10 Best Foods for Labrador Retrievers


Millions of people around the world love their Labs. Labrador Retrievers are affectionate with the family. They are great with children. They are friendly with other dogs.

But no one should mistake a Labrador Retriever’s amicable personality for a lack of energy. Labs are enthusiastic athletes, bred for hunting, thriving on endless games of fetch, long walks, and swimming. Providing Labrador Retrievers with the foods that fuel their marathon of physical activity can be a challenge.

What Is Important in the Best Foods for Labrador Retrievers?

Every dog lover knows that their relationship with their pet just doesn’t work without food. Labrador Retrievers love us, but they love us more because we feed them. The better the food, the stronger the bond between dog and people, and the more years they will have together.

There are some questions that canine nutrition researchers think are important that many dog owners don’t know to ask about what’s in their dog’s food. Here are some examples.

Is your dog’s food wet or dry?

Wet dog food vs dry dog food isn’t just a matter of what’s convenient for owners. Scientific testing has found that Labrador Retrievers, much more than other breeds, prefer wet dog food over dry.

Is your dog’s food grain-free?

When it comes to canine nutrition, sometimes more is less. Kibble is easy to store. Dogs like it. And it’s cheap.

But dogs in general and Labrador Retrievers in particular need to eat more calories when they eat dry dog food that has grains as its first-named ingredient. When researchers at the University of Messina tested traditional grain-containing dog foods against a grain-free diet, here’s what they found:

  • Physically active Labrador Retrievers needed 13% fewer calories to maintain healthy weight when they ate grain-free dog food compared to when they ate dog food that contained grain.
  • Dogs produced 33% less excrement when they were on a grain-free diet.
  • Dogs were able to digest 10% more of the protein in meat when their digestive tracts weren’t also processing grain.
  • Canine probiotic “friendly” bacteria thrive on meat diets, not on grain diets. Dogs that are fed grain-free food have fewer digestive problems.

Does your dog’s food provide adequate tryptophan?

You’re probably familiar with the relaxed feeling you get after you drink a glass of warm milk, or you fill up on turkey at Thanksgiving dinner. The reason you feel calm and relaxed after eating those foods is they are good sources of tryptophan.

The human brain transforms tryptophan into the feel-good chemical serotonin. A similar reaction occurs in dogs. Scientists reporting their findings in the Journal of Animal Science have discovered that the reason Labrador Retrievers are so friendly and relaxed is that their bodies process tryptophan much more efficiently than some other breeds, notably Dachshunds.

You can bring out the best in your Labrador Retriever by making sure their food has relatively abundant tryptophan. But don’t give a Lab your tryptophan supplement. That would be too much.

Veterinary research has produced some other surprising findings about the effects of diet on health in Labrador Retrievers. Labrador Retriever puppies have fewer problems with hip dysplasia when they are fed a puppy chow that includes fish. Labs need more of the amino acid lysine than other breeds. (Lysine is especially abundant in fish, beef, chicken, and dairy.) And when Labs play hard in the heat, more fat (about 27% of calories) in their diet helps them keep cooler.

Which Foods Meet the Nutritional Needs of Labrador Retrievers Best?

It’s not realistic for canine caretakers to spend endless hours tracking down the exact amounts of various amino acids in their dog’s food to make sure the supply is adequate. It’s even time-consuming to try to compute percentages of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. In order to be absolutely sure that you are providing the healthiest options, you need the best brand of dog food that includes all of the most nutritious ingredients.

The easiest way to be sure your Lab is getting the nutrition he needs is to look for foods that feature these ingredients:

  • Salmon: Salmon is a great source of protein as well as n-3 essential fatty acids that a dog’s body transforms into the hormones that regulate inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties of salmon are strong enough that dogs that eat this fish have fewer problems with arthritis as well as hip and elbow dysplasia.
  • Sardines: These oily fish, may smell—but that’s a plus for your Labrador Retriever. Dogs love the taste and aroma, and the fish are a great source of even more n-3 essential fatty acids plus calcium for healthy bones and calm dispositions.
  • Turkey and Chicken: Poultry is a great source of tryptophan. Your Lab’s body is unusually efficient at transforming it into the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. When your Lab feels good, so will you.
  • Giblets: Giblets are the gizzard, liver, heart, and neck of a chicken or turkey. They are an excellent source of vitamin A, which keeps your Lab’s skin healthy.
  • Eggs: Eggs provide complete protein and arachidonic acid, which functions in a dog’s body as a healthy pro-inflammatory nutrient. Arachidonic acid powers the turnover of skin cells that keep your Lab’s skin healthy and give her a lustrous coat.
  • Beef and Pork Liver: Labs love the irony taste of liver. It’s a great balanced source of protein and fat.
  • Pumpkin and Tomatoes: These two vegetables may seem like an odd addition to a list of the 10 healthiest foods for Labrador Retrievers, but there is a reason they are on this list: They are a great source of plant chemicals in the same group as beta-carotene. Older Labs benefit from beta-carotene and lycopene for immune regulation. These two plant chemicals blunt allergic reactions and decrease skin problems.
  • Phytonutrients: A variety of plants provide micronutrients for Labs. Kelp is a great source of iodine and trace minerals. Spirulina is an amazing source of complete protein and a range of vitamins and minerals. Radish and broccoli provide potent antioxidants. Just a little of each of these plant foods is enough to support your Lab’s good health.

Everyone who loves a Labrador Retriever knows that Labs love to eat. In fact, there is a gene that gets passed down in Labrador Retrievers that accounts for excessive appetite and obesity. That’s why it’s important to provide tasty, nutritious, wet dog food (with a few dry crunchy treats) in measured amounts to make sure you aren’t giving your Lab too much.