Diet and Nutrition For Your Golden Retriever

Your Golden Retriever’s performance, health, and longevity depend, in part on what you choose to feed him. Because most dogs are usually fed one type of food, choosing the best diet is an important and often daunting decision.


A long standing debate has been whether dogs are better off being fed commercially prepared diets or home-prepared diets. Critics of commercial foods point out that these foods are highly processed, do not resemble a dog’s natural diet, are not fresh, and may use ingredients unfit for human consumption. On the other hand, supporters of commercial foods say that these diets have been constantly adjusted and tested on generations of dogs to provide optimal nutrition, and that they contain premium-grade foods which include human-quality ingredients.

Raw food diets have also gained a lot of attention and supporters. These diets advocate more natural feeding by giving dogs whole raw animal carcasses, particularly chicken, in which the dog eats bones and all. Supporters point out that such diets are more like the natural diet of ancestral dogs, and claim good health, clean teeth, and economical food bills. Critics point out that, while the raw diet may be closer to what wolves eat, dogs are no longer wolves and haven’t lived off the land for thousands of generations.

In addition, many people have oversimplified these diets and commonly feed an exclusive diet of chicken wings, which is neither natural nor balanced. Critics also worry that raw foods from processing plants may pose the threat of salmonella and

A third and effective alternative is to cook home-made diets according to recipes devised by canine nutritionists. Such diets provide a variety of nutrients in fresh foods according to accepted nutrition standards for dogs, but they are more labor intensive than other choices. If this is a route you may want to pursue, ask your veterinarian to suggest a source for home-prepared menus.





Most Golden’s will do fine on regular adult dry foods that have protein levels of about 20 to 22 percent. Stressed, pregnant, highly active, or underweight dogs (as well as puppies) should be fed higher protein levels. It was previously thought that older dogs should be fed low-protein diets in order to avoid kidney problems, but it is now known that high-protein diets do not cause kidney failure. In fact, high quality protein is essential to dogs with poor kidney function.




Too much fiber interferes with digestion and can cause diarrhea or a larger stool volume. Weight-reducing diets often include larger amounts of fiber so the dog will feel fuller and to prevent digestibility of some of the other nutrients.


Protein provides the necessary building blocks for growth and maintenance of bones, muscle and coat, and aids in the production of infection-fighting antibodies. The quality of protein is as important as its quantity. Meat-derived protein is higher quality and more highly digestible than plant-derived protein. Fat is the calorie-rich component of foods. Most dogs prefer the taste of foods with higher fat content. Some fat is necessary to good health, as it aids in the transport of important vitamins and provides energy. Puppies, pregnant females, and nursing mothers need somewhat higher fat levels in their diets, such as the levels found in puppy foods. Dogs that are deficient in fat, usually from diets containing less than 5 percent dry matter fat, may have sparse, dry coats and scaly skin. On the other hand, excessive fat intake can cause obesity and appetite reduction, creating a deficiency in other nutrients. Carbohydrates are a fairly inexpensive source of nutrition and make up a large part of most commercial dog foods. Excessive amounts of carbohydrates in the diet can cause decreased performance, diarrhea, and flatulence. Carbohydrates in most dog foods are primarily plant-derived. Many carbs are poorly utilized by the dog’s digestive system. Those derived from rice are the best utilized, and those from potato, corn, wheat, oat, and beans are very poorly utilized. : Fiber in dog food varies quite a bit. Better-quality fiber sources include beet pulp and rice bran, but even these should provide a small percentage of a food’s ingredients.

The Golden Retriever is an athlete, and should have a lean, muscular body. The ribs should be easily felt through a layer of muscle and there should be no roll of fat over the withers or rump. Obesity predisposes dogs to joint injuries and heart problems and makes many preexisting problems worse.

It’s rarely a good idea to let a Golden self-feed by leaving food available at all times.

Food that is wet can spoil, and many Goldens overindulge. It is better to feed your dog on a schedule. Adult dogs can be fed once a day, but it is better to feed smaller meals twice a day. Very young puppies should be fed three or four times a day, on a regular schedule. Feed them as much as they care to eat in about 15 minutes. From the age of three to six months, puppies should be fed three times a day, and after that, twice daily.

It’s unusual to see a skinny Golden. A dog that loses weight rapidly or steadily for no apparent reason should be seen by a veterinarian. Several diseases, including cancer, can cause wasting.

A few dogs just don’t gain weight well, and some are just picky eaters. Underweight

A sick or recuperating dog may have to be coaxed into eating. Cat food or meat flavored baby food are both relished by dogs and may entice a dog without an appetite to eat.

dogs may gain weight with puppy food. Add water, milk, bouillon, ground beef, or canned food, and heat slightly to increase aroma and taste. Milk causes many dogs to have diarrhea, so try only a little bit at first.


Just like people, dogs can get sick to their stomachs from eating the wrong things. Some types of food-related illnesses are equally as serious but often go unrecognized until it’s too late.


Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, is more common in older or middle-aged dogs, especially over-weight ones. It is often brought on by a high fat meal. Symptoms include lack of appetite, lethargy, and signs of abdominal discomfort

such as standing with front legs down on the ground as in a bowing position, vomiting, diarrhea, and even shock or death. Although most dogs can eat a high-fat meal without a problem, once a dog develops pancreatitis, a high-fat meal often brings on additional episodes.

Food Allergies

Symptoms of food allergies range from diarrhea to itchy skin and ears. If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, consult your veterinarian about an elimination diet, in which you start with a bland diet consisting of ingredients your dog has never eaten before. Lamb and rice used to be strongly promoted as hypoallergenic, but because dogs are now likely to have eaten lamb before, that is no longer true. Your veterinarian can suggest sources of protein, such as venison, duck, or rabbit, which your dog probably has not eaten before. You may have to keep your dog on this diet for at least a month while withholding treats, pills, and even toys that might be creating an allergic response. If the symptoms go away, then ingredients are added back to the diet gradually, or a novel commercial diet is tried.

Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV) or Bloat

Commonly called bloat, GDV is a life-threatening emergency in which gas and fluid become trapped in the stomach. It is most common in large, deep-chested breeds such as Golden Retrievers.

Symptoms of bloat include distention of the abdomen, unproductive attempts to vomit, excessive salivation, and restlessness. A dog with these symptoms needs to be taken to the emergency clinic immediately. Not tomorrow, not in two hours, but NOW! No home treatment is possible. The veterinarian will try to pass a tube into the stomach so gases can escape, but often this isn’t possible because the stomach has twisted and turned. The rotation of the stomach cuts off the blood supply to the stomach wall, which will kill the dog if surgery isn’t performed very quickly. Other organs may also be affected. During surgery, the veterinarian should tack the stomach in place to prevent future rotation. If the tacking procedure isn’t performed, dogs will continue to bloat in the future.

In the largest study of GDV to date, several factors relating to GDV emerged. Dogs that are underweight, fearful, excitable, and fast eaters, and that eat only one meal a day are more likely to suffer from bloat. On the other hand, dogs that are happy, have stable temperaments, and dogs that eat some canned food and table scraps are less likely to bloat. The dogs at greatest risk are those with a close relative that had GDV, suggesting a genetic component.

Commonly suggested methods used to avoid bloat such as restricting water and exercise before and after eating, raising the food bowl, and administering anti-gas medication were NOT found to lower the incidence of GDV.

To be on the safe side, avoid other suspected risk factors, which means you should:


  • Feed several small meals instead of one large meal.
  • Include some canned food or table scraps.
  • Not allow the dog to gulp food.
  • Not allow your dog to be stressed around mealtime. 
  • Premoisten food, especially foods that expand when moistened. Pica and Copraphagia The most common and disturbing nonfood item eaten by dogs is feces. This habit, called copraphagia, has been blamed on boredom, stress, hunger, poor nutrition, and excessively rich nutrition, but none of these explanations has proved to be completely satisfactory. Food additives are available that make the stool less savory to the dog, or you can try adding hot pepper to it, but a determined dog will not be deterred. The best cure is immediately removing all feces. Many puppies experiment with stool eating but grow out of it.Vomiting
    Consult your veterinarian immediately if your dog vomits a foul substance resembling fecal matter, blood (partially digested blood resembles coffee grounds) or if there is projectile or repeated vomiting. These types of vomiting could indicate a blockage in the intestinal tract. Repeated vomiting—more than three or four bouts, or always after eating or drinking in the course of a day—can result in dehydration. If your dog can’t hold anything down for a prolonged period, he may have to be given intravenous fluids. Other common causes of vomiting are:



    • Vomiting immediately after meals, which can indicate esophageal obstruction. 
    • stomach illness.
    • Repeated vomiting, which can result from spoiled food, indigestible objects, or indicate internal parasites or a more serious condition.
    • Sporadic vomiting with poor appetite and generally poor condition, which could lead to diarrhea. Diarrhea can result from excitement, nervousness, a change in diet or water, sensitivity to certain foods, overeating, intestinal parasites, viral or bacterial infections, or ingestion of toxic substances. The consistency, color, and contents, such as parasites, blood, mucus, or foreign objects, are all clues to the severity and possible causes of your dog’s  If the dog has ingested poison within the past two hours, and is not severely depressed, convulsing, or comatose, you may be advised to induce vomiting, unless the poison was an acid, alkali, petroleum product, solvent, cleaner, or tranquilizer. You can do this by giving hydrogen peroxide, mixed 1:1 with water, saltwater, or dry mustard and water.

      In other cases, you may be advised to dilute the poison by giving milk, vegetable oil, or egg whites. Activated charcoal can absorb many toxins, Baking soda or milk of magnesia can be given for ingested acids, and vinegar or lemon juice for ingested alkalis.


      Diarrhea with vomiting, fever or other signs of toxicity, or diarrhea that lasts for more than a day or that is bloody should not be allowed to continue without seeking veterinary advice. You can treat mild diarrhea by withholding or severely restricting food and water for 24 hours. You can give the dog ice cubes to satisfy his or her thirst.

      Administer human antidiarrhea medication in the same weight dosage as recommended for humans only if advised to do so by your veterinarian. Feed a bland diet consisting of rice, tapioca, or cooked macaroni, along with cottage cheese or tofu for protein.



    Overeating, especially when followed by playing. 

    Dogs can eat a variety of strange things. Pica, the ingestion of nonfood items, such as wood, fabric, or soil can be a problem for some dogs. Talk to your veterinarian about possible health problems that could be contributing to these specific hungers, and about possible problems that could result from eating these items.


If you choose to feed commercial foods, use a high-quality food from a name-brand company that states it meets the recommended minimal nutrient levels for dogs set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Also make sure it has been tested through actual feeding trials. Always strive to buy and use only the freshest food available. Dry food loses nutrients as it sits, and the fat content can become rancid.

Dogs are omnivorous, meaning their nutritional needs can best be met by a diet derived from both animals and plants. These nutrients are commercially available in several forms. Dry food, containing about 10 percent moisture, is the most popular, economical, and healthy, but least appealing form of dog food. Semimoist food, with about 30 percent moisture, contains high levels of sugar used as preservatives. It is tasty and convenient, but not an optimal nutritional choice as a regular diet.

Canned food has a high moisture content, about 75 percent, which helps to make it tasty, but it is also expensive, and you are essentially just buying water.


Please note: This article is part of a collection of dog-related content that we purchased the rights to. Opinions expressed may or may not agree with those espoused by Master Dog Trainer Adam G. Katz. When in doubt, please refer to the advice given in Adam’s dog training book.  This article is provided for your enjoyment, only. It’s relevance to real world working dog training may be limited.