and balanced diet (e.g. as a treat or topper) but do not meet all of your dog’s nutritional requirements and therefore should not be fed continuously or as their sole diet 

Foods that contain a high moisture content (usually 70-80%) and are sealed and cooked at a specific temperature for sterilisation, such as tinned or canned dog foods, sachets or pouches. Wet foods are available in a variety of textures such as chunks with gravy, pates, jellies and casseroles 

Foods that have a lower moisture content and are typically baked/extruded, such as traditional dog kibble  

Feeding a combination of both wet and dry dog foods 

Commercial raw diets are typically made from meat and edible bone that has been minced and frozen at low temperatures (often combined with vegetables, fruit and herbs). They may be complete or complementary and are usually available frozen or freeze-dried  

Foods typically given to your dog as a reward or snack, that aren’t usually intended to provide a complete and balanced diet

A method of evaluating body composition using a visual and feel-based assessment of the dog’s abdomen and body overall5  

Using food to encourage dogs to engage in natural feeding behaviours such as chewing and foraging, providing mental stimulation and opportunities to exercise control or choice.5,6 Using food for training or in puzzle games are examples of nutritional enrichment.  

See Introduction, Health, Nutrition, and Environment for more information about the other types of enrichment.  

Understanding dogs’ natural diet and feeding behaviour 

Understanding a little about natural canine feeding habits and their unique digestive system can help you make the right feeding choices for your dog’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

The wolf, who shares a common ancestor with our domestic dogs, will eat up to one fifth of their body weight in a single meal and then may go for several days without eating. 

puppy eating healthy treats shine image

Semi-Carnivores

Though dogs are classified as semi-carnivores and require a high-protein diet, they are very much opportunistic feeders and have adapted to eat meat, grains and vegetables (an omnivorous or semi-carnivorous diet). Though many owners are interested in the growing trend of ‘grain-free’ diets, research has shown that an increased ability to digest starch may have played a key role in the early domestication of dogs.7 A summary of current scientific information regarding grain-free diets can be found here. Dogs have also evolved to obtain food by scavenging, which may explain why many dogs tend to seek out and eat whatever food they find, even if it’s not what they physically need.   

woman training dog in a park with training treats shine image

What is the right diet for my dog?

The best diet for your dog should not only meet their nutritional needs but also enhance health and wellness throughout every stage of their life. The right food will address their individual needs and preferences, be highly palatable and enjoyable to eat, respect any dietary sensitivities and keep them in good physical health throughout their life. Food can be safe and nutritionally complete and still not be the best diet for your dog – just like humans, not all dogs will optimally thrive on the same diet. In addition to a high-quality diet, your dog also requires regular access to fresh water.  

What is the right diet for my dog? 

To help you decide the best diet for your dog’s individual needs, we’ve put together this useful guide which you can download below. It covers lots of topics like: 

•   The challenge of making complete and balanced pet food at home 

•   All the things you need to think about when you’re choosing the right food for your dog 

Diets for changing life stages and lifestyles  

Your dog's nutritional requirements will change throughout their life as they grow from puppy through to senior. These requirements may vary depending on breed, neuter status, lifestyle and any underlying medical conditions. Tailoring your dog’s nutrition to support their physical health will also improve their long-term quality of life and emotional wellbeing. For example, life stage-specific diets are formulated to take into account factors such as palatability and texture, which can enhance your dog’s enjoyment of their food. What’s more, a diet which more closely meets your dog’s changing nutritional needs can enhance the satisfaction they gain from eating. 

Life stages of the dog

Puppies have different nutritional requirements than adult dogs, as they’re undergoing a period of rapid growth and development. To support the unique requirements of a growing puppy, it’s important to feed a nutritionally complete and balanced diet formulated specifically for puppies and young dogs until they reach adulthood. For example, puppies need three times the level of calcium and phosphorus in their food13 for healthy bone growth compared to adult dogs. Puppies will also need feeding multiple times a day for a certain period to ensure they have adequate energy to learn, play, and interact with their surroundings.

Switching to an adult diet too early is one of the most common causes of nutritional issues in puppies, which can manifest as problems with musculoskeletal development that can carry on into adulthood.14 This can affect their ability to exercise normally and live pain-free throughout their life.   

The WALTHAM™ Puppy Growth Charts are the first evidence-based growth standards for pet dogs and have been developed using professionally accepted scientific methods with data derived from 50,000 dogs. The charts provide a useful tool to track puppy growth and help give your dog the best start to life.   

Toy or small-breed dogs will reach adulthood by around 12 months of age.  

Large and giant-breed dogs mature more slowly and are not considered fully grown until 18-24 months of age.  

So, young larger breed dogs require appropriate nutrition to support their growth for longer than smaller breed dogs. This is crucial to help prevent painful joint problems that can impact their physical health. Smaller-breed dogs, however, are susceptible to becoming overweight if portion sizes are not carefully controlled. See how conditions such as obesity and joint disorders negatively impact physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing in Health.  

generally need fewer calories as their energy requirements decline. Weight gain will make it especially difficult for a senior dog to continue to enjoy an active lifestyle. They may also need a specially formulated diet to support underlying health issues, for example, a fibre-rich diet can be beneficial for dogs with diabetes.15 Older dogs may also find eating harder foods more difficult if they have any dental issues. In addition, their sense of smell and taste may be reduced or have changed, so they may prefer different smells, textures and formulations of food.  

also have very specific nutritional requirements, needing a special diet to stay in good health and maintain the energy required to produce and nurture healthy offspring. In fact, research suggests that better maternal care can increase puppies’ confidence, ability to interact with people, and willingness to explore, all of which improve their emotional wellbeing.16 On the other hand, studies in other species show that malnutrition during pregnancy can have serious long-term consequences on the offspring including altered brain development and increased sensitivity to stress in adulthood.17 

Always be guided by your veterinarian in choosing and changing your dog’s diet.  

Changes in even an adult dog’s diet may have unexpected effects, such as in the level of aggressive behaviour they show.18 Any change in diet should be done gradually over 7-10 days, by adding increasing amounts of the new food to their current diet, up to their daily calorie requirement.  

Intro

vet examining health of dog shine image

Clinical and veterinary diets

Nutrition can also be a useful tool in helping manage medical conditions that may be responsive to diet modification – and not just for senior dogs. When used appropriately, clinical diets can improve quality of life, enhance emotional wellbeing and even contribute to an extended lifespan.  

There are many mechanisms by which these diets can improve physical and emotional wellbeing. They may reduce the clinical signs of disease, slow down disease progression, increase the amount of exercise a dog can do, or reduce the amount of other medication needed to manage the condition. Improvements in physical health will also inevitably have a knock-on effect and improve mental and emotional health, in many cases.    

Examples of diseases that often require clinical diets include IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), food allergies (cu...

Nutrition can also be a useful tool in helping manage medical conditions that may be responsive to diet modification – and not just for senior dogs. When used appropriately, clinical diets can improve quality of life, enhance emotional wellbeing and even contribute to an extended lifespan.  

There are many mechanisms by which these diets can improve physical and emotional wellbeing. They may reduce the clinical signs of disease, slow down disease progression, increase the amount of exercise a dog can do, or reduce the amount of other medication needed to manage the condition. Improvements in physical health will also inevitably have a knock-on effect and improve mental and emotional health, in many cases.    

Examples of diseases that often require clinical diets include IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), food allergies (cutaneous adverse food reaction), certain types of bladder stones (struvite urolithiasis) and diabetes. Conditions like obesity, joint disease, dental disease, kidney disease and heart disease may also warrant a specially formulated, veterinary diet. For dogs with dietary allergies there are also plenty of hypoallergenic diet for dogs available.

Continue Reading Show Less
vet check on a dog shine image

Dietary Advice

It’s important to remember that many diets need to be prescribed by a veterinarian or a specialist in veterinary nutrition after a diagnosis has been confirmed, as they may not be appropriate to feed to healthy pets. However, there are also some readily available diets for dogs needing support in these areas that don’t require a veterinary prescription.  

For more information about how your dog’s physical health can affect their mental health and emotional wellbeing, see our Health section.  

Download your detailed dog diet guide here

To help you understand even more about this fascinating topic we’ve created a guide which you can download below 

You’ll find lots of important information on: 

- Maintaining a healthy weight for emotional wellness 
- Obesity – a growing problem 
- Tailoring a diet to your dog’s individual needs 
- Is your feeding routine right for your dog? 
- Food as enrichment: understanding how you feed your dog matters, as well as what you feed and when 

Get Treat Wise 

Here are our top tips for treating your dog in a healthy way:  

Intro

TOP TIPS

Key Points

Intro

01

Thoughtful feeding and nutrition help your dog physically thrive AND play an important role in delivering enjoyment and pleasure, supporting emotional wellbeing.

02

Food can help reinforce desirable behaviours, encourage natural behaviours, provide a source of mental stimulation and strengthen your bond with your dog.

03

Your dog’s diet should be tailored to meet their unique needs including life stage, breed, health status, lifestyle and individual preferences.

04

Feeding a high-quality complete and balanced commercial dog food is an easy and effective way to meet these complex requirements.

05

Nutrition plays a key role in maintaining healthy body weight and preventing obesity. Being overweight or underweight affects how a dog feels.

06

How and when you feed your dog is as important as their diet. Enriched feeding encourages natural behaviour and provides mental stimulation.

07

Treats should be fed with care at no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake to help prevent obesity.

Description

 

References

  1. Arai, T, 2014, The development of animal nutrition and metabolism and the challenges of our time, Front. Vet. Sci. doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2014.00023, Accessed 30 December 2021
  2. Biology Online, 2021, Diet, Available at: https://www.biologyonline.com/dictionary/diet, Accessed 02 January 2022
  3. PFMA, 2015, The Different Pet Food Formats, Available at: https://www.pfma.org.uk/the-different-pet-food-formats, Accessed: 07 February 2022
  4. AAFCO, 2012, Reading Labels, Available at: https://talkspetfood.aafco.org/readinglabels, Accessed 07 February 2022
  5. German, A, & Butterwick, R, 2012, WALTHAM™ pocket book of healthy weight maintenance for cats and dogs, 2nd edition, WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition: Leicestershire, p. 6
  6. Ohio State University, What is environmental enrichment?, Available at: https://indoorpet.osu.edu/dogs/environmental_enrichment_dogs, Accessed 31 December 2021
  7. Axelssonm, E, Ratnakumar, A, Arendt, ML, et al., 2013, The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet, Nature, Vol 495, pp. 360-364
  8. Grandjean, D, & Butterwick, R, 2009, WALTHAM™ pocket book of essential nutrition for cats and dogs, 2nd Edition, WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition: Mars, pp. 1-64
  9. Stockman, J, Fascetti, AJ, Kass, PH, & Larsen, JA, 2013, Evaluation of recipes of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs, J Am Vet Med Assoc., Vol 245(2), p: 177
  10. Wernimont, SM, Radosevich, J, Jackson, MI, et al., 2020, The Effects of Nutrition on the Microbiome of Cats and Dogs: Impact on Health and Disease, Front. Microbiol. doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2020.01266
  11. Mondo, E, De Cesare, A, Manfreda, G, et al., 2020, Depression and Microbiome – Study on the Relation and Contiguity between Dogs and Humans, Appl. Sci., Vol 10 (2), p: 573
  12. Kirchoff, NS, Udell, MAR, Sharpton, TJ, 2019, The gut microbiome correlates with conspecific aggression in a small population of rescued dogs (Canis familiaris), Peer, J, 10.7717/peerj.6103
  13. National Research Council, 2006, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, Washington DC: National Academics Press
  14. Hill, R & Butterwick, R, 2012, WALTHAM pocket book of puppy nutrition and care, WALTHAM™ Centre for Pet Nutrition: Beyond Design Solutions Ltd, pp. 1-28
  15. Laflamme, DP, 2005, Nutrition for aging cats and dogs and the importance of body condition, Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract., Vol 35 (3), pp. 713-742 
  16.  Lezama-García, K, Mariti, C, Mota-Rojas, D, et al., 2019, Maternal behaviour in domestic dogs, International Journal of Veterinary Science and Medicine, Vol 7 (1), pp. 20-30
  17. Ye et al., 2018 Behavioural Brain Research, 349, 116-12
  18. Kleszcz A, Cholewińska P, Front G, et al. Review on Selected Aggression Causes and the Role of Neurocognitive Science in the Diagnosis. Animals : an Open Access Journal From MDPI. 2022 Jan;12
  19. Salt, C, Morris, PJ, Wilson, D, et al., 2019, Association between life span and body condition in neutered client-owned dogs, Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Vol 33(11), pp. 88-99
  20. PMFA, 2009, Pet Obesity: The reality in 2009, Available at: https://www.pfma.org.uk/_assets/docs/White%20Papers/PFMA_WhitePaper%20Final.pdf, Accessed: 30 December 2021
  21. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 2019, 2018 Pet Obesity Survey Results: U.S. Pet Obesity Rates Plateau and Nutritional Confusion Grows, Available at: https://petobesityprevention.org/2018, Accessed 30 December 2021
  22. WSAVA, 2011, Nutritional Assessment Guidelines, Journal of the South African Veterinary Association, Vol 82(4), Available at: https://wsava.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/WSAVA-Nutrition-Assessment-Guidelines-2011-JSAP.pdf, Accessed 04 February 2022
  23. German, AJ, 2006, The Growing Problem of Obesity in Dogs and Cats, The Journal of Nutrition, Vol 136(7), pp. 1940S-1946S
  24. Le Brech, C, Hamel, L, Le Nihouannen, JC, & Daculsi, G. 1997, Epidemiological Study of Canine Teeth Fractures in Military Dogs, Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/089875649701400203, Accessed 30 December 2021
  25. Vieira de Castro, AC, Fuchs D, Morello, GM, et al., 2020, Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact oof aversive-base methods on companion dog welfare, PLOS ONE, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225023, Accessed 02 January 2022