It seems a simple enough question – ‘how much should I feed my dog?’, but 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 need for their age, breed and lifestyle.
This month, Dr John Lowe, canine nutritionist for Autarky, answers some of your most important questions on the subject to make sure your dog is getting exactly what they need to keep them happy and healthy.
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 puppyhood to senior years: why changing diet 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 diets 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 packs are extremely useful but should serve as a starting point only.
“The feeding guide on a pack 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.”
Dog Food Calculator
Dr Lowe tells us there are two main factors that affect the amount of food that should be fed.
1. There is 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.
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.
A good point of reference is this dog food calculator here
Dr Lowe adds, “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 a day to feed a dog
“Feeding once or twice per day is a matter of preference, routine and practicality, rather than having relevance to nutrient needs,” Dr Lowe says.
“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.”
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.
“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 fed by weighing it.
“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.
“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.”