Are you constantly wondering what’s truly the best diet for your Labrador? As a Labrador owner, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is what to feed your furry friend, especially as they are known not just for their friendly and outgoing nature but also for their unique nutritional requirements.
The best diet for Labradors should be high in protein and balanced with healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. They need quality dog food formulated for their size and activity level. Regular meals, rather than free-feeding, help prevent obesity, a common issue in Labradors.
Including some vet-approved fresh foods such as carrots, broccoli, apples, blueberries, or apples (seedless) can also benefit their overall health.
In this blog, we delve deep into the world of canine nutrition, specifically tailored for Labradors. We’ll explore a variety of dog foods – from commercially available kibbles to homemade meal plans – and dissect their benefits and drawbacks.
Understanding that each Labrador is unique, we’ll discuss how to tailor a diet plan that suits your dog’s specific age, weight, and activity level.
Let’s get started!
Key Nutritional Requirements
Labrador Retrievers need many different kinds of nutrients to survive. These are proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water.
The nutritional content of all commercial dog foods has to follow the guidelines devised by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), which declares what can be used in pet foods.
I also found that the MSD Vet Manual publishes dog nutrient requirements. This has mountains of detail and even lists all the vitamins and minerals your Labrador needs (should you wish to study them)!
What’s The Best Diet For Labradors?
The main nutritional requirement of Labradors is protein. Protein has several functions, such as building and repairing tissues, providing energy, and keeping strong immune and musculoskeletal systems. 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 after this is removed, the actual protein percentage is somewhere between 10-20%.
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.
As further examples, my well-exercised dog needs completely different nutrition than a toy dog that likes to laze around all day, and a pregnant dog will require a ton more calories than that lazy lap dog.
So, what are the recognized life stages of dogs as defined by the AAFCO? These are:
- gestation/lactation (pregnancy and nursing)
- growth (includes puppies)
- adult maintenance
- all life stages
In case you were wondering, a diet designed for all life stages means one that meets both the nutritional requirements for growth and reproduction and adult maintenance. This diet is, therefore, suitable for Labradors of any age.
However, an “all life stage” diet tends to be higher in calories, so only choose this diet depending on your dog’s circumstances.
For example, if your dog is working or very energetic, you may opt for an “all life stages” diet due to the extra calories and nutrition needed. But if your dog is a senior, relatively inactive, or overweight, you would choose a diet for adult maintenance.
As dogs grow and their bodies age, their requirements for nutrients, vitamins, and minerals change. When selecting the right pet food, be aware that different quantities and ratios of nutrients and feeding rates are perfect for different life stages.
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. 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.
The above are some general examples, but let’s take a more comprehensive look at the principal foods Labradors can eat. I’ve grouped them in the handy tables below for you, but there are a few provisos you need to know, so read on!
|Broccoli & Brussels Sprouts||Blueberries|
|Cabbage & Cauliflower||Coconut|
|Green Beans & Peas||Melon|
|Lettuce & Kale||Nectarine|
|Parsnips||Peach & Plum|
|Rutabaga & Turnip||Pear|
So, here are the provisos of feeding the above foods:
- 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 digestion; however, raw carrots and green beans are fine. Here’s my top article on vegetables for your Lab that you may like.
- 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. If fruits are more your thing, check out this article, 29 Fruits Labradors Can Eat.
- 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.
You may also like this article, What Human Food Can Labradors Eat? for even more insight.
Harmful or Toxic Foods To Avoid
Several foods are poisonous to dogs and can have severe consequences if eaten. In some cases, just a tiny amount of toxic food can end in death.
If your Lab accidentally ingests these foods, you will need immediate veterinary advice. So, what foods can Labradors not eat?
Labradors can not eat a range of foods, including chocolate, macadamia nuts, onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, alcoholic drinks, unbaked bread dough, and goods sweetened with xylitol.
These are the most common foods whereby dogs have suffered poisoning in the last few years.
I can’t imagine anyone wanting to give their Labrador a swig of beer, a margarita, or some candies.
However, in general, poisoning episodes in dogs result from a lack of public knowledge of the food, or pets may easily have accidental access to them.
Below is a helpful table of the main foods Labradors shouldn’t eat.
|Xylitol||Yeast dough||Black walnuts|
|Avocado||Tomato (green)||Moldy food|
If you are concerned that your dog may have consumed something dangerous, the Pet Poison Helpline is a helpful resource that lists tons of poisonous stuff, including plants, household items, and medications.
What Type of Dog Food is Best for Labrador Retrievers?
We all want the best for our Labradors and want to feed them the best diet to keep them healthy and happy. People usually feed their dogs commercial dry food or wet canned food.
However, there are various types of dog food, and there’s no doubt it can be overwhelming at first!
Here are the main types of dog foods:
|Complete dry foods||Canned wet foods|
|A mix of dry and wet||Home produced diet|
|Complete raw diet||Dehydrated and freeze-dried|
According to the AAFCO guidelines, all commercial dog food should be complete and balanced. This means that the food must have all the nutrients required and be in its correct ratios.
The AAFCO also provides comprehensive information on understanding a dog food label. There is a ton of information here, but these are the main points:
- The packaging should state the ingredients of the food in descending order of predominance by weight.
- Details of specific nutrients should be prominent.
- Feeding directions must be given.
Therefore, when selecting dog food, you should check both the ingredients used AND the nutritional content of the food. All dog food should also display “The Nutritional Adequacy Statement” for the life stage the product is intended for.
This statement is designed for dog owners, vets, and nutritionists to evaluate the nutritional value of the food to their pets. Therefore, if you choose to feed your Lab a dry or wet food diet, always check the packaging, as this is the key to meeting all your Labrador’s needs.
High-quality protein sources (beef, chicken, turkey, fish, lamb, pork, etc.) should be high on the list, as should quality sources of grains, vegetables, fiber, and fats, along with essential vitamins and minerals.
High-quality dog foods include additional protein sources, such as eggs and plant-based proteins, like vegetables, legumes, and grains.
So, what type of dog food is best for Labrador Retrievers?
The best type of dog food for Labrador Retrievers is dry food, as this is more practicable for medium-large breeds, provides more nutrients per bite than wet food, and is inexpensive.
Even if you opt for a high-quality brand, it will still be cheaper than canned wet foods.
Having said that, you should choose the diet that best suits your Labrador, depending on his needs, health, and lifestyle. But you must also satisfy your own needs and beliefs.
I’ll explain more about this in the next section, where we’ll take a unique look at the different types of food you can feed your Lab. This should help you decide the kind of food to feed your dog.
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 quite popular in the UK and Europe and is becoming more widespread in the US and other regions. It is deemed a higher quality kibble due to how it’s cooked.
So, what exactly is kibble? Kibble is simply ground-up ingredients made into pellets of different shapes and sizes. This is made either through an extrusion process or oven baking under high pressure or temperatures.
All kibble is made the same way using the same kind of machinery. Even high-quality kibble 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. The food is produced at a much lower temperature and cooked quickly to retain greater nutritional value, vitamins, and flavor. It is then pressed into its desired shape. Cold-pressed pet food is the closest to feeding a raw food diet.
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 come in all shapes and sizes, so smaller breeds can choose a smaller variety.
Dry food may be fed dry, or you can occasionally soften it and 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, which 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 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 keep her coat and skin shiny and healthy and reduces shedding. When I add a topping, I slightly reduce the quantity of her dry food to ensure 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 must consume more food to get all the nutrition it 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 it 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, 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 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 be expensive.
Unfortunately, dog food companies add sugar and salts to preserve moisture and shelf life. Many semi-moist foods are also loaded with artificial colors, chemical preservatives, and flavor enhancers.
A semi-moist diet may not be appropriate for your Labrador Retriever, especially if he is heavy and needs to lose a few pounds.
However, semi-moist food may be the best choice if your Lab finds it challenging to digest all other types of food. He may also enjoy the meaty taste and see this food more palatable if he is a highly 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. You can mix the foods 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 feed dry food, and 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 ensure that your dog is getting the correct nutrition.
Home Produced Diet
Some Labrador owners like to feed their dogs a home-produced diet (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 chronic or terminal illnesses.
There are several disadvantages to the home preparation of dog food. You can achieve it, but it takes a lot of dedication and hard work, and it may be more expensive than the best quality dog food you can buy.
Homemade diets can provide complete nutrition. However, you must ensure your Labrador gets the correct mix of protein, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. This can be pretty 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 uses a specially prepared raw diet. You should also cook vegetables and grains 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 essential factors to consider when feeding 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 homemade diets, formulating raw diets can be demanding to ensure you are not under or overfeeding key nutrients. More so 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 significant threat to human and dog health when feeding raw foods.
If you consider feeding your Labrador a raw food diet, you should ensure 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.
However, there have been insufficient studies to evaluate the risks or benefits of feeding raw meats to dogs. Therefore, most of the believed benefits of feeding raw foods remain unproven.
However, there is sufficient evidence for vets to discuss the human health risks of raw diets with pet owners, according to this study from the Canadian Veterinary Journal.
The American Veterinary Medical Association also discourages pet owners from feeding dogs raw or unprocessed meat and eggs due to the risk of disease:
As I would like to take a balanced view of this subject, I learned that supporters of raw food diets say commercially processed dog food can also contain harmful bacteria. They claim the “bad bacteria issue” is exaggerated as long as the correct hygiene protocols are followed.
If you choose a raw diet for your Labrador, you can prepare the food at home or purchase commercial raw food products. These range from complete foods, which are usually sold frozen or freeze-dried, which leads me to the next section.
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 diets are similar because they remove moisture 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 water. The food is heated but not fully cooked, so nutrients and enzymes remain intact. They are a complete diet 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, 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.
The raw ingredients are frozen first in freeze-dried dog food 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 appears like kibble and does not have to be rehydrated before eating. 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 food 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 they have most moisture removed, they are more nutritionally dense, so you feed your dog less.
Pros and Cons of Different Dog Food Types
To help you decide on the best diet for your Labrador, I have put all the above information in handy tables to easily visualize the pros and cons of each type of food.
|DRY DOG FOOD||WET FOOD (including semi-moist)|
|More practicable for medium-large breeds||More suited for smaller or toy breeds|
|Inexpensive and less waste||Some dogs find wet more palatable than dry foods|
|Denser providing more nutrients per bite than wet||Good for picky and senior dogs|
|Convenient and easy to feed||Good for hydration|
|No need to worry about nutritional deficiencies||No need to worry about nutritional deficiencies|
|No need to refrigerate||Dogs can enjoy a larger portion per meal due to the high water content|
|Good for “grazers” as can be left in the bowl longer||Good for dogs who have trouble chewing|
|Has a longer shelf life than dry, but there can be more waste if the food is uneaten||Semi-moist may be good for dogs that find foods difficult to digest|
|Can add water to make a tasty gravy||Has a longer shelf life than dry but there can be more waste if the food is uneaten|
|Comes in many shapes and sizes to suit your dog||More expensive than dry foods|
|Great for interactive feeders||Be aware of added salt and sugar in semi-moist|
|Good for the teeth||May contribute to gum disease|
|Poor quality brands often add “fillers” and low-quality ingredients||Poor quality brands often add “fillers” and low-quality ingredients|
|A MIX of DRY & WET||HOME PRODUCED|
|Have the best of both dry and wet||You control your dog’s food and nutrients|
|Can mix in the same bowl or at separate feeds||Good for picky eaters|
|Provides variety||Can help with bonding|
|Adviseable to keep to the same brand||Can help with a medical diagnosis or healing|
|Need to track calorie intake||Expensive and time-consuming|
|May require the advice of a vet||Need to ensure correct nutrition is being given so regular health checks are advised|
|RAW||DEHYDRATED & FREEZE-DRIED|
|You control your dog’s food and nutrients||Most of the moisture is removed|
|Need to ensure correct nutrition is provided||More natural as no preservatives are added|
|May be unsuitable for sick or senior dogs||Nutrients remain intact|
|Risk of food contamination||Freeze-dried is essentially raw|
|No proven health benefits except for better digestion||Long shelf life and easy to store|
|Expensive and time-consuming if preparing at home||Convenient|
|Regular health checks advised||More expensive|
Before transitioning your Labrador from one type of food to another, you may wish to talk to your veterinarian about the individual benefits and risks.
How Much Food Should a Labrador Eat?
Once you have decided on the type of diet to feed your dog, you now have the next hurdle! How much food should a Labrador eat?
The amount of food Labradors should eat depends on their size, activity level, age, whether a puppy, adult, or senior, and overall health. Serious illness, pregnancy, or nursing can also increase a dog’s energy needs. The key is to make sure you don’t overfeed or underfeed your dog.
Don’t worry, though, because if you are feeding commercial dog food, the packaging should display the recommended feeding guidelines for your dog’s life stage. Most brands also display helpful tables or calculators on their websites.
These must specify how much weight of the food to give per dog’s weight, but you also need to assess your dog’s activity level. For example, inactive dogs may need 10% less than what’s advised on the food label than energetic dogs who may need 20% to 40% more.
As stated above, you should seek the advice of your vet or a pet nutritionist if you choose to feed a home-produced diet, raw or a mix of dry and wet, to ensure your Labrador is getting the correct nutrients and calories.
Puppy Feeding Frequency
Growing puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs, and they need feeding more frequently at various stages of growth. Here’s how often you should feed your Labrador puppy depending on his age:
|AGE OF LABRADOR PUPPY||DAILY MEALS|
|6 to 12 weeks||4|
|12 to 24 weeks||3|
|24 weeks onwards||2|
Newborn Labrador puppies receive all their nutrients by feeding on their mother. However, it’s safe to start the weaning process onto a new diet from around three to four weeks old.
Growing puppies need to take in enough calories, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals for rapid growth and development to set them on the right path to a healthy life.
Learn More On How Often Dogs Should Eat In This Video…
As Labradors are a medium-large breed, they should also eat dog food suitable for large breeds, even as a puppy. In fact, large-breed dog food is essential to your Labrador’s health.
Large-breed foods contain higher protein and lower amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and fat. This is nutritionally formulated to ensure they don’t grow too fast, as this can cause painful conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia.
Although adult dogs can eat just once daily, most Lab owners prefer feeding twice daily. This makes it easier for the dog to digest the food, helps to control hunger, and prevents bloat (GDV), which can be life-threatening. My dog definitely prefers to eat twice a day.
Can Labradors Eat Bones?
Labradors can eat bones. They are a good source of nutrients, especially calcium and phosphorus, and they can help clean your dog’s teeth and keep them strong. However, you must never feed cooked bones and make sure the bone is larger than your dog’s muzzle.
Cooked bones become soft and can easily splinter in your dog’s mouth or throat or can cause choking. Beef or lamb bones are better than chicken or pork as they are stronger and won’t easily splinter.
The best bone to give to your Labrador is one suited to his size, such as a large beef shank bone. All bones should be larger than the length of the muzzle, making them impossible to swallow whole. Always supervise your Labrador when giving him a bone.
What Are The Best Treats for Labradors?
The best treats for Labradors contain quality ingredients that are full of nutrients and are low in calories and fat. Dog treats should contain no artificial preservatives, colorings, or chemicals. You can also feed healthy fruits and vegetables as an alternative.
There are a few main types of commercial dog treats, and you should choose the type you need. For example, do you need training treats, dental treats, chew treats, or even natural calming treats? I always like to have a selection handy for my dog.
No matter what their purpose, treats should make up no more than 10% of your Lab’s daily calories.
Are Labradors Carnivores?
Labradors are not carnivores, but omnivores. While protein is most of a dog’s diet, the domesticated dog obtains nutrients from grains, 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 they can flourish on various foods, all of which are valuable sources of essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
How Much Water Should Labradors Drink?
Labradors should drink one ounce (30 ml) of water every day for each pound that they weigh. However, there can be other variables to consider, such as age, activity level, type of food eaten (dry or wet), weather, medication, pregnancy, etc.
Major pet food brands have spent millions on research to create diets that promote optimal puppy growth and health. Your responsibility is to pick the best food for your dog, considering its life stage, your beliefs, and lifestyle, and choosing the highest quality within your budget. A
well-balanced diet usually makes additional supplements unnecessary unless a vet suggests otherwise. The right food choice can ensure a longer, healthier life for your dog, benefiting both of you.