Best Diet for Golden Retrievers: Food Types, and More!

Updated September 12, 2023

A golden retriever’s diet should be well-balanced, rich in microelements, and satisfy the dog’s gastronomic preferences. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.

Meanwhile, a dog’s diet drastically affects its health, appearance, energy levels, and life expectancy.

Every owner wants to feed their dog the best food, but opinions on which diet best suits golden retrievers vary.

While some owners prefer to stick with good old kibbles, others advocate for a fresh diet, insisting that only natural food can meet a dog’s nutritional needs.

Regardless of your choice, ensure that your dog’s diet has an adequate nutrient ratio for its age, weight, and activity level.

Calculating The Calorie Intake

Figuring out how much to feed a golden retriever can be tricky since every individual dog’s needs are different, depending on its size, age, activity level, and health condition. Underfeeding a golden retriever is equally dangerous as overfeeding it.

As a rule of thumb, sedentary golden retrievers should consume 17-18 calories per pound of body weight, and active goldens should consume 24-25 calories per pound.

Assuming that an average male golden retriever weighs 65-75 pounds, he should consume 1,105-1,350 calories daily with low activity levels or 1,560-1,875 calories with high activity levels.

Female golden retrievers are typically smaller, weighing 55-65 pounds, so they should consume 935-1,625 calories daily, depending on the activity level.

However, senior, neutered and spayed golden retrievers have a slower metabolism and are more prone to obesity, so they may need to eat less than young intact goldens. In contrast, puppies need to eat extra because their body is still developing.

If calculating the precise calorie intake seems too complicated, stick with the instructions on the food pack, but only if your dog doesn’t have special needs.

The Perfect Nutrient Ratio

Same as calorie intake, the perfect nutrient ratio for a golden retriever may vary depending on an individual dog’s peculiarities. As a rule of thumb, healthy adult golden retrievers should receive at least 30% of their daily calories from proteins.

Fats should account for 12%-18% of the dog’s daily calorie intake, and carbohydrates at least 30%-35%.

You may have noticed that the percentages don’t add up to a 100% – that’s because the carb to protein ratio can be tailored to a specific dog’s needs.

The more active a dog is, the more carbohydrates it needs to maintain its energy levels. Puppies, seniors, and pregnant dogs may need to consume more protein to maintain muscular strength.

The fat content in a golden retriever’s diet should be lower if a dog is overweight or senior and higher if it’s pregnant or underweight.

If you struggle to figure out the correct nutrient ratio for your golden retriever, consult with a vet. They will weigh all variables and advise you on the best diet.

Dry Food or Natural Food?

One of the biggest dilemmas among owners is choosing between dry food vs. fresh food for a dog. Each option has its benefits and pitfalls.

High-quality dry food is formulated to meet canine nutritional needs, taking the burden of calculating the nutrient ratio from the owner’s shoulders.

Furthermore, you can find dry food to meet your dog’s unique needs: many brands make specially-formulated food for overweight dogs, seniors, puppies, dogs with kidney diseases, and neutered dogs.

Feeding a dog dry food is more convenient and generally cheaper for the owner. Many owners are concerned that dry food is too bland, but dogs don’t care about food’s taste as much as humans do.

The primary risk of feeding a golden retriever kibble is the high carb and fat content. Goldens are more prone to obesity than other dog breeds and may need fewer fats and carbs. Dry food may also cause constipation because it absorbs water.

Lastly, commercially produced kibble doesn’t always contain high-quality ingredients. On the other hand, with a natural diet, you precisely know what you’re feeding your dog.

Fresh food is minimally processed and rich in nutrients, and many dogs prefer the taste of fresh meals to kibble. The primary problem of feeding a dog with fresh food is the complexity of creating an adequate menu and inconvenience.

You should understand your golden retriever’s nutritional needs very well and constantly monitor the nutrient content in all foods, which can be tiring. Cooking for a dog can be time-consuming and expensive.

There’s no universal answer to whether feeding a dog fresh food is worth it. Perhaps, the optimal solution for most owners is sticking with suitable dry food but incorporating fresh meals into the dog’s diet occasionally.

However, if you’re ready to invest the effort and are sure you can meet your dog’s nutritional needs, feel free to switch your golden to a fresh diet.

Best Meat Types

Of course, the best protein source for dogs is meat. But which meat? Is lamb, beef, pork, turkey, and salmon equally healthy for a golden retriever? In short, no.

Beef, pork, and chicken are the most common meat types for dogs. Most dog kibble brands use beef protein because it’s nutritious, relatively affordable, and tasty.

Beef is also moderately lean and has lower odds of contamination than pork or chicken. Chicken is even more affordable and leaner than beef, but it poses greater risks if undercooked.

Lastly, pork is much fatter than beef or chicken and isn’t suitable for a raw diet. Pork, duck, elk, bison, and lamb meat are less likely to cause an allergic reaction in dogs with protein allergies.

Turkey, chicken, elk, and rabbit are the best protein sources for overweight dogs due to their low fat content.

Out of all meat types, lamb is the best choice overall due to its leanness, high protein content, rich taste, nice texture, and low risks, but it’s also one of the most expensive options.

Best Carb Sources

Carbohydrates are vital to provide a dog with energy and maintain proper digestion, but not every carbohydrate source is equally suitable for dogs. Carbs can be found in vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and legumes.

Dairy isn’t the best option for dogs due to lactose content. Fruits aren’t good for dogs either because they contain glucose which can spike a dog’s blood sugar levels.

Most kibble manufacturers use barley, oats, rice, wheat, corn, potato, or millet as carb sources, and they are equally suitable for a fresh diet. You can try out different carb sources for your dog and see which one it prefers.

Best Fat Sources

Fats are essential for a dog’s health, but these fats shouldn’t come from processed foods. Healthy fat sources for dogs contain essential amino acids and won’t cause pancreatitis, obesity, and other health problems.

Dogs need fats to fuel muscles, produce energy, and maintain the reproductive system’s health. However, keep the fat content in a dog’s diet moderate.

Plain nut butter without salt or sugar, avocado flesh, plant oils, eggs, fatty fish, seeds, and full-fat yogurt are excellent fat sources for a dog on a fresh diet.


Golden retrievers are highly food-motivated, which is beneficial for training. However, many owners neglect the overall dog’s calorie intake when giving it treats. As a result, a dog overeats and becomes overweight.

One may think that a little piece of lasagna or a few dog biscuits won’t harm a dog, but treats consumed regularly can have severe consequences. Therefore, stick with the 80/20 normal food to treat ratio.

In other words, at least 80% of a dog’s daily calorie intake should come from kibble or fresh food and 20% or less from treats. Don’t forget to take into account the nutrient ratio.


Dogs need vitamins and minerals for the proper function of their bodily systems. Typically, dogs receive sufficient microelements from kibble because canine food manufacturers add extra minerals and vitamins to their products.

However, some dogs may have mineral or vitamin deficiency resulting in health problems. The issue is prevalent with senior and pregnant dogs or those on a fresh diet.

Dogs need iron to deliver oxygen to vital organs, selenium to prevent oxidative damage, zinc to maintain the immune system’s function, copper to absorb iron and prevent anemia, and manganese for thyroid hormone production and bone health.

Organ meat, green vegetables, and flax seeds are excellent natural sources of minerals for dogs.

However, specially formulated supplements are much more convenient because they contain all the necessary microelements at once, and you don’t need to calculate the serving size.

Foods To Avoid

If you plan to feed your golden retriever a natural diet or give it human food as a treat, learn which foods are toxic for dogs.

Avoid giving your dog chocolate, Macadamia nuts, coffee, artificial sweeteners, chives, and garlic because these foods can cause severe poisoning, which often ends lethally.

Many dog owners give their pets bones, which is alright if they are raw. However, avoid giving your golden retriever cooked bones that can splinter and cause constipation or gastroenteric obstruction.

Don’t give your dog chicken bones because they are small and are a choking hazard. Grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, so be aware when feeding your dog cupcakes.

Image credit: Unsplash

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