How Much Should I Feed My Dog?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM January 21, 2020
To put it mildly, I’m confronted with pups that are pleasantly plump almost every day. When I ask the owners how much they’re feeding their dogs, I am met with a blank stare. They don’t actually know since there is just food out all of the time. It’s no wonder these critters are overweight as most of them don’t possess an ‘I’m full’ button. Knowing how much to feed your dog will not only help them maintain a healthy weight, it may also help you save on health related expenses in the future.
The amount of food that you feed your dog every day will vary depending on the brand and quality of dog food that you’re feeding. Get to know your dog food label. Every commercial dog food is required to provide a recommended feeding chart that gives you a range of dog food amounts that will meet the caloric and nutritional needs for dogs of a certain weight. Keep in mind that these are recommendations. Active dogs may require more food and those couch potato types may need less.
How Much Should I Feed My Dog?
The amount of food you should feed a dog is influenced by both size and age. A puppy needs about 60 calories per pound of body weight. An adult dog needs around 30 calories per pound of body weight. In general, an adult dog that weights 10 pounds will need around 300 calories a day.
Age And Feeding Frequency
Part of the trap that many dog parents fall into is not changing their pup’s feeding schedule as they grow. Your teenage dog needs fewer calories than they did as a six month old puppy, so feeding frequency and amount should be adjusted as your dog ages. Here are some general feeding guidelines for puppies through adult dogs.
- Birth to four months
For the first 3-6 weeks of life, the majority of a puppy’s needs are met by their mother’s milk. Some puppies will start to sample dog food at around three weeks of age, but they won’t get significant nutrition from it quite yet. Once a puppy is weaned from their mother and dog food takes over as the sole source of nutrition, most puppies are safe being fed free-choice to ensure that they get enough calories. If you’re afraid that your puppy is over eating, you can try splitting the recommended amount for them into four to five feedings per day so that they get food frequently without full access. Most puppy food is labeled by weight at maturity. If you don’t know what size your puppy will grow to be, talk to your veterinarian. You can also estimate based on the weight of your puppy’s parents, if you know them. For example, Purina Pro Plan FOCUS Puppy Chicken and Rice Dry Formula recommend that a Border Collie puppy that will weigh between 51-75 pounds as an adult be feed half a cup to one and two thirds of a cup of food per day.
- Four to six months
At around four months of age, most puppies have matured enough to get by with three feedings per day. They are still going to eat a lot, typically about twice as much as they will as an adult. It’s important during this time to adjust food amounts as necessary to keep your pup in an ideal body condition. Since puppies go through growth spurts where they shoot up in height and length and seem skinny to where they all of a sudden seem chubby, frequent monitoring and adjustment is important. As your puppy inches closer to the six month mark, feedings can be reduced to twice a day. For a Yorkie puppy eating Blue Buffalo Puppy Life Protection Formula that weighs less than six pounds and is between four to six months old, then they will get half a cup to three quarters of a cup of food per day.
- Six to 12 months
This is the time when you start to get your puppy ready for their adult lifelong feeding schedule. Most pups can be fed meals twice a day and some puppies will transition to eating adult dog food. Most smaller breed puppies stop growing during this age range and can be started on adult dog food. Larger breeds, on the other hand, will continue to grow past their first birthday, so they should remain on a quality puppy food until they’ve reached their mature size. Puppies of this age will eat roughly the same amount of food per day that they were eating as four and five month olds, but that amount will change with their adult food. For comparison purposes, let’s revisit the Yorkie puppy from before that now weighs over five pounds. They would still get one half to three quarters of a cup of Blue Buffalo Puppy Life Protection Formula.
- 12-18 months and through adulthood
For small and most medium breed pups, this time period will be more or less what their adult feeding schedule will be which is twice a day feedings of adult food. For large breeds, twice a day feedings are still the norm, but they may still be eating puppy food until they’ve finished growing. As you transition your puppy to adult dog food, pay attention to portions. Most adult dogs, with the exception of very active or working pups, will eat less food than they did as a puppy. Remember the ideal body condition and adjust the amounts if your dog is getting a little on the padded side. If your pup has been spayed or neutered, they may need less food as altered critters tend to gain weight more quickly as well. Our example will be for a 30 pound Sheltie, eating Hill’s Science Diet Adult Recipe, two and one quarters of a cup per day.
- Senior years
Senior dogs are a mixed bag when it comes to how much to feed them. First of all, it’s time to switch to a mature adult or senior formula of dog food. Most brands of senior foods have extra antioxidants to fight aging, quality protein to prevent muscle atrophy, and fewer calories to keep them trim. However, some senior dogs actually lose weight as they age, so start by following the recommended guidelines on your dog food label and adjust as needed to maintain an ideal body condition.
If you’re noticing a huge variation in the amounts of food that these dogs are getting, it’s because there is. There’s no right amount across the board when you’re dealing with different brands of dog food. Your best bet is to find the brand that works for you and then follow their recommended guidelines. Adjust as needed to maintain a healthy weight and ask your veterinarian for help.
What Are the Risks Of Feeding Too Much?
You may be thinking that establishing a feeding schedule seems like too much trouble, and it is definitely more intensive than just leaving a full bowl of food out all of the time. But consider this, every extra pound (every extra ounce for small dogs) is going to impact your dog’s health and longevity. Excess weight is hard on more than just the eyes; it can lead to diabetes, arthritis, heart and respiratory trouble, and injury, to name a few.
Moreover, feeding too much dog food is also hard on your wallet. It’s no secret that dog food isn’t cheap, especially if you’re feeding a quality brand. Feeding more food than is necessary is just like flushing money down the toilet, except you’re actually flushing it out onto your yard. Speaking of which, the more food your dog eats, the more you’ll have to scoop up.
What Are The Risks Of Feeding Too Little?
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea and instead cut your dog’s food back too far. Feeding too little has its downsides as well. The reason that dog food brands have feeding recommendations on their label is because they have tested and formulated their food to meet a dog’s nutritional requirements at the amount that they have listed. That means if your dog isn’t eating the recommended amount, they’re not getting the nutrients that they need. This can lead to weight loss, organ dysfunction, and injury. Your dog’s hair may fall out, their bones could break more easily, and puppy’s might not grow properly.
Hungry dogs find food, anywhere and everywhere they can. A dog that isn’t getting enough to eat may start to chow down on dirt, grass, rocks, and other yard items. They may take a bite out of your couch, carpets, inhale your socks, or scratch at your cupboard doors looking for food. Not only is their health at risk when eating these inedibles, it’s also detrimental to your stuff.
Free-Feeding Versus Scheduled-Feeding
We already hit on this in previously, but to sum it up, let’s look at free-feeding vs scheduled feeding.
Free-feeding isn’t necessarily bad; it just takes a very special dog to be able to do it. There are some dogs that would rather graze than gulp their food and those may do well with free feeding. Free feeding is definitely easier. You don’t have to be home at specific times or deal with begging dogs an hour before mealtimes.
However, free-feeding doesn’t work well with canned food as it tends to spoil if left out, and there’s the danger of overfeeding your pup. Free-feeding also doesn’t work if you have other critters around that like to steal uneaten food.
If you choose to feed your dog meals, you’ll be able to better control the amount of food that they’re getting, helping to keep them at a healthy weight. You can also top it off with some canned food if you want and mix any medications in with the food.
With scheduled-feeding, you do have to try to be home at specific times and will have to spend a moment measuring out dog food. Dogs also get very used to a schedule and may start to beg well before mealtime.
When it comes to choosing whether you’re going to free-feed or schedule-feed, the method that’s best is whatever works for you and your pup. Again, some dogs just aren’t good candidates for free-feeding, as they prefer to gobble first and ask questions later. But for the dogs that can exhibit some willpower, they may do well with free-feeding, especially if you work crazy hours and can’t always be home at specific mealtimes.
What Time Of Day Should I Feed My Dog?
If you choose to go with scheduled-feeding, the time of day that you feed your dog actually does matter. You don’t want to space the meals out so far that your dog gets hungry in between, and you don’t want to cram them too close together so that they haven’t fully digested their previous meal. You also want to consider that most dogs will need a trip outside about 20 minutes after eating, so plan for that as well.
With that in mind, aim for an early morning feeding, usually when you’re just waking up and an early evening meal. Make sure your pup has about six hours in between meals for digestion to occur and plenty of time before bedtime for a potty break.
Why Does My Dog Always Act Hungry?
You’re feeding your dog the recommended amount of food according to their dog food label, but they’re still constantly hungry! How do you know that? It could be the puppy dog eyes they give you every time you go into the kitchen or the constant stream of drool that’s escaping their lips while you sit down to your own lunch. There are many reasons that a dog may always act hungry.
- It’s the food
Even though you’re feeding the recommended amount of dog food, it just might not be enough for your specific pup. Up their food, especially if your dog is losing weight. More active dogs need more protein and calories, so if your pup is always on the go, look into a performance or sporting formula that will provide them with more nutrients. Protein also helps a dog feel full for longer, so higher protein equals a less hungry dog.
- It’s the dog
You may have noticed that some people are able to eat brownies nonstop and never gain an ounce. Some dogs are the same way. They just have a higher metabolism! If you’ve upgraded your dog’s food and are feeding them higher amounts, but they’re still hungry, then you may try increasing their number of meals. Instead of feeding twice a day, divide their daily food amount between three or four smaller meals. That way, they’ll have food in their stomach at all times. You can also supplement with low calorie, high fiber treats like green beans, carrots, or pumpkin to help keep them satiated.
Some dogs equate food with love, so show your affection in other ways. Anytime your dog comes begging for food, give them a toy or start a game of fetch. Take them for a walk or wrestle them on the floor. It won’t take long for them to see food as just food and that your love for them doesn’t come in a bowl.
- It’s a medical condition
Excessive hunger can be caused by a medical condition, so any change in your dog’s appetite should be looked at by a veterinarian.
Unfortunately, there’s no universal answer for how much you should feed your dog. It will depend on your dog’s size, age, and activity level. It will also depend on the brand and type of dog food you’re feeding. To begin finding the right amount to feed, refer to your dog food label and adjust the amount as needed to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Your veterinarian is also a great resource to help you find the right food, the amount that you should feed, and how to keep your pup full, happy, and healthy.