Feeding too much or too little can shorten a dog's life, affect their behaviour and negatively impact their mental health.
This article covers the science and psychology of feeding. Discover how you can help your dog thrive by providing just the right blend of nutrients in just the right amounts.
Why Puppies Should Be Fed More Regularly Than Adult Dogs
First things first; puppies. They go through many stages of growth and need nutritional support throughout each one.
Puppies need to eat more often than older dogs to support growth. And their diets should contain more protein and fat to give them the nutritional support they need for mental, cognitive and physical development.
A good rule of thumb for puppies, according to some dog food companies, is to feed dogs up to six meals a day for very young puppies, dropping to two meals a day, depending on the dog’s breed, for puppies aged six months heading into adulthood. This is to give young dogs the right nutrients for the body and cognitive development.
Here’s what some of the larger dog food companies recommend:
From starting to offer food to weaning (usually two months) – feed four-six meals a day.
From two to three months – feed four meals a day.
From four to six months - feed two-three meals a day.
Over six months - feed two meals a day (depending on the dog’s breed).
All dogs are different though and so this is a good rule of thumb to follow but for more accurate advice for your puppy as they grow older, speak with your vet at one of your regular health checks to get their opinion on what’s right for your dog.
Now we’ve covered puppies, let’s move onto adult dogs!
Some adult dogs are fed once a day, some twice a day. In some instances, it depends on the type of food you want to feed, as well as the dog and owner’s routine and the dog’s digestive system. Some dogs with a sensitive digestive system suit being fed twice a day better, for example.
Your vet can help you set a schedule that considers all of this to help you make sure your adult dog’s feeding schedule is right for them.
Here are a few other things we think you need to know to be as informed as possible.
Why Different Breeds Should Always Be Fed Differently
Different breeds have different requirements for a variety of reasons, size being the main one. A Chihuahua’s calorie needs will differ greatly from a Great Dane, for example. This much is obvious.
So it’s important to know how much you should feed your dog based on their breed and how to assess their body condition score so you know that your dog is consuming the right nutrients and calories for their size and lifestyle.
Sure Petcare explains more about body condition scoring and how to tell if a dog’s being fed the right amount.
“Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, so it can be hard to determine if a dog is being overfed or they are gaining weight. The best way to determine if your dog is getting the right amount of food is to check their body condition score (BCS). This is similar to the way that we use body mass index (BMI) to assess body weight in people. It gives a much more accurate indication of a healthy weight than just putting your dog on the scales.
“Your vet can assess your dog’s body condition score and show you how you can check it yourself at home.
“To check your dog’s BCS, place your hands flat on either side of your dog’s chest and stroke them gently. You shouldn’t feel their ribs at this point. Then do the same with your fingertips. Without pressing too hard, you should be able to feel their ribs.
“If you have to push quite hard with your fingers to feel their ribs, then your dog may be carrying too much weight. Put a reminder in your calendar to check your dog’s BCS every 6 months. If your dog experiences a lifestyle change, you should check that their BCS hasn’t been affected. A period of illness, a change in diet or low activity in winter can all affect their BCS.”
How to Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight
Being overweight can impact a dog’s health and can even be fatal. How a dog’s body works, much like a human’s, when overweight changes considerably and people and dogs are more prone to illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart problems.
But a dog’s weight may only be one sign that a dog is being fed too much for their activity levels and lifestyle, Sure Petcare tells us.
The first sign that body weight isn’t optimal may be a change in your dog’s activity levels and tolerance of heat and exercise.
Overweight dogs tend to pant a lot in hot weather and they may become sluggish on longer walks that they previously coped well with. It’s easy to miss changes in your dog’s activity levels because they are not always easy to spot.
For example, during a walk in the park, a young, fit dog will move around a lot more than you do; if you walk two miles, your dog might walk four miles! As dogs get heavier, they may not walk and run around quite as much, but because your walk is still two miles long, you might not realise that your dog is exercising less.
One way to overcome this is to use an activity tracker that keeps a record of your dog’s activity levels and energy expenditure. The information that it provides could also guide the amount of food you give your dog so that you never give too much or too little. In general, body condition score (BCS) is the best way to spot that your dog is getting too much or too little food for their current activity levels.
How many calories does your dog need?
We love our dogs so much and for some, it can be hard not to spoil them! How do we resist those puppy-love eyes staring up at us, communicating their utter commitment to loving us unconditionally forever … whilst simultaneously expressing a seemingly desperate need for a snack!
But of course, despite this urge to spoil, we want to take exceptional care of our canine pals and ensure that they are receiving not only a healthy diet but the right amount of calories each day to support them in maintaining an optimal weight for their overall health and longevity, writes John Woods.
Canine obesity is an increasing issue, with approximately 25-30% of the general canine population being obese. Anything over 10-20% of their ideal body weight is considered overweight, whilst weighing more than 20% over their ideal weight is classified as obese.
Much like humans, canine obesity shortens a dog’s life and makes them more prone to developing an illness. The extra fat secretes inflammatory hormones and causes body-tissue oxidative stress which can lead to a variety of diseases. Diet can even affect your dog’s mood, so it’s super important to be feeding them
Is your dog overweight?
It’s fairly safe to assume that if your dog is obese, it likely to be glaringly obvious that there is a weight issue. That said, it’s common for people to think of their dog as simply overweight and not address the severity of the issue.
For an immediate indication of the health of your dog’s weight, check out this healthy weight tool calculator - simply enter your dog’s name, age, breed, and weight for an instant result advising whereabouts they are currently falling on the ideal weight spectrum.
If it turns out that your furry friend is obese, it is strongly recommended that you consult a veterinarian to further assess and formulate the best course of action moving forwards. Dieting can be harmful to your dog if not done right or if extenuating health conditions are not taken into consideration.
Read More: Are You Feeding Your Dog Too Many Carbs?
What is your dog’s ideal weight?
The American Kennel Club has published a comprehensive breed weight chart that breaks ideal weight ranges down into separate male and female categories.
This is understandably a huge diversity between dog breeds and ideal weights; Toy Poodles are one of the lightest dog breeds at 4-6 pounds, though standard male Poodles should weigh around 60-70 pounds. On the other end of the scale, Boerboels are one of the heaviest breeds, with a healthy weight range sitting at 150-200 pounds.
Comparing your dog’s ideal weight to their current weight will of course give you an immediate indication as to whether everything is a-okay or whether their diet and/or lifestyle needs further consideration.
Factors that may cause your dog’s ideal weight to fall outside of the normal range, such as old age or illness, really do require a veterinarian’s assessment.
How to calculate your dog’s ideal daily calorie intake
Once you know what your dog’s ideal weight is, it’s time to decide how much you like maths - because, should you be so inclined, there are some mind-bending formulas out there that you can work from!
To keep things simpler though, you can use an online canine calorie calculator, whereby you can simply input your dog’s ideal weight and current level of activity and it will calculate the recommended calorie intake of energy required for your dog to maintain its ideal weight.
In addition, here’s a rough guide for approximate calorie needs per Ib. of body weight based on size and general activity levels:
- Small dogs (<20 lbs.) - inactive 25 - normal 32 - active 35
- Medium dogs (20-50 lbs.) - inactive 20 - normal 24 - active 27
- Large dogs (>50 lbs.) - inactive 17 - normal 21 - active 24
There are several factors to consider that could also impact their daily needs. For example, suffering certain medical conditions, during pregnancy and after surgery or trauma, their needs will alter, and it is best to consult your veterinarian.
Also, when a dog is neutered, the hormonal changes tend to slow their metabolism whilst also increasing their appetites. Spayed and neutered pets therefore typically require more exercise and/or less calorie intake to maintain a healthy weight.
If your dog needs to lose weight
To work out how many calories to feed your dog for safe, gradual weight loss, take the calorie intake amount recommended to maintain their ideal weight and provide them 80% of that daily (as recommended by AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats).
For example, if your dog’s recommended calorie intake (to maintain their ideal weight) is 4000 kcal per day, then their healthy weight loss daily calorie intake would be 3200 kcal.
For further nutritional advice, Waltham Petcare Science Institute has published a complete guide to essential nutrition for cats and dogs which is packed full of information regarding your dog’s dietary and nutritional needs.
These wonderful companions of ours need our love, some spoiling, and our well-considered care to ensure that they live long and happy lives with us by their side!
What to Do If Your Dog Is Put on a Diet
Obesity is one of the biggest health crises affecting modern society. If your dog has been put on a diet to help them lose weight, focus on the future, and what to do next to help your dog achieve their target weight. Sure Petcare gives us this final piece of advice on how to have fun achieving your dog’s goal.
“The most important advice would be to stick to your vet’s instructions, go for regular weigh-ins, and learn how to monitor your dog’s body condition score (BCS). Focus on the positive aspects of weight loss: dogs that are of healthy body weight are more playful, more active, they have fewer health problems and they live longer.
“If you used to give your dog food treats, replace these with lots of interactive play, cuddles, doggie play dates, and exciting walks. Take advantage of the increased fitness and playfulness your dog exhibits as they lose weight.
“But we all lead busy lives, so you might find it hard to fit extra activities with your dog into your daily routine. One way to manage this is to schedule your leisure time and set reminders on your smartphone calendar to walk your dog or play a game with them. Activity trackers can be a useful way to set exercise targets to achieve with your dog, and they can also show you that your dog is naturally becoming more active during walks.”