Your dog’s diet impacts every aspect of their health, and knowing what or how much you should feed your dog isn’t as black and white as pet food labels suggest. How much food does your dog need to thrive? Well, that depends on their individual needs.
If you are wondering whether or not you're feeding your dog the right amount of food, then this article is for you. We will cover the factors that indicate that your pet may not fall into the average dog category that most feeding guidelines are based on. In the article, you will learn:
- Why are Feeding Guidelines Important?
- How to Feed Your Dog's Life Stage
- Feeding Based on Breed
- Feeding Quality vs. Quantity
- Is My Dog Overweight?
- Dog Food Calorie Calculator
- Making Adjustments for Your Dog
Why are Feeding Guidelines Important?
Maintaining your dog’s weight, muscle mass, and energy levels contribute to his overall well-being. Quality is absolutely important, and you should take a serious look at your pet’s food and decide if they are getting the right balance of digestible nutrients from their current diet.
Obesity has been proven to shorten our dog’s lifespans and reduce their quality of life. Weight problems can lead to serious health concerns like diabetes, pancreatitis, and a number of potentially debilitating mobility issues.
Diet and exercise are the best way to prevent obesity, but even the healthiest diets and lifestyles can fail if you are over or under feeding your dog. How much you feed your dog isn’t always easy to master, but if you are able to understand what your dog needs, then you will be able to help support their bodies during growth and maintenance stages.
Additionally, your dog's eating habits can also affect how well they are using the nutrients they eat. You might find out that you are feeding the right portions, but your dog prefers to scarf down his food in record time. Instead of changing the feeding guidelines, you may need to consider alternative feeding methods like slow feed bowls and puzzles toys.
Is My Dog Overweight?
Dogs, even more than people, come in all different shapes and sizes: there are tiny chihuahuas and huge mastiffs, skinny greyhounds and stout bulldogs. With such a range, it can be difficult to judge if your fine, furred friend is at a healthy, optimal weight. It is, however, worth the trouble to educate yourself on the signs of dog obesity, and what you can do about it.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 54% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese. That means if you’re not sure, your dog has a 1 in 2 chance of being outside it’s optimal weight range. According to recent studies, dogs which are kept at their ideal body weight live 1.8 years longer. And that’s good news.
Not everyone is a pet nutritionist, a vet, or an expert on pet health. The good news is a simple inspection using touch, sight and a general awareness of how your dog acts should give you enough information to determine whether or not your little (or big) friend needs to lose a few pounds.
This inspection helps you to determine your dog's Body Conditioning Score, or BCS. The picture below is a small scale version, but the typical BCS is rated on a 9 point scale, 1 being severely underweight, and 9 being morbidly obese. The goal for weight management is to fall around a 4 or 5 on the 9-point BCS. That is ideal weight.
How to Tell If My Dog is Overweight
Sight TestDogs have a certain shape, and for the most part that isn’t reminiscent of a barrel. Take a look at your dog in profile – look for folds around the neck or obvious fat deposits at the base of the neck. Next, check from above. If your dog is getting a little extra mass, chances are it will settle between its hips and its rib cage, giving your dog that unwanted ‘barrel’ look.
Instead, your dog should have a discernible waist between the end of her ribs and the beginning of her hips. Now, step back and make sure the tummy tucks upwards after the ribs. Puppies have a cute little tummy, but a full-grown dog should have a more svelte look.
Your dog loves to be touched, whether it’s a loving pet, a scratch behind her ears, or a simple pat on his head. And chances are, good pet owner that you are, you spend a portion of the day giving your dog the attention she desires.
So, next time your pet your dog, pay attention to what you’re feeling. Give his side a bit of a scratch and see if you can feel some ribs there, or if there’s a layer of fat between your fingers and the rib-cage. Give her a little belly rub and watch how much jiggle there is down there. Finally, end of with a good neck scratch – see if you can get that back leg going.
Are there folds of flesh (of course, if your dog is a sharpei…) and fat hanging around the neck, or rolling over the collar? Some breeds are naturally rolly and or polly, so the touch test isn’t fool proof. We recommend familiarizing yourself with your breed’s natural shape to be able to tell if he’s out of it.
Stamina Test/ConditionA healthy dog should be able to move around with ease. This ease has a lot to do with your dog breed and goes from Bulldog to Collie. But, within reason, your dog should be able to keep up with you.
If he’s always panting and out of breath, and doesn’t have the stamina you remember him having, it could be because he’s packing around more weight than he used to be.
Again, breed matters. Some breeds always breathe a little heavier and aren’t meant for marathons and sprinting, especially Brachycephalic breeds, like pugs, that have short snouts.
Check out his gait as well, if his legs are bowing out (and he’s not a bulldog or other bow-legged breed) it could be a sign of obesity or a hip and joint issue caused by excess weight.
The Ideal Weight for Your Dog
Ideal Weights for Top 50 Dog Breeds
With all the different breeds, and all the different cross-breeds, it’s impossible to give a one-size fits all diagnosis, or a one-size fits all solution. But you know your dog best, so do her a favour and stop comparing her to the perfectly-groomed poodles in the dog shows (it’s so hard on their confidence).
Instead, compare her to her past self, and see how she stacks up. And, if her waist is disappearing, or her stamina seems to be sinking, it’s time to rethink her diet or exercise – or both. It may be time to start looking at calories in her snacks too.
If you are concerned that your pet is overweight, check out our blog, Weight Loss Dog Food: Managing Your Dog's Weight to find out what you can do to get your dog back on the right track.
With that said, for your reference, we have put together a chart of the 50 of the most popular dog breeds so that you have a general reference. Remember, every dog is different, so make sure you don't simply rely on the weights listed below, but you also perform the sight, touch, and stamina tests above.
How to Feed Your Dog's Life Stage
Once you’ve established your dog’s ideal weight, the next step is to consider the ideal feeding guidelines for your dog’s life stage.
Your dog’s age can greatly impact their feeding requirements, activity level, eating habits, and health condition. It can be confusing when we see so many “all life stage” foods on the market. It gives us the impression that all dogs have the same requirements, metabolism, digestion etc.
Here's a basic breakdown of the factors that may affect the feeding requirements for growth, maintenance, and senior life stages:
The first 2 years of your dog’s life can affect the quality of the rest of their life. This is called the growth stage. During this period, your dog will continue to grow and develop all of the systems of their body.
This growth period uses a lot of energy and nutrients and therefore, the feeding guidelines are higher than that of an adult or a senior dog. During their puppy stage, their calorie and energy requirements will change as they grow. It’s important to monitor weight and muscle gain to ensure that they are developing at an appropriate rate.
Puppies under 4-6 months of age, may require more calories from protein, fat, and carbs to maintain even growth. In this time their bodies could be tripling in size, more for larger breeds, and many of their vital systems and cognitive functions require a lot of energy to develop properly.
Different food formats can offer more calorie-dense nutrition, like wet food or raw, so consider all of your options when choosing a food for your puppy.
After 6 months, feeding guidelines may need to taper off, as growth spurts will start to come in more regular cycles. They will gain weight, and then thin out as their skeletal and muscle structure develops. This is very normal, but you should always monitor your pet’s growth, as it can indicate if you are either over or under-feeding.
During these developmental stages, excess weight can add unnecessary strain to your pet’s joints and connective tissues. Avoid mobility issues in the future by adjusting your puppies feeding guidelines appropriately as they grow.
Once your dog is over 2 years old, with the exception of some large and giant breeds, they will be done growing. This is not to say that they won’t continue to build muscle mass, but their skeletal structure and base muscle form will be fully developed. For smaller breeds, growth can be complete as early as 12-18 months.
In the adult stage, your dog’s diet should be helping maintain a healthy weight and activity level. Feeding guidelines for adult dogs are not as high as a puppy, and it’s a lot easier to overfeed if you are not careful.
Most feeding guidelines are tailored to the average adult dog, of average activity level, and average metabolism. While, fundamentally, this makes sense, it might not be perfectly accurate for your dog’s needs.
High energy breeds and working dogs will have much higher calorie and energy requirements than a lazy couch potato. Even a neutered or spayed dog vs an intact dog may have different needs. In fact, their breed may give you some clues as to how active your pet is going to be.
Weight issues among senior dogs can be a very serious issue. Both over and underweight senior dogs may lead shorter and less comfortable later years. Maintenance of muscle mass, skeletal structure and digestion are the biggest concerns for most senior pets, so choosing food that matches their needs is important.
Different breeds reach their senior stage at different times. Small and medium breeds often don't show signs of age related decline until after 7-9 years old, while large and giant breeds may be considered seniors as early as 5. Look for signs of ageing to indicate whether you should be adjusting diet and feeding guidelines to match your dog's life stage.
Feeding guidelines for a senior dog may decrease as their energy levels, mobility, and appetite diminish. Feeding a highly digestible food made with natural, nutrient-dense ingredients can accommodate smaller portions without creating deficiencies.
Feeding Based on BreedSmall breeds typically have a faster metabolism than larger breeds, meaning that they process calories faster. If you have an active small breed, they may require a more calorie dense food to keep them feeling full and energized.
While the feeding guidelines don’t vary too greatly between breeds and sizes, this should still be considered in your dog’s meal plan. This may require smaller and more frequent meals to maintain energy levels and prevent blood sugar drops.
Some brands offer breed specific formulas. They are ideal for dogs that have the typical issues associated with their breed, but not all dogs will need to stick to such a specific formula. Consider both the benefits of the food and the quality of the ingredients to determine whether a food is right for your dog.
Feeding Quality vs. Quantity
Increasing or decreasing your pet’s caloric intake can promote a healthier weight, but where those calories come from is extremely important. We could limit our calories when we diet, but if all we are eating is candy or fried foods, chances are we aren’t going to be healthy or lose weight.
This same principle can be applied to your dog’s diet. Look for food that sources nutrients from real food ingredients. Avoid carb-heavy diets that only provide simple sugars, like wheat, corn and soy, which can lead to overeating and weight issues.
Dogs are scavenging carnivores. This means that they should be eating a predominantly meat-based diet, with vegetation for key nutrients and fibre. Animal protein will provide amino acids to build and maintain muscle mass, and energy can be provided from fat.
Vitamins and minerals can be abundantly sourced from fruits and vegetable, and can also be found in organ meats. This is why the whole prey diet (80% meat,10% bone, 5% liver, %5 other organs) is quite popular among raw feeders, although some kibble companies have started to embrace a similar format.
This doesn't mean that produce can't be fed, but it should be fed supplementary and in small portions of their diet. You could even try using some fresh veggies as treats.
Dog Food Calorie Calculator
Determining feeding guidelines first requires you to understand your dog’s caloric intake. Once you know how many calories your dog needs to thrive, you can determine how much kibble or canned food you should be feeding per day.
When using our dog food calculator, always put in your dog’s ideal weight. This calculator is best used for dogs that are fed kibble or canned food diets.
Raw diet feeding guidelines are slightly different due to the drastically different make up of proteins, fats, and carbs. To find the best feeding guidelines for raw feeders, check out our raw dog food calculator.
The calculator above will tell you how many calories your dog should have per day, but every food will offer different calories, so the feeding guidelines will vary depending on the formula. Once you know your dog's calorie requirements, you can look at your dog's food and figure out how many cups or grams of food will provide those calories.
Near the guaranteed analysis or ingredient panel of your dog's food, there should be a small section that tells you how many Kcals/kg and how many Kcals/cup is in that formula. Take your total calorie target for the day, and divide it by the number of Kcals/cup to get a closer estimation of how much you should be feeding per day.
To give you an example, an average 50lbs. adult dog will need about 1150 calories per day. If his food offers 419Kcals/cup, then his daily feeding recommendation would be about 2 3/4 cups per day.
These calculations are not an exact science, and this shouldn’t overrule your vet's recommendations, but they may help you find a more accurate answer than the vague guidelines provided by the manufacturer.
Making Adjustments for Your Dog
Now that you’ve determined how much you should be feeding your dog, you may want to start making adjustments to your current feeding routine. Bigger changes should be done gradually to help your pet adjust to the changes.
If your dog is at an ideal weight and size, and you are looking to maintain, then keep doing what you're doing unless you notice changes either physically or behaviorally.
Adjustments can be made to their treat routines as well. If you are looking to slim down your pet a little bit, then maybe cutting back on treats can help, and are also a great way to increase caloric intake for dog’s needing to gain a little bit of weight.
Stick to treats that are made from healthy wholesome ingredients, preferably meat based, to supplement their diet.
For dogs that participate in sporting activities, hunting, and even just seasonal changes to their activity levels, adjustments to their feeding guidelines may need to be done on the fly.
This may mean that on high activity days, portions are increased, and low activity days, they are proportionately reduced. This is definitely not a great method for beginners, as there is some trial and error involved. If you have a working dog, it may be useful for maintaining weight.