Labrador Retrievers need many different kinds of nutrients to survive.
These are proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. Due to the breed's propensity to easily pack on the pounds, you will need to closely monitor your Lab's diet to ensure he is not overeating.
He also gets adequate exercise throughout his life to keep him lean, fit, healthy, and happy.
The best diet for Labradors is a protein-rich high-quality diet consisting of 18-22% protein. Dogs can also obtain nutrients from fruits, vegetables, and grains.
However, they should have the right balance of protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber for optimum health and longevity.
Feeding To Maintain Optimum Weight
Your goal in feeding appropriate amounts of food to your Lab is to achieve a healthy balance in satisfying her hunger while maintaining an optimum weight.
Unfortunately, Labrador retrievers are drawn to food. Fondly known as "bottomless pits" by Lab aficionados, it seems they can't eat enough, and they're not particularly fussy about what it is they consume!
With Labs, you must maintain a constant vigil on their caloric intake and try not to let that sweet face and those pleading eyes break down your resistance when it comes to treats and table scraps.
Of course, feeding a diet consisting of high-quality animal protein, complex carbohydrates, and the proper fat ratio is paramount.
Seek advice from your veterinarian, breeder, or from tons of online resources such as the AKC and the websites of some of the most popular commercial brands of dog food for nutrient and feeding guidelines.
Labrador Retriever Food Choices
When developing a diet for your Lab, you have several things to consider, most importantly, what type of food will it consist of, how much of it will you feed your dog on a daily basis, and at what intervals.
If you feed her a commercial kibble, should you select one that's breed-specific or an all-breed one? Some dog foods are specific to the dog's stage of life, such as adult or senior. Most lines of commercial kibble offer a puppy version to meet an immature dog's unique requirements.
Or maybe you have the kitchen savvy, time, and inclination to whip up your own homemade dog food, and don't forget a third diet type, the controversial raw meat, and bones diet, also known as BARF (Bones and Raw Food Diet), which has its proponents and detractors in the veterinary community and among dog breeders.
Such a vast array of dog foods precludes any quick and easy decision; only research will help make clear what's best for your dog, your lifestyle and the convenience factor, and, of course, your budget.
The main nutritional requirement of Labradors is protein. Protein has several functions such as building and repairing tissues, providing energy, and keeping the immune and musculoskeletal system strong. The amount required by puppies and adult Labradors is different:
Growing Lab puppies require a minimum of 22% protein whereas adult dogs require a minimum of 18% protein.
The protein is measured on a dry matter basis which means once all the water from the food has been removed.
For example, fresh chicken contains 70-75% water, but the percentage of actual protein is somewhere between 10-20% after this is removed. The second main nutritional requirement for your Labrador is fat.
Fat comes from protein and provides energy. It is also necessary for the normal function and development of body cells, nerves, muscles, and tissues. Again, the amount required for puppies and adult dogs differs.
The recommended fat content for growing Lab puppies is 8%, and for an adult dog, 5%.
A dog’s precise nutritional requirements will depend on many factors such as life stage, breed, size, activity level, and general health. For example, a lively and growing puppy may need double the calories of an adult dog of the same breed. Senior dogs may need 20% fewer calories than middle-aged dogs.
Adult Labrador Food Guide
All commercial dog foods feature feeding guidelines specific to their food on the package label. Consequently, there is no gold standard for how much to feed your dog — it will vary between foods since each contains a different caloric value. Even within the manufacturer's guidelines, you will need to make adjustments in how much you feed your dog depending on his age, activity level, and temperament, says Eukanuba in regard to their breed-specific dog food for Labrador retrievers, which has 23% protein.
For example, these are the manufacturer's general recommendations for daily rations of Eukanuba Labrador Retriever Adult Dry Dog Food:
- For a 50-pound Lab feed 2-1/2 to 3 cups daily.
- For a 60-pound Lab feed 3 to 3-1/2 cups daily.
- For a 70-pound Lab feed 3-1/4 to 3-3/4 cups daily.
- For an 80-pound Lab feed 3-1/2 to 4 cups daily.
- For a 100-pound Lab feed 4-1/4 to 4-3/4 cups daily.
- For a 120-pound Lab (yes, some are that big!) feed 4-3/4 to 5-1/4 cups daily.
Another popular, high-quality Labrador-specific dog food is Royal Canin Labrador Retriever Adult Dry Dog Food, which has 28% protein, and breaks its handy Labrador food guide into not only pounds but also activity level:
- For a 57-pound Lab with low activity feed 3-3/4 cups, medium activity feed 4-3/8 cups, and high activity feed 5 cups.
- For a 66-pound Lab with low activity feed 4-1/4 cups, medium activity feed 4-7/8 cups, and high activity feed 5-1/2 cups.
- For a 75-pound Lab with low activity feed 4-5/8 cups, medium activity feed 5-3/8 cups, and high activity feed 6-1/8 cups.
- For an 84-pound Lab with low activity feed 5 cups, medium activity feed 5-3/4 cups, and high activity feed 6-5/8 cups.
- For a 97-pound Lab with low activity feed 5-5/8 cups, medium activity feed 6-1/2 cups, and high activity feed 7-3/8 cups.
To avoid any gastrointestinal issues and bloat, divide the daily portions into two or three meals.
Labrador raw food diet
Dogs are indeed predators, and as such, eating a diet they would consume in the wild makes perfect sense for people who feed a raw diet to their Labs.
If you are weighing the pros and cons or sitting on the fence about the benefits and risks of a raw diet, join the crowd and do your research.
While the percentage of dog owners who do feed raw is growing, key elements of the diet, for example, feeding raw bones and the dangers such as choking are a huge consideration.
On the other hand, benefits include the exercise of his jaw and positive impact on the teeth, less chance of bloat, and many others.
As a feeding guideline for a raw diet, Pippa Mattinson of The Labrador Site suggests to feed 2 to 3% of your dog's body weight a day for an adult Labrador.
Overweight Labrador Diet
To prevent an issue with your dog being overweight, it may help to visualize a not-so-pleasingly plump, lazy, and uncomfortable dog who is not behaving like the active, fun-loving Lab she was born to be, and who seems much older than her years — that's the picture of an overweight dog.
Dogs like Labs that are not only highly intelligent but also highly motivated by food are a cinch to train, and humans quickly learn that treats are also the trick to getting their Lab to behave, explains Mental Floss.
But surely, those treats add up, and can lead to the bad habit of begging. Keep in mind that if you give in to your Lab's seemingly constant hunger, overweight is a slippery slope into obesity, and that's dangerous.
Canine obesity causes a multitude of health problems, from strain on the joints that compromise mobility to chronic diabetes, lung disorders, immune dysfunction, and heart disease that ultimately shortens the lifespan.
If your Lab has become overweight — sometimes the pounds creep up on your dog without you even realizing it — Donna Spector, DVM has a simple solution to whittle your dog's waist down to size: consume fewer calories (eat less) than she burns (exercise more).
Therefore, to achieve the weight loss you should reduce her treats to zero, decrease the amount of food she eats by about a third less says The Labrador Site, and get active with your dog by taking more walks and other light exercises appropriate for her overweight condition — consult a dog food calculator to determine the proper serving size.
As she slims down and becomes more agile and fit, she will regain her enthusiasm for fun and that irrepressible joy for life that is so captivating about Labs, eagerly looking forward once again to her favorite activities like swimming, playing fetch, and jumping for a Frisbee.
Buying food for a Labrador Dog
When buying food for your Labrador dog, make sure it's high quality and will satisfy all of his nutritional needs. For instance, Royal Canin Breed Health Nutrition Labrador Retriever Puppy Dry Dog Food is perfect for when your pup is still little. It means the nutritional needs of purebred Labrador Retrievers that are eight weeks to 15 months old, and the donut-shaped kibble will help them eat slowly.
It helps a puppy's developing immune system with its complex of antioxidants like Vitamin E, and it promotes weight management and healthy growth of bone structure with its balanced energy intake and precise mineral content.
As your Labrador gets older, he can start eating Royal Canin Breed Health Nutrition™ Labrador Retriever Adult Dog Food. It's for purebred Labradors that are 15 months and older and it supports bone and joint health with DHA, glucosamine, and EPA.
It also reinforces the skin barrier by providing essential nutrients that support healthy skin as well as dense undercoats.
Are Labradors Carnivores?
Many people like to think of dogs as pure carnivores, but are they just meat-eaters?
Labradors are not carnivores, but omnivores. Whilst protein makes up most of a dog’s diet, the domesticated dog also now obtains nutrients from not only grains but from fruits and vegetables.
Dogs have adapted to a starch-rich diet over thousands of years of domestication. They have evolved to become omnivores and have shown that they can flourish on a variety of foods all of which are a valuable source of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
We know that the domesticated dog is a direct descendent of the grey wolf. This study showed that wolves were adaptive true carnivores, whereas modern-day dogs differ in many digestive and metabolic traits associated with omnivores.
What Foods Can Labradors Eat?
We now know what nutrients dogs need, but exactly what foods can Labradors eat? Let’s take a closer look at the main foods Labradors can eat?
Labradors can eat a range of foods that are perfectly safe and healthy. These include proteins – such as beef, lamb, pork, and chicken; grains such as wheat, oats, corn, and rice; dairy such as yogurt and cheese; and fruit and vegetables such as apples, berries, carrots, and peas.
- Meats should be lean with all the fat removed. Avoid processed meats such as bacon and sausage as they contain a lot of salt and seasoning.
- Most vegetables should be cooked first to help with digestion however raw carrots and green beans are fine.
- Remove all pits and seeds from fruits as they are a choking hazard. They also contain cyanide which is toxic to dogs when consumed in large quantities.
- Don’t feed raw eggs or raw fish due to the risk of salmonella or listeria.
- Nuts are not recommended due to their high-fat content which can cause vomiting and diarrhea. They are also a choking hazard.
- Avoid dairy foods if your dog is lactose intolerant.
Dry foods are one of the most popular types of dog food. There are two varieties of complete dry dog food. These are KIBBLE and COLD-PRESSED DOG FOOD.
Cold-pressed dog food is currently only available in the UK and Europe where it has recently become very popular. It is deemed a higher quality of kibble due to how it’s cooked.
Kibble is simply ground up ingredients made into pellets of different shapes and sizes. This is made either through an extrusion process or through oven baking under high pressure or temperatures.
All kibble is made the same way by using the same kind of machinery. Even high-quality kibble made with the best ingredients is made using the same process.
What is cold-pressed dog food? Cold-pressed dog food is made by a unique cooking method. Complete dog food is produced at a much lower temperature so that the food retains greater nutritional value, vitamins, and flavor.
Both kibble and cold-pressed provide more nutrients per bite than wet food because they contain less moisture. This means you won’t have to feed as much to satisfy your Labrador’s appetite.
When comparing dry food with canned wet food, dry costs less per meal and there can be less waste as it can be left in your Lab’s feeding dish longer, unlike canned, which needs to go back in the refrigerator.
Dogs with dental problems may also benefit from dry food as it helps to clean their teeth and gums.
Dry dog food is the most practical choice for a medium-large dog, such as a Labrador, however, kibble and cold-pressed comes in all shapes and sizes, so smaller breeds can choose a smaller variety.
Dry food may be fed dry, or you can occasionally make it into a tasty “gravy” by adding warm water. Some owners also like to add a topping to their dog’s food such as cooked meats, fish, or vegetables, and this is exactly what I like to do with my dog.
Although I feed my dog a top brand of cold-pressed dog food, I often add a small amount of chicken, beef, turkey, or even a spoonful of Greek yogurt to her food, just to mix it up for her and vary the taste and texture. However, this isn’t really necessary if you choose a good quality product.
She also likes tuna in oil which helps to keep her coat and skin shiny and healthy. When I add a topping I slightly reduce the quantity of her dry food to ensure that she is not putting on extra weight.
Canned Wet Foods
Canned wet dog foods contain around 75% moisture whereas dry foods contain up to 10%. Therefore, the higher the water content, the fewer nutrients, so your Lab has to consume more food to get all the nutrition he needs.
Another thing to know is that not every brand of canned food provides sufficient protein that your Labrador needs.
Therefore, a wet diet can work out more expensive, especially if you have a medium-large breed of dog but may be ideal if your dog enjoys eating a larger portion. Also, a wet diet may be better for smaller breeds.
Be cautious of lower quality canned foods too as manufacturers often add thickeners such as wheat flour, white rice, or other grains.
Wet food may be more suitable if your dog is a picky eater or if you have a senior Labrador who has lost his appetite and who may find wet food more appetizing.
You can buy semi-moist dog foods however these are not as popular as they offer the least nutritional value and can also be expensive.
Unfortunately, dog food companies add substances such as sugar and salts to preserve moisture and shelf life. Many semi-moist foods are also loaded with artificial color, chemical preservatives, and chemical flavor enhancers.
A semi-moist diet may not be appropriate for your Labrador Retriever especially if he is on the heavy side and needs to lose a few pounds.
However, semi-moist food may be the best choice if your Lab finds it difficult to digest all other types of food. He may also enjoy the meaty taste and find this type of food more palatable if he is an extremely fussy eater.
If you are contemplating this type of food you should seek the advice of your vet to determine the calorie content of the food and an appropriate daily portion for your Labrador.
A Mix of Dry and Wet
Some dog owners choose a mix of both dry and wet foods. The foods can be mixed together at each meal or you can alternate, giving wet in the morning and dry in the evening (or vice-versa).
I’ve also heard of Labrador owners, who generally feed dry food, occasionally use wet food as a topping in their dog’s bowl.
If you choose a mix of dry and wet foods, it’s best to stick with the same brand. Make sure you’re not increasing your dog’s calorie intake if mixing these foods, and as above, seek professional advice to make sure that your dog is getting the correct nutrition.
Home Produced Diet
Some Labrador owners like to feed their dog a home-produced diet (known as home-feeders). Due to the convenience and variety of both dry and wet dog foods, this got me wondering exactly why someone would choose to be a home-feeder?
Here are the main reasons I discovered:
- Home-feeders sought alternatives to commercial pet foods as they were concerned about the nutritional value of the ingredients used.
- Home-feeders simply enjoyed preparing the food and strengthening the bond with their dog, or satisfying their views.
- Home-feeders believe their pets will simply not like or refuse to eat commercial dog food.
- A home-prepared diet may be needed to help with a diagnosis (eg, for a food elimination trial) or if a dog has several diseases for which no commercial diet exists.
- Home-feeders sought comfort for dogs with a chronic or terminal illness.
There are several disadvantages to the home preparation of dog food. It can be achieved, but it takes a lot of dedication and hard work, and it may end up being more expensive than the best quality dog food you can buy.
Home-made diets can provide complete nutrition, however, you need to make sure your Labrador gets the correct mix of protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. This can be quite difficult to do daily.
If you choose to prepare a home-cooked diet for your dog, it’s best to consult your vet first. You can also find professional pet nutritionists, certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, who have the expertise to customize a healthy diet for your Labrador.
It is recommended to cook all animal products to kill bacteria that could make your Labrador sick unless your dog is used to a specially prepared raw diet. Vegetables and grains should also be cooked to make them easier for your dog to digest.
My final thoughts on helping you decide on whether to feed your dog a home-produced diet would be:
- Do you have the time to prepare your dog’s daily meals?
- There are many top-quality commercial dog foods on the market that have all the nutritional requirements your dog needs.
- Your dog will need regular health checks to make sure he doesn’t have any nutrient deficiencies.
From three to four weeks onwards, it’s safe to start feeding your Labrador puppy raw food. Raw feeding is controversial but it’s based on the principle of feeding dogs the foods that they would have naturally consumed before domestication.
Although sled dogs and racing greyhounds have long eaten a raw food diet, every now and again there will be a trend for feeding dogs an all-raw diet consisting of raw meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and some dairy.
However, there are two important factors to consider when deciding to feed a raw diet to your Labrador. The first is to ensure that your Lab is getting a complete and balanced diet and all the nutrients he needs to keep him healthy and free from disease. This is particularly important when feeding a growing puppy.
Like home-made diets formulating raw diets can be difficult as you need to ensure you are not either under or overfeeding key nutrients, especially if your Labrador is either pregnant, lactating, or sick, and therefore has different nutritional requirements.
The second biggest concern is food safety issues relating to bacterial or parasitic contamination in raw meat. Food poisoning is a major threat to both human and dog health when feeding raw foods.
If you are considering feeding your Labrador a raw food diet, you should make sure you are fully aware of the safe and proper handling of raw foods and all associated food safety issues.
Many raw-feeders will claim that feeding a raw diet has numerous health benefits, ranging from higher energy levels, better digestion, a shinier coat, healthier skin, cleaner teeth, and generally living a healthier life.
Dehydrated And Freeze-Dried
You have the option of feeding your dog a dehydrated or freeze-dried diet and both have become more popular over the past few years.
Both of these diets are similar in that they have their moisture removed to preserve the food so artificial preservatives are not required, however, they do have quite a few differences.
Dehydrated foods are partially cooked at low temperatures to remove most of the water. The food is heated but not fully cooked so nutrients and enzymes remain intact. They are a complete diet and are often seen as a step-up from regular extruded kibble.
When preparing dehydrated dog food, you just need to add warm water. The result is food similar in texture to canned wet food but far less processed. These foods are convenient to feed, easy to store as they do not need refrigeration, and have a long shelf life.
A dehydrated diet is a good choice if your dog has a sensitive stomach as the food is easier on the digestive system due to the gentle cooking process.
Freeze-dried foods are essentially a raw diet presented differently.
In freeze-dried dog food, the raw ingredients are frozen first and then added to a strong vacuum that converts the moisture into vapor. The food is then packaged in an airtight container. This process decreases the number of bacteria such as salmonella, unlike a true raw diet.
Freeze-dried food has the appearance of kibble and does not have to be rehydrated before being eaten, however, your Labrador may find it more palatable and easier to digest if some water is added first.
They are usually very high protein diets with fruits and vegetables occasionally added. Freeze-dried is a great alternative if you want to feed a raw diet but don’t like to handle raw food but want to feed a healthier and less processed diet.
You can incorporate freeze-dried into your dog’s diet by mixing it with other types such as kibble or wet.
These foods are more expensive than regular kibble but since the food has most of the moisture removed they are more nutritionally dense, so you feed your dog less.
Many pet food companies have invested millions of dollars into researching what ingredients contain the maximum levels to achieve a healthy, balanced diet to aid not only essential puppy growth but also mental and physical development.
It’s your job to do your due diligence and choose the best one for your doggo! If your dog is eating a complete and balanced diet, there’s no need to feed additional supplements unless recommended by a veterinarian. So, here’s my best advice:
Choose a diet that suits your dog’s life stage, your beliefs, and your lifestyle, and buy the best quality dog food you can afford. If you do this your dog will live a longer and healthier life and you will both be happier.