It isn’t easy to decide what is the best food to feed a Labrador. There are so many different brands available.
I’m going to help you choose the right diet for your dog and answer your feeding questions and concerns.
If your dog is under six months old, you’ll probably want to visit our puppy feeding page for detailed information on feeding your Labrador puppy.
What’s the best dog food for Labradors?
Most experts agree that the best food for any dog is one that keeps him in excellent health at a reasonable price.
They also agree that to keep a dog in great condition, he needs to be fed a ‘balanced diet’.
Unfortunately that’s about where the agreement ends. And choosing the best dog food for Labs is not straightforward.
Even experts differ on which method of feeding is the most healthy, what makes a diet balanced, how easy it is to feed a dog a balanced diet, and which brand of kibble is best.
So, I’ll be cutting through the confusion and helping you decide what is best for you, your dog, and your family.
What we’ll do is look at the different styles of feeding first, then for those of you (the majority) that will be feeding your dogs on dry commercial foods, we’ll look at which brand to chose, how much to feed and answer all your other feeding questions along the way.
How to feed a Labrador – different methods
- Dry kibble
- Raw meat and bones or BARF
Both methods of feeding have their supporters and detractors.
At one time a lot of dogs were fed on canned food with an added biscuit mixer, nowadays, only a dwindling minority of dog owners do still feed this way.
There are also a few pet parents that cook an entirely home made diet for their dog each day, and you can find useful information on home cooking for dogs in the Whole Dog Journal.
What about BARF?
At one time, raw feeding or what you probably know as the BARF diet was considered to be a cranky and extremist fad.
But as interest in raw feeding has grown and more dogs are fed this way, it is becoming clear that they are thriving too.
With the majority of dogs now being fed kibble and a substantial and growing minority being fed raw, these are the two feeding methods we’ll be focusing on here. Let’s start with kibble.
Feeding a Labrador on kibble – dry dog food
By far the majority of Labrador owners nowadays, feed their dogs on kibble .
That is the dried pellets of dog food that you can buy in pet stores and online.
All major pet food companies now supply a dried version of their brands, and you’ll find masses of choice in pet stores and supermarkets worldwide. It is this very choice that many new Labrador owners find so confusing!
Is kibble good for dogs?
It is really only a very short time (a couple of decades) since almost all dogs were fed on canned meat. Many of you ‘over 50s’ will remember the rows of Pedigree Chum lining the supermarket shelves when you were young.
These are a lot less popular now, and the effect that this shift away from wet food and onto dried food, has had (if any) on canine health remain the subject of intense speculation.
One canine problem that does seem more common since the appearance of kibble is ‘allergies’ and allergies in Labradors do seem to be on the rise.
However, despite this, and despite some of the wilder claims made by some raw feeding enthusiasts, it would appear that most Labradors do thrive on kibble and it is an extremely convenient way to feed your dog.
The convenience of kibble
The advantages of being able to open a packet and instantly pour food into a dog’s bowl are often underestimated.
We lead busy lives and kibble is very convenient. It also stores well, even after opening, provided that it is kept in a dry cupboard.
It doesn’t need refrigerating or freezing and it doesn’t smell very strong.
With most dogs nowadays being trained with food, kibble has the added advantage of making handy portable training treats
The disadvantages of kibble
While kibble itself doesn’t smell too bad, what comes out of a kibble-fed dog smells very unpleasant.
That is partly because kibble is full of ‘fillers’ – additional bulking agents that are not fully digested and that pass through straight through the dog.
These fillers mean that kibble fed dogs produce much greater quantities of poop and much smellier poop, than dogs fed on raw meat and bones.
Kibble fed dogs may also need their teeth cleaning on a daily basis, and there may be a small increased risk of bloat in susceptible dogs fed on a dry food diet. You can find out more about this in our article on bloat.
Increasing popularity of raw food
Over the last ten years a more natural raw diet of meat and bones has become increasingly popular in the UK.
Some people now believe that raw meat is the best food for Labrador Retrievers and many other breeds of dog.
I wrote a fairly in-depth article on why I switched to raw food for my dogs some years ago.
You can read about that in Switching to Raw.
And you can find out a lot more about raw feeding in Tom Lonsdale’s excellent books on the subject.
Unfortunately, raw feeding does seem to attract a few extremists, and it can be tricky to find objective and unbiased discussions of the pros and cons of raw feeding on the internet.
For this reason I have provided a number of resources that look at this topic in some depth and from both points of view.
The pros and cons of feeding raw
Raw feeding is quite a big topic, and it is both complicated and simple. Complicated because we tend to worry about the nutrients our dogs are getting and we can’t see a list of ingredients on a meaty bone. And simple because the truth is, we don’t need to.
Raw feeding is not as convenient as kibble feeding and requires plenty of freezer and refrigeration space and good meat preparation hygiene. (Just as with meat preparation for people).
Small puppies are growing fast and are vulnerable to diets with a poor nutrient balance. It is very important you do your research before attempting to raw feed a small puppy.
As a brief summary, the primary well documented benefits of raw feeding are great dental health (with self-cleaning teeth), small quantities of virtually odourless poop, and (important for dogs with allergies) a diet free from grains.
Raw feeding also provides a huge amount of pleasure for dogs, pleasure that is hard to quantify, but you’ll know it when you see it!
Raw fed dogs and small children
I don’t recommend raw feeding in families with very small children.
This is because raw fed dogs get messy, and it is hard in this situation to keep raw meat juices containing pathogens, away from children too small to understand the importance of hand washing
Here are some reading resources for those considering the switch. You’ll find a list of links at the bottom of this page
The important fact here is that there is no right way to feed a dog. No single ‘best way’ to provide a balanced diet.
Choosing the right method of feeding
There is more to feeding a dog than just the contents of his food bowl. Your family needs to be considered as a whole, and the feeding method you choose needs to fit in to your lifestyle and current circumstances.
I feed raw now, to my four dogs, but I did not do this and could not have done this, when my kids were little.
Remember, many dogs thrive on kibble, and many dogs thrive on raw.
Here are a few pointers or indicators to help you choose. Don’t be a slave to them, they are just there to help.
- If you have a small puppy you may be happier feeding kibble
- If you have children under five, it may be safer for you to feed kibble
- If your dog has a close relative that has suffered from bloat, he may be safer eating raw
- If your dog suffers from allergies, he might do better on raw
Now may be the right time to feed raw for you, or it may be the right time to feed kibble. Your circumstances are unique so only you can decide. For those of you (the majority) that will be feeding kibble. Let’s look at a few more concerns
Choosing which brand of dog food to buy
There are many different brands of dried food to choose from now in most countries around the world where dog ownership is popular.
Choosing the lowest price may not necessarily be the cheapest option as very often, you will need to feed larger quantities of the cheaper food.
Biologically appropriate kibble?
It is usually a reasonable option to choose a mid-range (in terms of cost) food and see how your dog gets on with that.
If your wallet can stretch to it, we especially like the Orijen brand which is perhaps the closest thing to biologically appropriate food that you’ll find in a kibble.
Orijen is 80% meat and 20% vegetable with no grain at all. Orijen is what my dogs have as training food, and when I am not able to feed them raw.
Remember that a change in diet can upset a dog’s stomach so if you decide to switch brands, do it gradually over the space of a few days by adding a little more of the new food and a little less of the old, each day.
How often to feed your Labrador
Many dog owners continue to feed their dogs twice a day throughout their lives. Some people feed their dogs once a day after twelve months of age.
We do know that there is an association between bloat and large meals, though this may only apply to kibble
Once daily feeding is probably fine if you decide to feed raw meat. But with kibble it may be too much dry food in one go. So I recommend that you feed your adult dog morning and evening.
How often to feed puppies
The amount of food that your Labrador puppy needs to eat each day must be divided into several portions.
If you try and give him the whole day’s ration in one go, he will probably give it his best shot, but it will almost certainly give him diarrhoea and could damage his stomach as kibble swells after drinking.
From eight to twelve weeks your pupppy will benefit from four meals a day, breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. Space the meals at least three hours apart to give him chance to digest them properly. And make sure the last meal is a two to three hours before his last trip to the toilet at bedtime.
Once your puppy gets to three months old you can divide his daily ration into three portions, and by six months to two. Breakfast and supper.
For lots more information on feeding puppies go to this article.
How much food should I give my dog?
Recommended quantities can be found on kibble packaging and these will vary quite widely from brand to brand. They are also often on the high side.
If your dog is a little overweight, feed about a third less than recommended for a few days and then re-assess his appearance.
Your dog may well need less food than you think. If you have concerns about your dog’s weight check out our article Fat Labrador for weight loss and feeding information
For raw feeding quantities check out: Feeding your dog a raw diet.
How long should a dog take to eat his dinner?
Some people leave food down for their dog’s to ‘graze’ on. I prefer my dogs to eat their meals up fairly quickly, and have found that some dogs are more likely to be ‘picky’ if they know they can come back to their dinner later on.
He won’t come to any harm if he hasn’t devoured the lot, and will eat more enthusiastically at the next meal if he is a little hungry.
Greedy labradors and eating too fast
A much more common problem in Labradors, is the dog that scoffs his dinner in a heartbeat and then begs for more with pleading eyes.
There is an association between bloat and rapid eating, so if you can slow down your dog a little, it is probably good thing.
The best way to do that is by using a slow feed bowl. Check out this link: how to slow down your dog’s eating for more information
Feeding household scraps and left overs to dogs
Many people will add household scraps to their dog’s dinner bowl. In theory, there is a risk that this will ‘unbalance’ his diet.
In practice, most adult dogs will come to no harm if they occasionally get some ‘extras’ in their bowl, provided there is nothing in there which is unsuitable.
Make sure that your leftovers don’t contain sugar, onions, cooked bones or any common human foods that are toxic to dogs.
And to keep the diet balanced, unless they are mainly meat, try to make sure that left overs don’t comprise more than 10% of your dog’s dinner.
Giving leftovers to puppies
Puppies need a very well balanced diet to grow up strong and healthy.
Unless you are a very experienced dog owner and knowledgable about nutrition and the dietary needs of a growing animal, it is not a good idea to feed your puppy on household scraps.
Complete puppy foods contain all the nutrients your pup needs to develop a healthy body.
Dog feeding equipment and storage
There is a huge choice of feeding bowls available. You’ll probably want to make sure the bowls you choose are dishwasher safe and not easily breakable.
You can get some very cheap and colorful plastic bowls but they tend to scratch easily and look a bit ‘sad’ when they’ve been through the dishwasher a few times.
I like stainless steel, but I admit it is quite noisy to handle and use, and not as pretty as some of the ceramic products.
Think carefully before you buy raised bowls as some studies have associated these with bloat.
Storing dog food
Kibble is for the most part a convenient food source, but to avoid paying high prices you’ll need to buy large sacks which are heavy to handle and difficult to reseal
To keep your food fresh, an airtight container is a better bet.
We like the wheeled pet food storage bins and they enable you to move heavy quantities of food around without putting your back out!
This slimline version fits nicely in a cupboard.
Well worth thinking about, especially if you have several dogs to feed.
Feeding Labrador puppies
When you first bring your puppy home, your breeder should have provided you with a diet sheet, some food, and plenty of information on feeding Labrador puppies .
If you have not been given any food or any information on how to feed a puppy then I suggest you call in to your local pet store and buy a small sack of (kibble) puppy food that is appropriate for his breed and age.
Read the information on the sack carefully, as there are lots of different versions of each ‘brand’ and only one version is the right one for your puppy.
Should you feed cows milk to your Lab?
One common mistake made by new Labrador puppy owners is to feed their puppy on cows milk.
Unfortunately cows milk is not well suited to puppies and may give your puppy diarrhoea. You can buy replacement bitches milk but an eight week old puppy is actually weaned and doesn’t need milk at all.
If you have inadvertently bought a puppy that is too young to leave its mother (less than seven weeks old), do phone your vet for advice on proper care and feeding, and take the pup for a check up without delay.
Adult animals don’t need milk. With adult Labradors, as with adult humans, many do enjoy drinking milk as a treat, and some tolerate it well.
Others however, will feel uncomfortable or nauseous after drinking milk, or even suffer from diarrhea. Only you will know how milk affects your dog. If in doubt, go without.
Giving water to your Labrador
It is ok to take your puppy’s water away an hour before bedtime to help with housetraining provided that it is at least an hour since his last meal.
Kibble fed dogs drink quite a lot of water, raw fed dogs may drink very little. This is normal.
Check out this article: how much should my Labrador drink for more information.
When feeding problems need veterinary help
All puppies need regular veterinary check ups and when you take your puppy to the vet for his vaccinations this is a great time to ask any questions you might have on his diet and welfare generally.
All dogs may eat less in very hot weather. But changes in appetite, especially sudden changes, can be a sign that a dog is not well.
If your Labrador goes off his food, don’t just put it down to old age.
More information on puppies
The Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.
The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.
This article was first published in 2012, and has been revised and updated for 2015.