It seems a simple enough question; how much food should I give my dog to ensure they are healthy, satisfied and maintain the optimal weight for their age, breed and lifestyle?
The problem is, all too often we apply human logic to the answer and we feed our dogs based on how much food we think should be in the bowl, not necessarily what our dogs actually need to maintain an ideal weight.
Weight gain or weight loss will surely follow if we feed our dogs according to what we think they want rather than what they actually need.
To answer the question of how much food you should feed your dog, we've teamed up with canine nutritionist Dr John Lowe to answer some of your most important questions including:
- dog food intake for adult dogs
- puppy feeding guidelines
- optimum dog feeding frequency
- the 'how many cups of dog food' myth
- dog treats (how many is too many)
- wet food, dry food and raw food (how much & how often)
- dog body weight charts (how they work)
- dog body condition charts (what are they and how to use them)
So, let's start at the start. With puppies of course.
How Much Food to Feed a Puppy
We asked Dr Lowe to tell us what puppy owners should know. He begins by telling us why diet is important for growth and development.
“It is important not to change the food around the time of weaning. It is a stressful period and continuity of food is strongly recommended.
“It is vital to try and feed to maintain a steady growth, in line with a suitable growth chart for the dog's size and ensure that the puppy does not show signs of becoming fat. A fat puppy is neither healthy nor helpful when it comes to trying to manage weight and body condition in adulthood.
“A steady growth rate is in the region of two and four grams per kg of anticipated adult weight per day. Post weaning growth, from two months of age, is a critical time for skeletal development and thus using a suitable Junior food is critical.
“Feeding frequency is important too; puppies require regular meals spread throughout the day. A suggested regime is to divide the daily amount of food into six meals a day up to 8 weeks of age, four meals from 8-12 weeks and gradually reduced to two meals per day thereafter.
How you can tell if a puppy is being fed the right amount “The amount to feed will be indicated on the feeding guide on the pack. But this is only a feeding guide and adjustments should be made so as to maintain a steady growth rate and appropriate body condition score.
Weighing the puppy each week and plotting the change on a graph helps to keep growth and condition at optimum.
From Puppies To Adults: Why Changing Dog Food Matters
As adulthood approaches, it's important to set out a plan to change to a diet more suitable to an adult dog's lifestyle, energy and exercise needs.
And similarly, dogs approaching senior years (this may be as early as six years old for some dogs, depending on their breed) should begin preparation for a senior or light diet because it's important a new diet takes into account an older dog's additional needs, such as mobility and joint care with added omega 3 oils and high-quality ingredients which may contain fewer calories (if we're expending fewer calories, we need to take fewer on board).
Life stage dog food choices are particularly important because they will make sure that a dog's nutritional requirements continue to be met as each new chapter begins.
Dog Food Feeding Guidelines
Dr Lowe tells us that feeding guidelines on dog food packaging are extremely useful but should serve as a starting point only when assessing the right amount of food in your dog's daily diet.
The feeding guide on dog food packaging is an extremely useful piece of information and is a good place to start from when trying to decide how much of a particular food to feed. However, remember it is a guide not an absolute value.
Another important point to consider when working out the amount to feed concerns the food itself.
Different products will vary in the amount of weight food that fits in a standard measuring jug or cup. So, for a new food it is important to weigh the amount out, even if subsequently you feed by volume.
There are two main factors that affect the amount of food that should be fed.
1. Variation between dogs, even of the same breed, body weight and activity level, in the amount of a given food they need to maintain body weight and condition.
It can be as much as plus or minus 20%. For example, one 30kg Labrador might need 350gms per day, whilst a similar weight Labrador may only need 280-300gms. Not all puppies grow at the same rate and adult dogs, even of the same breed and age can have vastly different nutritional requirements for optimal health and body weight.
2. You also need to understand that some feeding guides will choose to estimate the energy requirements based on active dogs, whilst others will choose a more sedentary dog's requirements as the basis for their calculations. To ensure your dog gets the right amount of food to maintain a healthy weight, it really is very much dependent on your individual dog, their activity levels and their unique metabolism.
Dog Food Calculator
A good point of reference is this dog food calculator.
The simple rules are, use the feeding guide values as a starting point. Weigh out the correct amount of food and then monitor your dog each week, using a suitable body condition score chart (BCS) and have confidence to adjust the amount fed to maintain the body condition at the optimum level.
How Many Times Per Day Should I Feed My Dog?
Feeding once or twice per day is a matter of preference, routine and practicality, rather than having relevance to nutrient needs.
A quick rule of thumb tends to suggest that owners of small and medium sized dogs tend to feed once per day and owners of larger breeds often opt to find twice or three times per day. Sometimes, for owners of dogs who are fussy eaters, they find more success feeding smaller meals twice per day.
A good tip if you feel you need to reduce the amount fed, but you think the meal looks small in amount and you worry the dog will be hungry is to flood the food with water before feeding.
This will tend to provide stomach fill. It should not make the dog want to urinate more frequently, as it will simply drink less from the water bowl. Remember to always have fresh drinking water on hand.
For many owners of larger adult dogs; breeds such as Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Great Danes etc, owner's will sometimes feed as often as three times per day to reduce the volume of food in the dog's stomach at any one time. Larger breeds are more prone to gastric torsion / twisted gut, so breaking their meals up in to smaller servings makes sense.
How Many Cups Of Food Should I Feed My Dog?
The answer to this depends on the type and quality of the food, the breed / size of the dog, their age and activity levels. There simply is not a solution that says 'the amount of cups per day a dog should receive is 'x'. In fact, that would be dangerous.
Let's imagine two dogs. They are the same age and same breed, a Greyhound.
One dog regularly races around a track at top speed.
The other dog lives with an elderly owner and takes regular, sedate walks in the local park.
Both dogs would clearly not do well being given 'x' number of cups of dog food per day. In fact, if each dog was given the same amount of food it would adversely affect the health of at least one of them. Either one dog would end up malnourished or the other would become obese very quickly.
As an owner, you will work out the right amount of food to give by observing your dog on a regular basis. Are they looking underweight? Are they starting to look a little heavy?
By observing how a dog is responding to their daily intake, owners can make sensible decisions about the volume of food they receive, their ideal feeding schedule, the right type of food, whether they do better on dry food, wet food or raw food or even a combination of dog foods.
To maintain a healthy weight in their dog, owners must first understand what exactly is a healthy weight for their particular dog. This is where veterinary advice will prove beneficial.
Dog Treats & Excess Calories
If you like to give your dog regular treats during the day - and let's face it, who doesn't! - you must factor this in to their daily calorie intake.
We don't need to remove treats from our dog's diet. We just need to remove the calories from their main meals. It's also possible to give your dog a healthy treat that they will enjoy just as much.
How Much Should I Feed My Dog?
When assessing how much to feed your dog, exercise and fitness plays a key role alongside age and a dog's breed and size.
If your dog takes on too few or too many calories for their lifestyle, they could become over or under weight, so it is important to adjust a dog's diet to consider their all-around lifestyle.
Dr Lowe tells us how to spot if a dog is taking on too many or too few calories and how to adjust their diet accordingly.
Feeding Too Much Dog Food & Weight Gain
Unfortunately, it is often only when extremes of weight gain or loss have occurred that they are noticed. If such changes have occurred and you are confident you are not feeding the incorrect amount then veterinary advice should be sort out immediately.
If, however, you suspect that it could be you have your feeding rates incorrect, then adjust them, having checked first the amount of dog food by weighing it.
Acknowledge and record your dog's current weight and body condition.
Regular use of a BCS chart however can help indicate when changes are in their infancy. Using a BCS is not only helpful at highlighting early signs of body condition changes, but it helps bonding with the dog, due to the close contact and can assist in you noticing other changes that may need attention, such as injuries, skin conditions, ticks / fleas and so forth.
Use a dog body weight chart to give you a good starting point to work from when assessing your dog's ideal weight. But, if you really want to be accurate, have your dog weighed and evaluated by a vet.
The hiding and or obvious showing of the ribs and changes to the base of the tail fat cover are clear and good signs of changes in condition.
Adjusting the amount fed should help to rectify adverse changes over a few weeks. You usually reckon and changing body weight by about 1% per week; so, for a 30kg Labrador, you would be looking to change weight by around 300g per week.
If the dog is very overweight, then changing the diet to a lite variety within the product range will help. If you are unhappy with progress, then do contact your veterinary surgeon to make further checks.
Quick Tips On Feeding The Right Amount Of Dog Food
- Wet and dry dog food is less important than the type or quality of food
- Not all dog food is made equal. Some food is more nutritionally dense and should be fed in lower volume. Other food requires more to be given to keep your dog at a healthy weight.
- Maintain a feeding chart. By keeping a dog food chart yourself, you can monitor your dog's individual response to different foods, volumes and whether they do better on smaller meals broken down in to more frequent feedings.
- There is no magic 'x' cups per day of dog food measurement. You will calculate the right amount of food per day for your particular dog by observing.
- Use the dog food label as a starting point, not a hard rule.
- For puppies, keep a puppy feeding chart and observe the pup's response to their feeding schedule.
- An occasional treat is good for dogs and good for us. Treats don't have to lead to excess calories and weight gain. If your dog receives treats during the day, by keeping a dog feeding chart you'll be able to adjust their main meal accordingly.
- Understand your dog's ideal body condition. Your vet can help with this, but after a while you'll have a good idea yourself. Experienced dog owners tend to pick up the knack of knowing if their dog is in ideal condition just by looking at them for only a few seconds. If you're a new dog owner or have a new dog, don't stress. You'll pick up this knack soon enough too.
- Toy breeds and smaller dogs can sometimes be a little fussier when it comes to food. Finding out the food they enjoy the most is half the battle. It is quite easy to get stressed if a dog is not eating. If this happens to you, always check with the vet that the dog has no underlying health problems, then be prepared to experiment until you find the food your dog enjoys most.
- Take account of your dog's life stage. A 12 year old Labrador will not have the same nutritional requirements they did when they were a bounding 3 year old ball of energy.
- Portion size is crucial. Do not get tempted to give your dog the volume of food that just happens to fill the bowl to the top. You can be feeding too much or too little, depending on the food. Be scientific. Experiment. Keep a feeding chart.
- A puppy to adult transition takes place at different speeds depending on the breed. Many dog owners get stressed about when the right time is to take a puppy off puppy food and switch to adult food. A lot will depend on their energy and calorie needs. Your vet will help.
Useful Links Related To How Much To Feed Your Dog
- How much should I feed my dog (22 expert tips)
- How much should you be feeding your dog (PFMA guide)
- Switching dog food (when, why & how)
- Getting started with raw (a beginner's guide to feeding raw dog food)
- What is cold pressed dog food & is it better for dogs?
- Will raw dog food help my dog lose weight?
- Dog obesity (why killing with kindness is still killing)
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