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
- 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.Helpful Resources:
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.
How to Feed Your Dog's Life Stage
Your dog’s life stage 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.
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.Helpful Resources:
Most puppy feeding guidelines are based simply off of weight, which will frequently change in the first 9-12 months, but that is not the only thing to consider.
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.
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.Helpful Resource:
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 Breed
Small 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.
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 source 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 diets are much more calorie dense and the variety of formats are not compatible with the algorithm for this calculator.
Take a look at your dog’s food. Near the guaranteed analysis or ingredient panel, 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.
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.
Do you follow the feeding guidelines for your dog's food? Let us know if you have struggled with how much food to feed your dog in the comments below!
Posted by Krystn Janisse
Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channelling some crazy cat lady vibes with her five lovable, but rebellious cats.