Welfare of dogs: code of practice

Best practice guidance to help those responsible for dogs meet the duty of care under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006

Section 2: the need for a suitable diet

2.1. This section offers guidance on providing your dog with a suitable diet.

Your dog should have access to fresh water at all times

2.2. Your dog should always have access to fresh clean water from a clean bowl. This is essential for all dogs unless your vet tells you differently. Many dogs may not drink large amounts but their thirst may increase in hot weather or if you feed them dried food. Changes in the amount of water your dog drinks may also indicate illness.

Balanced diet

Your dog must have a balanced diet that meets its nutritional needs

2.3. To keep your dog healthy it is essential to provide it with a nutritionally balanced diet. This will ensure it receives essential nutrients in the correct quantities. A good diet can help prevent the effects of many diseases.

2.4. Dogs need a high quality protein, fat and carbohydrate diet which can either be given in the form of commercially prepared foods or home-made meals. When feeding prepared foods, you should follow the food manufacturer's instructions closely and avoid feeding your dog between meals.

2.5. An alternative to a commercially prepared dog food is a home-made diet. Unlike cats, dogs are not totally carnivorous and will, therefore, enjoy some green vegetables added to their food. Providing a home-made diet requires a good understanding of your dog's nutritional needs and if you choose to feed it this way you should obtain advice from your vet or pet care specialist.

2.6. Dogs should not be given more food than they need as overeating leads to obesity. Remember that if you are using food rewards for training purposes you may unwittingly overfeed your pet. You will need to adjust the amount of food your dog has at meal times to take this into account.

2.7. It is important that your dog has the correct diet in appropriate portions and, if you have more than one dog, that each is fed according to its needs. You should also clear away any uneaten food after each mealtime.

2.8. Leave your dog in peace while it is eating as disturbing it or repeatedly taking its food bowl away can cause anxiety and may lead to food related aggression.

A dog's healthy weight

Your dog should not be too fat or too thin

2.9. An obese dog is an unhealthy dog and pet obesity is the most frequent nutritional problem seen by vets. If a dog eats too much and exercises too little, it will put on weight leading to a reduced quality of life. Obesity can also lead to health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

2.10. An underweight dog may also be ill so you should know the best weight for your pet and try to make sure that this stays approximately the same throughout its adult life. Ideally you should just be able to feel its ribs and clearly see its waist when viewed from above.
If in doubt, ask your vet or pet care specialist whether your dog is within its correct weight range.

Body condition

Too thin

  • ribs and other bony areas can be seen from a distance - less obvious in longhaired breeds
  • loss of muscle mass - small amount of muscle over the back and hips, upper leg muscles feel "stringy", skull bone very obvious when stroking the head, feels "bony" when stroked


  • well muscled
  • ribs can be easily felt without pressing directly on the ribs

Too heavy

  • ribs not easily felt as covered with a lot of fat
  • lots of fat on the loin area and base of tail

How often to feed your dog

You should make sure that your dog eats regularly

2.11. The number of meals will depend upon the age of your dog and how much work or exercise it takes. Whilst it is acceptable to feed a dog one meal a day, it is generally better to feed an adult dog two smaller meals a day. This is because:

  • a dog will be less hungry after 12 hours compared to 24 and therefore will eat its food more slowly
  • a second meal adds interest to the day, reducing boredom
  • having two meals a day generally reduces the number of extra titbits given
  • two meals will be easier for your dog to digest than one

2.12. If you do feed your pet twice a day, the daily food allowance may be divided up into two equal portions, or a third and two-thirds division. Part of the diet may also be offered in dried food 'puzzle feeders' that release food gradually and so provide mental stimulation for dogs indoors.

2.13. If you have more than one dog it is important to give each animal sufficient space so that it can eat without being disturbed.

2.14. If your dog loses its appetite it may be a sign of illness. You should consult your vet if the problem persists or if there are other signs of disease.

Other dietary needs

2.15. Dogs that are pregnant, feeding their puppies, ill, old or young may well have different dietary needs from the average healthy adult dog. Specially formulated life-stage foods are available on the market to address these varying nutritional needs. Your vet is the best person to advise you about the care of your dog in these circumstances.

2.16. Puppies require about two and half times as many calories per kilogram bodyweight as an adult dog while they are growing. Food for this age group should be higher in calories, protein and other necessary nutrients.

2.17. You should avoid feeding your dog immediately before travelling, to avoid travel sickness, or within an hour before or after vigorous exercise as this can lead to bloating.

2.18. If you need to change your dog's diet, do it gradually, over a week or so, unless your vet tells you otherwise.

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