Deciding how to feed a Labrador isn’t as straightforward as you might think. The best Labrador food won’t be the same for every dog in the breed. But you will need to pick one that is high in fat and protein, and low in carbohydrates. Then of course there is the choice of how much to feed a Labrador. Which will differ from dog to dog, and depending upon which food you’ve chosen.
A good rule of thumb is that puppies up to six months of age need four meals a day, and that can be reduced to three by the time they are a year old. Adult dogs can cope just fine with two meals a day, but many prefer their daily rations to be broken down into smaller amounts and spread out more if your routine allows.
There are so many different brands of Labrador food available! And so many different opinions on dog food generally. Not to mention the alternatives to commercial food. So I’m going to help you choose the right diet for your dog and answer your feeding questions and concerns about how to feed a Labrador. 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.
Labrador Feeding Guide
The amount you feed your Lab will vary depending on his age and the type of food you are giving him. The Eukanuba Adult Breed Lamb and Rice food suggests these serving sizes:
- 40 – 45 pound Lab, feed: 205 – 230 grams per day
- 50 – 55 pound Lab, feed: 240 – 265 grams per day
- 60 – 65 pound Lab, feed: 270 – 300 grams per day
- 70 – 75 pound Lab, feed: 300 – 335 grams per day
- 80 – 85 pound Lab, feed: 330 – 365 grams per day
- 90 – 95 pound Lab, feed: 355 – 395 grams per day
However, these serving sizes will change depending on the food you use, and only apply to dry kibble! Keep reading to find out how much food your Lab needs if he isn’t eating kibble, and when to feed him.
What’s the best dog food for Labs?
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 Labradors is not straightforward.
There’s lots to choose from
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. By the end of this article, you’ll how everything about how to feed a Labrador.
We will 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 how to chose a brand of dog food, how much to feed your Lab. And we’ll answer all your other feeding questions along the way.
How to feed a Labrador – different methods
There are currently two very different approaches to dog feeding that are popular with many Labrador owners.
- Dry kibble
- Raw meat and bones or BARF
So which is the best food for Labrador Retrievers? 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 small number of dog owners still feed this way.
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.
Labrador dog food choices – dry kibble
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. You’ll find masses of choice in pet stores and supermarkets worldwide. It’s 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. These are a lot less popular now. 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.
The convenience of kibble
The main advantage of being able to open a packet and instantly pour food into a dog’s bowl is convenience. Busy modern homes are pressed for time these days. So convenience is an important factor.
Not only is kibble convenient, it also stores well, even after opening. Provided that it is stored in an appropriate container and kept in a dry place.
It doesn’t need refrigerating or freezing and it doesn’t smell very strong. Most dogs nowadays are trained with food. So kibble has the added advantage of making handy portable training treats
The disadvantages of kibble
Kibble itself doesn’t smell too bad. But what comes out of a kibble-fed dog smells very unpleasant. That is partly because kibble is full of ‘fillers’. These are 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. There may also be a small increased risk of bloat in susceptible dogs fed on a dry food diet.
Kibble fed dogs may also be more likely to snack on their own poop (yes it’s a very common Labrador habit) than raw fed dogs. We’ll look at the best way to feed your dog on kibble in a moment. But first let’s take a quick look at what is involved in raw feeding.
Should I feed my dog raw meat?
Over the last ten years a more natural raw diet of meat and bones has become increasingly popular. Some people now believe that raw meat is the best food for Labrador Retrievers and many other breeds of dog. This is despite some websites giving out dire warnings of the dangers of letting dogs consume bones.
Unfortunately, raw feeding does seem to attract a few extremists. Plus, it can be tricky to find objective and unbiased discussions of the pros and cons of raw feeding on the internet.
The pros and cons
Raw feeding is quite a big topic. 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. But the truth is, we don’t need to.
Raw feeding is not as convenient as kibble feeding, It requires plenty of freezer and refrigeration space, a designated preparation surface, 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.
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. 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
Choosing the right method of feeding
When learning how to feed a Labrador, you’ll realise there is more to feeding a dog than just the contents of his food bowl. Your family needs to be considered as a whole. The feeding method you choose needs to fit in to your lifestyle and current circumstances.
I fed raw to my dogs for many years. But I did not do this and could not have done this, when my kids were little. Nowadays, I sometimes feed kibble, if circumstances demand it. But prefer to feed raw whenever I can. Remember, many dogs thrive on kibble, and many dogs thrive on raw. Choosing the best dog food for Labs may also depend on your own circumstances.
Choosing how to feed a Labrador
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
- With 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 a brand
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 Labrador food 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. This 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. 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 puppy 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.
How much to feed a Labrador?
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.
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. Some dogs are more likely to be ‘picky’ if they know they can come back to their dinner later on. So I recommend you take up your dog’s bowl after ten minutes if he hasn’t finished what is in there.
He won’t come to any harm if he hasn’t devoured the lot. Plus, he will eat more enthusiastically at the next meal if he is a little hungry.
How to feed a Labrador slowly
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.
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.
We’ve already seen how much to feed a Lab puppy. And 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. There are also some gorgeous storage containers now that beg to be put out on display. We’ve put some ideas in this article for you!
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 .
It is really important to stick with his familiar food for the first few days . Moving home is traumatic enough for an eight week old pup without giving his tummy a shock too.
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.
Giving water to your Labrador
Puppies and older dogs need water available to them at all times during the day. 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.
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.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website