My two mixed breed rescue dogs munching happily on their Fromm's Kibbles from Amazon stainless steel bowls. Love the dog food and bowls!

What to Feed Your New Shelter Dog–At Least Initially

Last updated on November 11th, 2023 at 06:56 pm

Congratulations! You just adopted a new shelter dog and are bringing her home today! To begin with, you have been told what to feed your new pup. Often, the shelter may encourage you to feed dry kibble as a continuation of what the shelter has been providing.

Kibble is often fine when you first bring your dog home. First of all, it is easy to purchase and store. A second benefit of kibble is that it usually provides a balanced diet with the proper nutrients. For these reasons, kibble is the food most often recommended.

You may later change your dog’s diet to home-cooked meals or a combination of home-cooked and kibble. In some cases dogs do better with canned dog stews, but this is more expenseive. Some dog owners prefer raw dog food, however this seems to be a controversial topic.

Here are some additional considerations when selecting dog food:

  • Recent feeding history
  • Quality of dog food brand and reputation
  • Age and activity level of your dog
  • General physical and emotional health and special dietary needs

Overview of Feeding Your New Dog

The first week of adopting a new shelter dog and introducing her to her new home can be challenging. As a new pet parent, you will naturally be eager to provide your new pooch with the best of everything including quality food. In most cases, dry kibble is usually fine to give to your new dog or puppy. In fact, veterinarians often recommend good quality dry dog food to help keep your dog’s teeth clean by assisting with tartar removal.

Additionally, wet dog food or table scrapes may cause stomach upset, diarrhea, or even obesity if offered exclusively. It is important to note that adult dogs should be fed twice a day in the morning and evening. More than that could cause weight gain and digestive track problems. However, some snacks are usually okay.

Recent Feeding History

If you have adopted your new dog from a shelter, the staff should be able to tell you how long the dog has been there and what they have been fed. Shelters usually feed dry kibble to dogs unless they have special health needs or are picky eaters. It is important to note, however, that the quality of the dog food may vary as shelters often have tight budgets and sometimes depend upon donated food from the community.

Fortunately, many large brand names such as Science Diet, Purina, Iams, and Royal Canin have shelter donation programs and often provide free food to rescue facilities and Humane Societies. See my Recommended Products Page/Essential Equipment for my food recommendation.

Another thing to consider is that dogs with dental or dietary issues may be placed on a soft food or a prescription diet. So, it would be very important to get this information. If you have found a stray or adopted a dog with a very little history, you may need to experiment.

But I would always start with dry kibble until you have a chance to take your dog to a vet for a medical check-up. It is best to avoid a lot of additional snacks until you can determine what agrees with your dog. This will also help you monitor her weight over the next several months as you determine the appropriate amount to feed her.

I made the mistake of giving my new dogs too many treats on their first day, and one of them vomited a few hours later! You can read about our first day here.

Feeding Schedule, Food Bowls, and Water Bowls

Make sure you also find out the feeding schedule and try to stick to it as much as possible. Keeping a similar routine will help comfort and reassure your new furry friend during her transition. And, to make dry dog food a little tastier, you can add a small amount of warm water and mix it up. I recommend purchasing stainless steel dog bowls for both food and water. They are lightweight, easy to clean, and not expensive. Amazon Basics offer great bowls with rubber rims for traction.

Be sure to get a large bowl of water, especially if you will plan to leave your dog at home alone for more than 3-4 hours. If you use filtered water, I suggest you filter your dog’s water as well. Be sure to replace water with fresh water daily and wash all of their bowls periodically to keep bacteria from growing.

Changing Your Dog’s Food

The shelter may give you a few days of food to take home to get you started, otherwise follow their best recommendations. Keep your dog on this food as long as she does well with it. In some cases, your dog may be a picky eater or the kennel food choice does not agree with her; then, you may find it necessary to change your dog’s food. If so, it is best to use the 75/25% rule. Assuming all goes well, you can add the new food every 3 days using the following ratios:

Days 1-375% Old Food and 25% New Food
Days 4-650% Old Food and 50% New Food
Days 7-925% Old Food and 75% New Food
Day 10+100% New Food
Transition table for introducing new dog food.

If your dog has any problems at any of these points with vomiting, diarrhea, or runny stools, you can go back to the prior interval for an additional 3-6 day period before increasing the food. Dogs have very sensitive stomachs and do not do well when radical changes are made to their diet. You may find that your dog doesn’t like the new food and won’t eat it. So, you may have to do some trial and error feeding with different types of kibble. Most pet stores have sample packets available for various brands, and this can help keep your costs down while you are testing what works best.

Quality of Dog Food Brand and Reputation

After your dog has settled in with a consistent feeding routine for a few weeks, this may be a good time to upgrade to a higher quality dry kibble or wet food mix as needed. Again, if you switch foods, use the 75/25% rule according to the above table.

First of all, make sure you are feeding your dog high-quality kibble. Make sure that the brand you are using is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles (Association of American Food Control Officials). There should be a statement to that effect on the packaging similar to the one below:

Formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth and maintenance.

Next, make sure that protein is listed as the first ingredient and that all protein sources are specifically listed. Preferably the protein sources are mostly whole and not from meals. Some meal is probably okay. The AAFCO recommends a minimum ratio of 18-30% protein for adult dogs pending level of activity and around 5% fat. They recommend fiber and carbohydrates which usually comes from vegetables and grain as important ingredients but do not specify amounts. They do not approve any dog food that contains toxic or inappropriate ingredients, which are defined on their website. So, make sure your dog food has the AAFCO approval statement.

Dogs are omnivores and need a combination of plant-based food as well as meat and bones. In my post, Why Dogs Eat Grass, I elaborate more on this topic.

History of Commercial Dog Food

A hundred years ago, dogs used to eat what we ate. They were given table scraps, bones, and whatever they could forage on their daily wanderings. Commercial, prepared dog food has only been around for about 120 years. Probably the most hotly debated issue about raising a dog is what to feed them. The argument for commercial food is that it is prepared based on veterinarian recommendations and scientific formulas, which ensure proper nutrition essential for healthy canine growth.

Some of the concerns about commercially prepared dog food have been problems with quality and harmful ingredients. Many dog foods have been recalled due to toxic mold and the use of diseased animals as a protein source, among other things. The good news is that many of these issues have been corrected, but it is always wise to do some research first. I discovered a site,, that provides dog food reviews as a public service. The site has a lot of great information about pet food quality and how to select good brands. You can also sign up for their alerts to be notified about new recalls.

Most companies have had some recall issues. Therefore, I look for a company that has had the least amount, if any, history of recall especially in the past five years. There are many reputable companies, which can provide the proper ratio of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. The next thing I look for is a good brand that will provide the necessary vitamins and other key nutrients that promote optimal canine health.

Home Cooked Meals Versus Commercial Dog Food

Some owners prefer to cook for their dogs and regard commercial dog food as “processed food” which is not good for dogs. It is true that all of the ingredients are cooked at high temperatures and then condensed into bite-size crunchy pieces. Preservatives are added to ensure freshness.

However, I do not regard dog food in the same way as the processed food that humans eat. Rather, it is like a big, pressure cooked “meatloaf.” The unhealthy food that we eat contains unnecessary additives such as sugar, flour, salt, unhealthy fat, and non-nutritional additives.

Having said that however, I do prefer organic, whole foods for my own diet.

My preference would be to give my dogs organic fresh food as well. But I also worry that I would not get the balance right for proper nutrition. I initially did give my dogs a brand of kibble that claimed to be all organic, but the protein levels did not seem high enough, it was hard to find this brand, and it was pretty expensive.

Adding Human Food to Kibble

Another option is to give your favorite pooch a combination of dry and homemade food. This cuts down on the food preparation time and gives your pup some tasty, fresh, organic food. For more help with this, be sure to get our free eBook, Homemade Food and Kibble as a guide to this process.

However, many recommendations for homemade dog food exist. The American Kennel Society has a great post about homemade recipes including what foods dogs can and cannot eat. Things to consider are the time and expense of home preparation, as well as ensuring that your dogs are getting the proper food balance and nutrients they need. Here is an extensive list of foods that dogs can and cannot eat. Please note that meats should be cooked and foods should not be seasoned with salt or spices:

Examples of Human Foods
Dogs Can Eat
Human Foods That Can Be
Harmful or Poisonous to Dogs
White RiceChocolate
Dairy ProductsCoffee, Caffeine
FishRaisins. Grapes
ChickenCitrus Fruits
Peanut Butter/Almond ButterSalty Foods
Plain Popcorn (limited amounts)Cinnamon
Pork (but not ham)Coconut Products
BlueberriesIce Cream
BananasOnions, Garlic, Chives,
CucumbersBread Dough
Green BeansXylitol
Sweet PotatoesRaw or undercooked meat
PeasRaw Eggs
Human Foods Dogs Can and Can Not Eat

Another food to add to the list of good food for dogs is pumpkin. Pumpkin provides great nuitrition and can also be used to help with both constipation and diarrhea due to its high fiber content.

Cooking for Your Dog Can Be a Challenge

First of all, I barely cook for myself, so cooking for my dogs is probably not reasonable. I do feed them very high-quality kibble, which I carefully researched and tested with my newly adopted dogs. As a treat, I sometimes add plain rice and boiled chicken or a few bites of beef if I am making a big pot of stew.

If you add food prepared for humans, be careful not to give them anything with a lot of salt or spices as it may not agree. Pet stores also carry an abundance of wet topper food to make the kibble tastier. I find that I have to be careful with toppers, as they sometimes upset my dogs’ stomachs due to spices and other seasonings.

What I Feed My Rescue Dogs

When I brought my two rescue dogs home, I gave them the same kibble they had received at the kennel where they lived for nine months. But, I eventually decided to change them to a higher quality dry kibble. They both had allergies and dry skin, and Charlotte also had some issues with vomiting and diarrhea. I did a lot of research to find a high-quality kibble that did not use wheat, corn, or protein meal and listed protein as the first ingredient.

There is currently a huge controversy about whether or not to exclude all grains from dog food. However, most vets think grains are good and necessary for canine health, but they often advise avoiding wheat, corn, soy, and GMO foods which are harder to digest. Therefore, I prefer rice, quinoa, or other similar grains.

Charlotte, my new rescue dog looks at her new bag of Fromm Dogfood.

Finding the Best Brand

After trying three dog foods, I found one that worked well from a company called Fromm Family Dog Food. It is a medium-sized company in the Midwest that tightly regulates its wholesalers to maintain quality and length of storage. My dogs are seven years old and I find that Fromm Adult Gold formulation works well. So far, their coats and digestive health have improved with this product. See my recommended products page for essential equipment for more product info.

Be sure to store your dry kibble in the original package. The packaging is designed to help keep the food fresh. Store at room temperature and keep the food in a cool, dry environment. I wrote an extensive post, How Long Does Dry Kibble Last? which addressed storage issues.

Food Toppers

I also top their kibble at least two to three times a week with cooked white or brown rice, cooked peas or zucchini, plain chicken or stew meat. This gives them a little fresh food and variety. If I am making a soup or stew this is easy to do, but I remove their portion prior to adding herbs or salt for myself. They also get a small, fresh carrot each day for lunch, which they love to crunch on.

An easy topper is Fromm’s canned stews which have real whole veggies and meat such as turkey, lamb, chicken, or beef. I think they like this better than what I cook for them!

Age and Activity Level

Dog foods are produced for dogs at different stages of their life. Puppies and younger dogs usually need more protein to help build strong bones and healthy muscles. As dogs get older, they may need fewer calories. Make sure that the dog food brand you select includes the statement “For All Life Stages” and that it meets the AAFCO (Association of American Food Control Officials) standards. A good company will ensure that they will have food with the proper ingredients for puppies, young active adult dogs, mature dogs, and seniors. As an example, protein, fat, and carbohydrate ratios will be adjusted for each stage accordingly.

Puppies should be fed four times a day until they are six months old. After that age, they should be fed twice a day. Try to avoid giving a lot of snacks during the day. However, you may use small snacks for training purposes. But you may need to cut back a little on their meals if snacks are given in large quantities during training. I like giving my dogs small treats like Charlee Bears. They are only 3 calories per snack and they are bite-size, so several can be given when teaching them new commands.

In addition, you should keep a graph or table of your dog’s weight and monitor it to make sure they are not over or underweight. Dog food manufacturers tend to recommend more food than may be healthy for your dogs, so this is another important reason to monitor their weight over time. Dogs can develop obesity-related problems such as diabetes or heart conditions, for instance. In conclusion, just like with humans, weight gain or loss can sneak up on us!

Physical and Emotional Health

If your dog has been abused or neglected, he or she could be malnourished or underweight, she may need a special diet to get her to a healthy weight. If your dog’s ribs are visibly showing, she is probably underweight. Your vet can make recommendations for prescription foods to help with this.

If your dog does not seem to have a good appetite the first few days, it could be due to the anxiety of a new environment. Provide her with a quiet place to eat, undisturbed. If she does not seem to like her food, you may need to experiment with different food brands. But if it continues, you should consult with your vet to rule out medical issues.

Let the vet know if you have observed any problems with stools, such as diarrhea or runny stools, poor appetite, lethargy, mucous or blood in stools, or vomiting. This will help your vet look for symptoms of poor health such as dental problems, parasites, worms, or other common problems with adopted dogs. Any of these issues could impact your dog’s reaction to food. Your vet may prescribe a special type of food to help with any physical problems.

Enjoy Your New Dog!

Taking some of these simple steps to ensure your dog’s well-being will allow you to rest easy. You you have provided your new rescue dog with good food and a welcoming home. Sometimes there is nothing like the sound of happy munching when your new furry friend is happily lapping up a hearty meal!

Pat yourself on the back for being a good human parent and get ready to take your new best friend out for an after-dinner stroll around the block. You both deserve it! Be sure to click here to get your free eBook, Homemade Food and Kibble!

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