Image via iStock.com/maushot
By Jennifer Coates, DVM
Feeding dogs seems so simple. You just offer an appropriate dry or wet dog food and never anticipate a problem.
Except, it’s really not that simple.
As pet parents, we care about our dogs’ well-being and health. We monitor how they’re feeling; we take them to the veterinarian; we give them all the attention in the world. But if we’re not paying attention to their diet—not just what we’re feeding them, but how much we’re feeding them—we could be doing our dogs harm.
The question, “How much should I be feeding my dog?” needs to be answered, but the answer doesn’t come easily. How can you accurately determine your dog’s caloric requirements? How clear are the instructions on your dog’s food? Why is your dog gaining weight when you feed what’s recommended on the bag?
If you’re ready to learn a few easy tricks to ensure that your pup is getting the right amount of dog food, then you’re in the right place.
How Much to Feed Your Dog
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, in 2017 about 56 percent of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. To put this into perspective, that’s about 50.2 million dogs that are too heavy and at risk for health problems.
While we can’t say that overfeeding based on confusion regarding how much food to feed dogs is the entire reason that dogs suffer from weight issues, it’s certainly a factor.
Learning the mathematics behind how much your dog should be eating is a powerful tool for helping your dog stay happy, healthy and trim.
But determining the right amount of food isn’t as easy as placing a dog bowl in front of him and letting him eat until he’s full. Many dogs will eat what you put out, no matter what. It’s up to you to figure out what’s a healthy amount. So, how can you determine how much to feed a dog?
Start by Talking With Your Veterinarian
For starters, take your dog to the vet. Get your dog weighed, have the vet give him a physical examination, and talk about whether or not the amount of food you’re currently serving is appropriate.
Be honest about your dog’s activity level and the amount of food he currently consumes (including dog treats, table scraps and other extras!). This way, you can get a more accurate idea not just about what you should be feeding him, but also about how much you should be feeding him.
Next, take a look at the label on your dog’s food and look for a dog feeding chart.
Understanding Dog Feeding Charts
Dog feeding charts look straightforward, but they’re not as cut and dry as you might think. For starters, dog food bags typically give an estimate like, “for dogs 10-30 pounds, feed ½-1 ½ cups.” An overly generalized statement like this isn’t very helpful.
If you have a 20-pound dog who lays around all day and has no interest in exercising, feeding him the maximum amount would almost certainly lead to unhealthy weight gain. Alternatively, an active dog who zips around all the time probably needs more calories than would be provided by the lower end of the range.
Dog food labels can be confusing in other ways too. Think about the example above. What it’s saying is that you should feed your dog ½-1 ½ cups over the course of an entire day, but it’s easy to understand how some pet parents could read it as ½-1 ½ cups per meal.
Portions: They’re Not as Easy as You Might Think
Only you and your vet can properly determine the number of calories your dog should be getting. Once that decision is made, it’s time to figure out a good feeding schedule for your dog. Most dogs thrive on two meals a day, but it’s often okay, for healthy adult dogs, to feed dogs once a day if that’s more convenient. Puppies may need to eat three times a day or even more frequently depending on their size and age.
If your vet helps you decide that your dog should eat 2 cups of a particular food per day and you want to feed two meals per day, portion that out to 1 cup in the morning and 1 cup in the afternoon.
Maybe you’d like to feed your dog dry food in the morning and wet food at night. As long as you feed half of the total daily dry ration in the morning and half of what is recommended per day of the canned food at night, this should work out just fine.
Most often, pet parents forget a few key factors when it comes to properly feeding dogs.
For starters, a cup isn’t always a cup. Remember, a true cup is 8 ounces, so it’s important to use an actual measuring cup or premeasured tool like the collapsible Dexas Popware KlipScoop to portion out a dog’s food instead of guessing.
Another thing pet parents forget to account for when determining how much food to feed a dog is treats! All those extras that your dog is getting throughout the day have calories, too. A good rule of thumb is to keep treats to just 10 percent of your dog’s overall caloric intake and to subtract those calories from the “regular” food that you offer at meal time.
Of course, there are plenty of helpful tools available on the market to help you portion out meals and regulate your dog’s feeding schedule.
For starters, the Arf Pets Automatic Dog and Cat Feeder can help you control portion size and keep track of what your dog is eating. You preset the feeder, so if you insert an amount, it’s going to deliver that amount at each meal.
The PetSafe Healthy Pet Simply Feed Programmable Pet Feeder is similar, but lets you feed your dog up to 12 meals a day, and even has a “slow feed” option that doles out a portion over 15 minutes to prevent gorging.
If an automatic dog feeder isn’t your style, consider purchasing dog bowls like the Bergan Stainless Steel Non-Ski Pet Bowl and the Signature Housewares Embossed Food Bowl that are sized to hold an exact amount of food. It’s harder to overfeed when your dog’s bowl will only hold an appropriately sized meal!