It’s essential that a dog’s diet has the correct balance of nutrients their body needs to work to the best of its ability. And dogs that don’t eat a healthy and balanced diet can suffer a variety of health issues.
In the wild, dogs would hunt and scavenge to fulfill their dietary requirements. But the modern dog relies solely on their owner to provide them all they need.
So the provision of a quality, balanced and nutritious diet is the duty of any responsible owner.
When people think of malnutrition, it’s usually of thin and bony looking animals, neglected by their owners. But this isn’t always the case.
There are well cared for dogs in very loving homes that suffer malnutrition. But not from a lack of being fed and provided for, rather from a lack of balancing the nutrients in the food that they are given.
It’s also a fact that many malnourished dogs are actually overfed instead of underfed which is still a form of malnutrition and just as bad for health.
So malnutrition most often comes from their owners not having sufficient knowledge about canine nutrition and the balance of different nutrients they need to provide rather than under-providing and starving their dogs.
So it’s important you take a little time to study and learn about your Labradors dietary needs, learn how to spot the symptoms of malnutrition and how to go about avoiding it.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- What Should A Labrador Eat?
- How Can We Most Easily Meet Our Labs Nutritional Requirements?
- What Is Malnutrition?
- Obesity Is A Form Of Malnutrition!
- Symptoms Of Malnutrition
- Supplementing Your Labradors Food
- Is It ‘OK’ To Feed A Labrador Treats And Table Scraps?
- The Benefits Of Providing A High Quality, Balanced, Nutritious Diet
- Our Recommendations For Feeding A Labrador Puppy
- The Best Dog Foods For Adult Labs
- Our Top Picks
What Should A Labrador Eat?
Although mostly described as ‘opportunistic carnivorous scavengers’, dogs aren’t true obligate carnivores and don’t thrive as well as they could if given only a 100% purely meat diet.
Eating excessive amounts of and especially a 100% protein diet is totally unnecessary and can even be detrimental to health in dogs.
They have slight omnivorous eating habits and do best when eating a diet that consists of balanced proportions of proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals and water.
Wild canines will mostly gorge on meat when they hunt, but they will also supplement their diet with berries, fruits and other scraps they find scavenging, as well as plant matter ingested by eating the intestines of their prey.
We need to replicate this balance they would have naturally had. But how do we do this?
How Can We Most Easily Meet Our Labs Nutritional Requirements?
Commercial dog food. Yes, it’s that simple.
There is of course the alternative of making home-made food, researching a Labradors nutritional requirements and carefully measuring out and planning recipes.
But in today’s busy world, most people just don’t have the time to dedicate to this.
So you can buy a commercial dog food and that’s definitely the easiest way, is more reliably nutritional in the correct quantities and infinitely more convenient.
The manufacturers of dog food have created feeds that can be given as a dogs complete, balanced and only source of food without ever having to add any supplements.
When looking for a commercial dog food, you just have to make sure it’s labelled as ‘complete and balanced nutrition’.
Complete means it contains all the necessary nutrients a dog needs.
Balanced means the nutrients are present in just the right proportions when compared to each other.
This is vitally important because it affects the way nutrients can be used by the body. Not enough or too much of one nutrient may prevent the body from effectively using another.
And the ‘complete and balanced’ label is important and reassuring because there are laws and regulatory bodies that mean a pet food manufacturer simply cannot claim this unless it’s absolutely true.
So a food carrying this label guarantees you are providing all the nutrients your Labrador needs and in the correct proportions.
And the absence of this labeling almost certainly means that you aren’t and your dog could suffer malnutrition.
What Is Malnutrition?
It’s when the health of an animal is compromised or the onset of sickness is caused by an animal not eating enough food, or not eating the right nutrients in balanced proportions.
This can mean not enough of a particular nutrient or in many cases…and this is what most people fail to realize…too much of a particular nutrient in the diet.
Almost everybody thinks of malnutrition as just not eating enough.
But in most first-world and especially western societies, malnutrition in pets is usually caused by over-feeding, by over-nutrition and excessive intake of nutrients in an unbalanced way.
For example excessive calcium and calorie intake in fast growing puppies can lead to skeletal development problems but by far the most common form of malnutrition today is obesity.
Obesity Is A Form Of Malnutrition!
We all crumble at the heart-wrenching, longing eyes of a begging dog…Don’t we?
And most people think giving their dogs treats and table scraps is a token of love. But this almost always leads to overfeeding which is a form of malnutrition with fats and calories in excessive amounts leading to obesity.
An obese dog is not a happy dog. They aren’t the running, jumping animals that go through life with a happy bouncy enjoyment. They’re more sedentary and slow due to all that excess weight.
This isn’t how a dog should live. It takes away physical enjoyment of life which in turn impacts their mental health and ultimately means they aren’t living life to the full.
But not only this, obesity leads to a variety of health issues that can affect quality of life or even cut a dog’s life short. There’s diabetes, heart disease, inflammation of joints and arthritis…the list is long.
An obese dog is also more difficult to treat and takes longer to recover from sickness or accidents as their bodies aren’t functioning as well as they should be.
Labradors as a breed are very prone to obesity. They are voracious eaters and will eat all you give them and more.
So obesity is a real problem with Labs. This is something you really should be aware of and need to take actions to prevent.
Symptoms Of Malnutrition
Sometimes there are very obvious signs that a dog is suffering malnutrition, but it can also be quite hidden and you may not know ‘until the damage is done.’
Weight Loss / Being Thin
If a dog is extremely thin with their ribs and backbone showing then it’s very likely they’re malnourished (though could be disease).
Most often only seen in abused and abandoned dogs, but certainly something to look out for.
Tiredness And A Lack Of Love For Life
Quite often a malnourished dog will suffer a lack of energy and enthusiasm for life. They will not run, jump and play, but instead seem tired all the time and a little depressed.
Obviously a dog needs to consume calories to have energy to burn, but more than this they need a complex range of other nutrients to properly use the energy that is in their food.
So if you have a dog that has suddenly or slowly become inactive, malnutrition is a possible cause. It’s advisable to seek the advice of a vet here.
Sometimes when a dog isn’t receiving the right nutrients, or they’re in the wrong proportions to each other, it can result in your dog having problems digesting their food, or absorbing enough nutrients from it.
Outwardly visible symptoms can be constipation or very hard stools, diarrhea, irregular bowel movements and frequent and smelly passing of wind.
Coat And Skin Problems
Sometimes when a dog suffers hair loss, a dry and brittle coat or skin problems, malnutrition can be the cause. (Note: It can also be illness or allergies so it’s best to speak to your vet! And maybe a change of dog food will help.)
In this situation, lots of people start to reach for moisturizers and food supplements, but it’s far better to address the source of the problem and cure it from the inside by buying a higher quality and more sufficiently nutritious food.
Increased Risk Of Illness And Slower Recovery
Malnourished dogs are more prone to disease and disorders because a malnourished body has a weaker immune system and is less able to prevent or fight off illnesses.
Not only this but when they are ill, the sickness is generally worse as it can progress further before their bodies can control it, and the recovery process is slower too.
Other Possible Problems Caused By Malnutrition
Other symptoms and problems caused by malnutrition can be weakened bones and joints, bad teeth and oral problems, poorer eyesight, erratic temperament and behavior problems.
For all the problems listed above, malnutrition is only a possible cause and they could be due to other health issues.
So if any of these symptoms are seen, you’re best advised to consult your vet but be aware that malnutrition is a possible cause.
Supplementing Your Labradors Food
By adding extra vitamins and minerals you will most likely upset the delicate balance of nutrients they’re already receiving which can actually cause problems.
An over-abundance of some nutrients can prevent the absorption and use of other nutrients in a diet.
So maybe surprisingly, an owner who goes out and buys supplements for their dog, adding vitamins and minerals thinking they’re doing a good thing, can actually be causing harm and malnutrition.
The very thing they were thoughtfully and caringly trying to avoid in the first place they may actually cause instead. This is why a little knowledge goes a long way.
So please, buy a quality complete and balanced dog food, and only supplement this if instructed to do so by a professional such as your vet.
Is It ‘OK’ To Feed A Labrador Treats And Table Scraps?
Certainly you can, but only very occasionally and not as a way of life.
We all like to use treats in training, but what you give in treats should then be subtracted from your Labradors daily intake of food to avoid obesity.
And table scraps and other treats can be given to your dog, just not in too high an amount.
You’ll hear many people shouting out against this practice, saying a dog should never eat human foods, but in the wild all canine species scavenge and will eat scraps of fruit, vegetables, and seeds which does help to vary and balance their diet.
Just try to keep the proportion of treats and table scraps down to 10% or so of their complete diet and all will be well and good.
A dog that has an occasional meal halved and mixed with table scraps, or given bones, fruit, vegetables or some bacon is not going to suffer malnutrition.
But if complete meals are swapped or supplemented with sizable leftovers from human meals then they almost certainly will.
The Benefits Of Providing A High Quality, Balanced, Nutritious Diet
Here are just some of the many benefits you and your Labrador can enjoy when you feed them a high quality complete and balanced dog food:
- Easily the most important! A higher quality of life, lived with better health and increased vitality and happiness!
- Looking visibly healthier, with a nice shiny coat, cleaner teeth and gums, brighter eyes and more energy to live a boisterous and mischievous, activity packed life.
- Fewer occurrences of sickness, less severe and shorter bouts of sickness and faster recoveries. All due to a stronger and more efficiently performing immune system and body.
- The healthier life and fewer instances of sickness mentioned in the previous two list items means fewer visits to the vet and lower health care bills. This will more than offset any increase in cost you incur for your dogs diet over poor, low quality budget foods!
- Higher concentration of nutrients in guaranteed amounts per measurement. A higher concentration means smaller serving sizes which results in less fecal matter and less for us to clean up after them. And guaranteed amounts of nutrients per measurement gifts us easier control of their food intake to avoid obesity.
- Higher quality ingredients and less cheap fillers resulting in easier digestion. This will mean far fewer bouts of diarrhea and constipation but instead, regular, firm and normal stools produced in lower quantity. And the stools and flatulence that is produced will be far less evil-smelling. A win for everyone there I’d say! :-)
Our Recommendations For Feeding A Labrador Puppy
For our pick of the best commercial foods available for Labrador puppies, please see our article:
Best Puppy Food For Labs And Large Breeds (opens in new window)
In it, we discuss the main reasons for Labrador specific food and list 4 of our favorites that come highly recommended by all around the web.
We also show one VERY popular brand you may have been tempted to buy that you’d do best to stay away from!
The Best Dog Foods For Adult Labs
For help and advice in selecting the best commercial dog food for your adult Labrador, we’ve created the following article:
The Best Dog Food For Labs (opens in new window)
In this article we give a good few pointers on how to select a good dog food, what things you should avoid, then list and review 5 of the best foods, popular in the Labrador community that have been proven to make our energetic breed thrive.
To be the responsible and caring owners we all aim to be, it’s important we feed our dogs a food that is complete and balanced, meeting all of their nutritional needs.
This gives them the best possible level of health and well-being, ensuring their body functions at its peak, giving increased energy and vitality, less sickness and faster recovery from any illness or little mishaps that do occur.
Cheap foods with low quality ingredients and cheap fillers may contain all the nutrients a dog needs, but they may be in the wrong quantities and the poor ingredients can stress their digestive systems leading to inconsistent toilet habits.
It’s important to be aware that malnutrition can also be caused by providing too many nutrients, or too much of one thing, and not just a lack of nutrients.
So supplementing your dog’s diet could actually be causing harm rather than good.
Always look out for any of the symptoms of malnutrition I have listed above and seek the advice of your vet if any of them surface.
And of high importance with Labradors, you really need to monitor and control their food intake to keep their weight down.
Obesity is a common problem with labs and a slim dog is a happy and healthy dog that could live up to 2 years longer than one who is obese.
Your Labrador relies on you to take care of every aspect of their health and well-being. So do the best you can for them and provide them the correct nutrition.
All content on this site is provided for informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be nor can it be considered actionable professional advice. It must not be used as an alternative for seeking professional advice from a veterinarian or other certified professional.
LabradorTrainingHQ.com assumes no responsibility or liability for the use or misuse of what’s written on this site. Please consult a professional before taking any course of action with any medical, health or behavioral related issue.
Our Top Picks
- DOG FOOD: The Farmer’s Dog - We’re feeding all of our dogs fresh dog food. It’s not cheap, but Raven loves it! Get 50% off your first order.
- PUPPY TOY: Snuggle Puppy w/ Heart Beat & Heat Pack - Perfect for new puppies. We get all of our Service Dog pups a Snuggle Puppy.
- CHEW TOY: KONG Extreme - Great toy for heavy chewers like our Labrador Retrievers.
For more of our favorites check out all of our Dog Product Reviews.