Labrador Diet & Meal Plan Advice
By Hungry Bark | February 24, 2021
Deciding the right meal to feed your Labrador Retriever should be treated seriously. For a pet breed that's friendly, agile, sturdy, and prone to health problems, nutritious foods are critical to their health and wellbeing.
Whether your Labrador is a search and rescue dog, show dog, canine athlete, service dog, or couch companion, they need balanced diets to stay healthy and active.
However, with the plethora of dog food brands available in the market, selecting the best food or formulating a meal plan for your dog isn't so simple. Your pet's meal portion size depends on the food type, age, activity level, size, and other critical factors.
If you are having trouble deciding how much food you should feed your Labrador Retriever, keep reading to find out more about what your dog needs. This article will address your pet's nutritional needs, the best type of meals, the ideal meal portion for your pet, and more.
Let's get to it!
Dietary Needs for Labrador Retrievers
As a dog owner, it's not enough to pick up dog foods from store shelves. Their daily food intake should provide them with the proper nutrients they need to maintain a healthy weight, have the energy to be active, fuel their muscles and protect their joints for life longevity,
Labrador Retriever needs a balanced blend of the six major nutrient groups in their daily food consumption. These major nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fats/oils, vitamins, minerals, and water.
These essential nutrients play a part in basic body functions. Without them, your dog may develop health problems or experience delayed growth. So if you want to keep them healthy, happy, and active at all times, you should look out for foods or diets with the right nutrient balance for their unique needs.
Dog foods have recommended nutrient concentrations based on the dog’s age and activity level. Beyond the maximum tolerable amounts, these nutrients become toxic and dangerous to your Lab's health. But when the nutrients in your dog foods are deficient or below minimum levels, it can cause a variety of health problems like:
- Skin disorders
- Digestion problems
- Stunted or defective bone growths
Choosing wet or dry foods is entirely up to you and your dog's preferences. One of the most important things to look for while selecting a food for your dog is a balance of nutrients, including ingredients that aid in their overall health. Otherwise, you may end up buying a product that resembles the nutritional value of the 'not so healthy' snack or treats rather than a balanced meal.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has developed nutritional guidelines for commercial pet foods. According to their dietary guidelines, pet foods should have at least 22.5% crude protein, 8.5% fat and fatty acids, 1.2% calcium, 1% phosphorus, etc.
While choosing your Lab's food, it's important to make sure that it meets the AAFCO standards. Keep in mind that your pets may need more or less of the nutrient amounts listed above, depending on their age, breed, weight, activity level, and overall health condition.
It's important to speak to your pet nutritionist or vet for more information on specific nutrients suitable for your dog. Are you struggling to get meals that meet your dog’s unique nutritional needs? Hungry Bark Custom Meal Plan takes the guesswork out of your dog’s feeding. Each custom nutritional plan is specially formulated by pet nutritionists and based on Lab’s age, activity level, health status, nutritional goals, etc.
What Is the Best Food for Labradors?
The best dog food is one that has balanced nutrients and keeps your furry pet healthy and happy.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
However, it doesn't end there. There are many types of dog food on the market, including fresh food, dry food, freeze-dried, air-dried, and raw dog food.
While some experts recommend moist or wet foods, others recommend dry kibble.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each food type.
Dry foods are one of the most common types of dog food found on the shelves today. Pet owners prefer it because they are typically more budget-friendly, less messy and more convenient during mealtime, and contain more nutrients per bite. Dry foods are great for Labs at different life stages, as long as they are fed with the right amount suited to their age.
Kibble, or dry food, and cold pressed dog foods are two of the major types of dog foods. The biggest difference between the two is the preparation method.
Traditional kibble is prepared via an extrusion process and cooked under high temperatures of about 300 degrees. On the other hand, cold-pressed foods are prepared at lower temperatures, which allow for a greater amount of nutrient retention.
Why You Should Feed Your Labrador Dry Dog Food
Compared to wet foods, dry foods are oftentimes less expensive and offer other benefits. They can be rich in nutrients, and your dog can get the necessary calories from fewer bites. Because dry foods are chewable, your Labrador is less likely to experience dental issues like periodontal diseases and tartar buildup.
If your dog is a grazer, dry food is a good option. It is easy to store, and you can easily measure the right meal portion for your Lab. However, you should do your best not to let your dog's food sit outside of the package for extended periods of time.
Cons of Dry Foods
Due to the high volume of dry food options, there's a higher probability of running into low-quality ones if you aren't careful while reading the label. In addition, some dogs are quick to turn their nose up to dry food that doesn't have the same intense smell compared to other food types such as wet or fresh food.
Freeze-dried food has become a popular alternative to raw foods. Unlike other dog foods that are cooked under high or low temperatures or dehydration, they are minimally processed to preserve the nutritional content of the raw ingredients. The freeze-drying technique involves eliminating moisture from raw foods at freezing temperatures and a multi-step drying process that keeps the nutrients in the raw ingredients intact.
There are tons of freeze-dried formulations and varieties available, including high protein, fat, and moderate protein. While some are made up of 100% raw meats, others have a mix of other ingredients like full meat, fruits, vegetables, potatoes, and legumes.
One of the major advantages of freeze-dried foods is that they are nutrient-rich, and the meat ingredients give the food an inviting aroma and taste. Although freeze-dried foods have rich nutritional value, they are expensive and may be difficult to keep up with.
Air-Dried Dog Food
Air-dried dog food is an excellent option for dog parents who are unable to feed their Lab with raw or home-cooked diets. The air-drying technique involves removing moisture from raw and whole-food ingredients via evaporation under low temperatures. This process helps to preserve meat in a natural way and without preservatives.
Like freeze-dried foods, air-dried foods retain the vital nutrients that your Labs need to grow. Because a greater amount of moisture has been eliminated, air-dried foods have a longer shelf-life. Air-dried foods have a similar texture to dry kibble and contain more nutrients per bite. However, they are a bit pricey because they require large portions of meat, fish, and other raw food ingredients.
Wet foods contain about 71-75% moisture content. That means your dog needs to eat more cans of wet food to get the required nutrients or calorific value daily. As a result, keeping up with wet foods may become more expensive in the long term.
Benefits of Wet or Canned Foods
Here are some of the advantages of wet or canned foods:
Wet foods are excellent for younger dogs, aged dogs, picky eaters, and dogs that drink less water. Although wet foods have high moisture content, it does not replace water. Water is essential for nutrient absorption and optimal body performance in Labrador Retrievers.
Generally, adult labs need about 1ounce of water per pound of body weight daily, but growing Lab drinks more water than adults. However, the daily amount of water your pet needs depends on your puppy’s age, size, and activity level.
Younger dogs transitioning from their mother's milk can easily adjust to wet foods because they are moist and easy to eat. Wet foods are palatable and have a pleasant aroma, so they are enticing to labs with appetite problems.
Cons of Wet Foods
Wet foods are more pricey than dry foods. As mentioned above, many dogs will need to eat a greater amount of wet food to meet the necessary daily nutrient amount. This can lead to weight gain, especially in Labs, whose breed is already predisposed to weight concerns.
In addition, wet foods can be difficult to ration or store after initial use. So, the food may be more likely to spoil and become wasted if your dog doesn't eat it immediately.
Biologically Appropriate Raw Food
Choosing a raw diet for your dog has always been a controversial subject among experts. However, some pet nutritionists consider a raw food diet ideal for Labrador Retrievers.
In recent times, feeding raw has gained popularity, and pet food manufacturers now sell this option in commercial quantities.
Biologically appropriate raw food is made up of 60% raw meaty bones and 40 % of other raw foods like grains, vegetables, legumes, eggs, fish, liver, and kidney, as well as other animal protein.
Most experts recommend the following raw diet combinations for dogs.
- 70% muscle meat
- 10% raw edible bones
- 7% vegetables
- 10% liver and other organs
- 2% seeds and nuts and
- 1% fruits
You can also include some dairy like yogurts.
What About Raw Meaty Bones?
Raw meaty bones are oftentimes found within many raw food diets for dogs. They provide calcium and other nutrients for healthy bones. Before feeding your dog with raw meaty bones, you should ensure they are safe for consumption.
Machine-cut raw meaty bones may have sharp edges, and when eaten, they can cause injury to the dog. It is advisable to remove the muscle meat from the machine-cut bone and feed your dog with boneless muscle meat.
Some of the safe raw meaty bones that are great for your pet are
- Raw chicken necks
- Feet, ribs, and frames
- Duck feet and wings
- Turkey ribs and wings
- Pork tails and ribs
- Lamb ribs and
- Goat ribs
Most raw pet food supporters report benefits like:
- Healthy skin
- Shiny coats
- Higher energy levels
- Healthier teeth
However, raw foods also have their risks. If you don't handle them properly, you and your dog may be exposed to bacteria and infectious diseases.
Your pet may develop health problems over time if their meal lacks complete or balanced nutrients. Moreso, unsafe raw meaty bones may cause your pets to choke, break their teeth or have internal punctures.
When Should My Lab Puppy Start Eating Solid Food?
Labrador Retriever puppies can be weaned off their mother's milk when they are about four weeks old. However, most puppies are weaned by five to six weeks, depending on their health condition or based on expert advice.
At this stage, puppies cannot get all the calories they need for growth from their mother's milk. So it would help if you started supplementing their diet with solid foods. For Labs younger than eight weeks, you may begin with wet foods or moisten dry foods until it feels spongy or moist.
What Should I Look Out For In My Pet's Food?
There are thousands of food brands out there. However, you should feed your pet with the highest-quality food that fits your budget. That's the best advice you will get from your vet.
You don't need to break the bank to get high-quality foods for your pet. It doesn't matter if the food brand is premium or budget. What matters most is the quality and source of the ingredients on the food label.
Dog food ingredients are listed by minimum or maximum percentage, while other elements are listed by order of weight. Certainly, some dog food brands have more ingredients than others.
Here are some of the things you should look out for when making your choice:
- You should buy your pet meals from food brands that follow the AAFCO nutritional guidelines.
- Check the food label to ensure that it contains whole-food ingredients that you can recognize. If you cannot find major ingredients like protein and fatty acids, you should buy another brand.
If your dog spends his/her time indoors or is neutered/spayed, it has lower energy requirements, meaning you should select a low-calorie diet. However, if your dog is a working dog with high energy requirements, you should look out for high-calorie diets that match their routine or activity level.
Should I Feed My Dog Special Treats?
Dog treats are suitable for training, shaping, or rewarding your pet's good behavior. However, you should feed with treats occasionally. As time goes by, your dog will obey commands and do as they are asked without having to be constantly rewarded with treats.
The major downside of over-feeding your dog with treats is that your dogs may prefer them to regular foods. Treats cannot substitute everyday foods, so you should not fill your Lab up with treats when hungry.
Giving your dog treats when they are hyperactive or exhibiting bad behavior may reinforce that negative behavior. You should give your dog treats when they are calm or showing positive tendencies.
Most dog owners give their dogs supplements as special treats. Keep in mind that when your pets take in excess calories, they may become overweight. Moreso excess amounts of vitamins can become toxic to their system.
It would be best to adhere to your vet’s recommendation while giving your dog special treats.
How Much Food Should I Feed My Labrador?
Your Labrador Retriever needs the right food quantity to maintain a healthy body condition. The right meal portion or amount depends on their age, size, lifestyle, activity level, and health condition.
Hungry Bark’s Custom Meal Planner is an excellent place to start. Not only is their food made with superfood ingredients and made in the USA, but they’ll also help ensure that your dog is getting just what they need to live a happy and healthy life. Here are some of the things you should look out for when feeding your Labrador.
Puppies eat more food than adults. Because they have faster metabolism - their bodies burn more energy at a much quicker rate.
Keep in mind that the first five months of your puppy's life are very critical. They need more calories to grow faster. Some puppies may need twice as many calories as their adult counterparts, depending on their activity level and health.
Plus, their food should contain additional protein, carbohydrates, and fats, to provide the extra energy boost they need for activity.
Compared to puppies, adult Labradors have a slower metabolism. It may be a good idea to feed your Lab a dry food that packs more nutrients per bite. Their diets should contain concentrated proteins and reduced fat. Otherwise, they may put on excess weight, become lazy and inactive.
Active or working dogs typically need high-calorie foods because of their high activity level or lifestyle. If your Labrador is a canine athlete or a military dog, you should feed him/her with foods that have high protein, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins. These vitamins can help them grow stronger muscles or recover faster after strenuous activities or exercise.
Pregnant Labradors need high-calorie and high nutrient diets to keep up with the high energy demands of pregnancy. Remember, they are not just eating for themselves. Their babies are feeding off the nutrients in their bodies.
If your dog is pregnant or has health problems, she may require special diets or slight food adjustments. You should contact your vet to know what you should feed your pregnant or lactating Labrador Retriever.
Labrador Meal Plan / Feeding Guide
Although most commercial dog food bags contain feeding guidelines, it's hard to know if your dog should follow those exact guidelines. After all, those recommendations don't take into account your dog's current weight (if they're over or underweight). Hungry Bark's Custom Meal Planner takes the guesswork out of both what and how much to feed your dog. Not only will they recommend the ideal meal plan for your unique dog, but they'll also tell you how much to feed each day based on your dog's current weight and overall health goals.
Hungry Bark has a wide variety of balanced and nutrient-rich dry foods for your Lab, including
- Superfoods with Lamb + Turkey (Grain-Free)
- Superfoods with Salmon (Grain-Free)
- Superfoods with Chicken, Turkey + Brown Rice
- Superfoods with Turkey + Duck (Grain-Free)
How Often Should I Feed My Labrador?
When your Lab is five weeks old and beginning the transition to solid foods, you can feed up to four meals a day. Continue with this feeding frequency until they are 12 weeks or 3 months old.
When your Lab is 3-6 months old, you should reduce their daily meals to 3x per day. When your dog is 6 months or older, you can reduce their meals to 2x a day. For older Labs, you should feed them once daily.
However, if your dog tends to eat slowly or bolt from his food, keeping your dog's food out for longer periods can cause food poisoning or contamination. You should break down their food into two smaller portions.
Can I Transition My Labrador To New Food?
As your dogs grow, there may be situations where you need to change their diets. Keep in mind during any transition phase, regardless of the food type; the transition should be done slowly in order to avoid any digestive upset. Hungry Bark recommends a 10-day transition - but even this may need to be extended based on how your dog is reacting.
Transitioning your dog to a Hungry Bark Custom Meal Plan should look similar to this:
- Days 1-3: Feed 75% of the old food to 25% of Hungry Bark
- Days 4-6: Feed 50% of the old food to 50% of the Hungry Bark
- Days 7-10: Feed your 25% of the old food to 75% of the Hungry Bark
- Day 11 -12: Feed 100% of Hungry Bark
If your pet finds it difficult to switch or refuses your new food, Hungry Bark has the perfect product to make this process less stressful. A Protein Mix-In is a 100% freeze-dried meat topper available in beef, chicken, and salmon. These tasty toppers are perfect for picky pups because they provide a flavorful punch as well as an added boost of nutrition (great for working dogs).
Choose an Ideal Spot To Feed Your Labrador
Dogs have different eating habits and changing their feeding spot may disrupt their flow. They may find it difficult to concentrate on the business of eating or often get distracted in this area.
You should feed your dogs in calm and serene environments. Taking them away from all noise in the house will enable them to concentrate on their food.
Other Feeding Tips:
- Keep the feeding area clean
- Wash and dry both the food and water bowls often to avoid bacteria
- Feed animals in different areas if necessary to avoid food aggression
- Be consistent with feeding times - stick to a schedule
Should I Be Giving My Dog Supplements?
Supplements are vitamins and minerals that boost your pet's nutrition. Many health concerns, such as heart health and hip & joint health, can be easily targeted with the additional of a supplement. Hungry Bark's tasty supplement chews are made in the USA and double as treats for your dog.
Here are a few that are targeted for your dog's health:
- Balanced Belly: Aids in your dog's digestion and gut health
- Move + Groove: A hip and joint supplement designed to help dogs as they enter their adult and senior years
- Happy Heart: A supplement packed with vitamins to aid in heart health and maintain a shiny coat
- Chill Chew: A calming chew designed for high stress situations
- Whole Health: Acts as a 'multivitamin' to aid in the overall health of your dog (great for allergies as well)
There are several instances where your veterinarian may recommend supplements for your pets. Let's take a look at some of them.
If you feed your pets with homemade diets, they may not get the vitamins they need in the right amounts. Supplements can make up for the nutrients that are missing in their meals and improve their health.
Pets that are finicky, picky, or tend to bolt away from their foods may not take in optimal amounts of nutrients required for normal body processes. With supplements, they can take in vitamins and eliminate mineral deficiencies that are dangerous to their health.
Diseases that are caused by mineral or vitamin deficiencies may be treated or reversed by supplementation. For example, zinc supplementation may treat zinc-responsive dermatosis or prevent health problems like stunted growth, diarrhea, and other infections.
What Is the Best Way To Store My Dog's Food?
Proper food storage is essential for your pet's healthy living.
Dry foods should be kept in their proper packaging. Hungry Bark bags contain a protective coating and easy velcro closure to help keep the food fresh longer.
Wet foods are delicate and have high moisture. So you need to store them in the refrigerator and serve them at room temperature. You may remove it a few hours before feeding your dog and microwave it to keep it warm. Please ensure you don't leave wet foods out for longer periods or store them in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours.
There you have it. In this article, we addressed the best food and meal portions for your Labrador Retriever. Feeding your Labradors a complete and balanced diet is crucial to their overall health and well-being.
Complete diet means it should contain the required nutrients required according to AAFCO guidelines. Similarly, "Balanced" means the nutrients should be present in the right ratios.
If you are looking for the right food for your Lab, Hungry Bark's range of products has everything you need to keep your pet healthy and happy. You can formulate a Custom Meal Plan for your unique dog based on their age, breed, weight, and activity level.
To get started, our Custom Meal Planner takes about 1-2 minutes to complete and results in the perfect meal plan for your pup. Each Custom Meal Plan is formulated by pet nutritionists and backed with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.