Dogs’ bodies work a lot like human bodies. For example, if they eat too little, they can feel tired and lethargic.
In young dogs, a lack of proper nutrients can stunt their growth, and in older dogs, it can accelerate health issues. Feed your dog too much, however, and they can become overweight.
This can also result in all kinds of medical issues, especially heart problems and musculoskeletal problems from carrying too much weight.
So, how can you ensure your dog’s diet is perfectly suited to them?
You can start by feeding your dog the right amount of a nutritious food that is designed for them and contains all the vitamins and nutrients that they need.
In this article, I will be looking at how much you should be feeding your dog, which depends on a variety of factors such as weight, age, and activity levels, and exactly what you should be feeding your dog.
We know Lindsay has written a lot about feeding a raw diet to her dogs. However, today’s article focuses on feeding kibble. We feed our dogs premium kibble as well as dehydrated dog food, and fresh dog food.
How Much To Feed Your Dog
The main factor to consider when deciding how much to feed your dog is their size. Bigger dogs tend to need more food to have enough energy, whereas small dogs need less.
This is not the only factor to consider, but determining their calorie needs based on weight gives you a good starting point to adjust up and down based on other factors.
Let’s break down these important factors in more detail below.
As a general rule, adult dogs need between 20 and 40 calories of food per pound of bodyweight. Larger dogs tend to need fewer calories per pound, and smaller dogs more.
Your 100-pound German shepherd might need 20 calories per pound, while your 8-pound Chihuahua might need 40 calories per pound.
Medium-sized dogs like poodles probably need around 30 calories per pound.
This is a baseline, and you should observe their energy levels and weight to see if your dog is getting around the right amount of food.
Your dog’s life stage also makes a difference when it comes to their dietary needs.
Puppies need more calories than adult dogs, because while they may be small, their bodies are working hard to grow quickly.
Older dogs also need a calorie adjustment. They should be eating less, since their metabolisms are slower and they tend to be less active.
For puppies, in the first four months of their life, you need to double their calorie intake per pound of body weight to power their rapid growth.
From 4 to 12 months, puppies generally need around 1.3 times as many calories per pound as they will need as an adult dog.
You could start this period of their life higher at around 1.5 times and gradually reduce them down to the adult rate by the time they are one year old.
As your dog enters their senior years, you will probably want to reduce their calorie intake by between 10 and 30%.
Exactly how much you need to reduce depends on the dog, and you really need to monitor them and make adjustments accordingly to find what works best for them.
Your dog’s lifestyle is also a big factor in determining calorie intake.
For instance, if you have a working dog that spends all day running around on a big farm, they are using a lot of energy and will need a lot more calories than a lap dog that spends a lot of their time curled up on the couch.
There are no hard and fast rules that can be applied to lifestyle, because every dog is different, but you will know whether you need to be adjusting up or down.
The best thing you can do is make gradual increases or decreases and observe your dog’s weight and energy levels.
When raising our guide dog puppies we are required to fill out a monthly report. One of the questions on the report is what is your puppies body score? Here’s the link to the exact body chart we look at for our puppies in training.
Overfeeding Your Dog
In reality, most people tend to overfeed their dogs. This comes from a place of love and an inability to say no to those puppy dog looks.
But you aren’t helping your dog by overfeeding them. Regular overfeeding can result in serious medical problems.
Being overweight can reduce your dog’s quality of life, as they aren’t able to move around in a free and natural manner.
It also puts excess weight on their joints, which can lead to joint issues that are already common in medium-to-large breeds such as Labradors and German shepherds.
This excess weight also puts pressure on their organs, which can affect the lungs, heart, kidneys and liver. This can result in various specific diseases and a generally shortened life span.
Other issues associated with overfeeding dogs are skin disorders, some types of cancer, and even Cushing’s disease.
Overfeeding is often the result of offering your dog too many snacks and treats. We often give our dogs treats without considering the calories in them or feed them bits of meat off our own plate.
This is not a good idea because it encourages begging and teaches your dog that it is okay to eat human food, when many of the things that we eat are toxic to dogs.
When you consider the number of calories that you are feeding your dog, it is important to consider everything that you are feeding them–including their treats.
What To Feed Your Dog
As well as feeding your dog the right amount, you should be feeding them the right food.
Your dog can be both overweight and malnourished if you are feeding them too much and what you are feeding them does not contain the nutrients that they need.
Below is a general guide to what exactly should be in your dog’s bowl.
Of course, just like humans, some dogs have specific dietary needs, and in that case, you should follow the advice of your vet. The guide below is for normal, healthy dogs.
Research suggests that a dog’s overall diet should be around 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates.
To humans, that can seem like a lot of fat, but this tends to be from animal fat, which is a great source of energy.
The fat in your dog’s diet shouldn’t come from sources such as refined sugar, which is even worse for your dog than it is for you. Healthy fat from animal products and oils is great for your dog.
All good dog foods should start with a good quality meat as their first ingredient. Packaging usually lists ingredients from what is most plentiful in the food to what is least plentiful.
The first five or so ingredients generally make up the bulk of a dog food’s formula. Animal meat is the best source of protein, fat, and energy for your dog.
The best dog foods will have recognizable, named meats such as lamb, beef, or deboned chicken listed as the first ingredient.
However, you will also see dog foods with meat meals or animal by-products listed among the top ingredients.
These are basically ground meats made from everything left over from the butchering process, or organs, bones, skins, and so forth.
These by-products are actually quite healthy for your dog, and these are things that they would eat in the wild. The problem is when you don’t know the ratio of organ meat to muscle meat.
The key is to look at the meat-based ingredients as a whole. If you have a named meat and animal by-products, that’s quite good.
If the meat meal is identified as coming from a specific animal, for example chicken, it probably contains more muscle meat than a generic animal by-product.
If generic animal by-product is the only meat listed in the ingredients, it probably is not a great food.
Unlike cats, which are carnivores, dogs are omnivores and can get a lot of good nutrients from plant products.
It is good to see a decent amount of fruit and vegetables listed among ingredients as natural sources of vitamins and minerals for your dog.
Among the best fruits and vegetables to see in your dog’s food are sweet potatoes, carrots, peas and beans, and berries, especially blueberries.
Most dog foods will also probably contain a fair amount of grains. This helps the food feel filling and satisfying.
While grain-free dog food is popular, most dogs don’t have a problem with gluten, and grain can be a healthy part of their diet.
While, in theory, your dog should be able to get everything they need from “real” food, ensuring they’re getting enough nutrients can be more difficult than it sounds in practice.
Most dog foods will contain a nutrient pack that provides supplements of the essential vitamins and minerals your dog needs.
Among the essential vitamins and minerals for your dog, which you should see listed in the ingredients, are vitamins A, D, E, K, and complex B vitamins.
They should also be eating calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium.
The other things to consider when looking for a good dog food is food that does not contain artificial additives, especially colors and flavors.
While these might make the food look and smell more appealing to you, it doesn’t really do anything for your dog. These artificial additives can also trigger allergies and sensitivities.
It can also be worth choosing foods made in countries with strict food safety protocols, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union.
Wet vs. Dry Dog Food
Wet and dry dog food actually aren’t that different, and they typically contain more or less the same ingredients.
Wet dog food grinds the protein source, usually with some healthy vegetables, and then adds a gravy that contains essential vitamins, minerals, and grains to fill out the dish.
This is cooked, sterilized, preserved, and then packaged for a long shelf life, usually in cans.
For kibble, the protein is finely ground, and then ground fruits vegetables and grains are added. Next, everything in the mixture is pulverized and made into a dough.
This is cooked and shaped into kibble. The resulting dry kibble is then sprayed with vitamins and healthy oils before being packaged.
Overall, there is not a huge difference between the nutritional value of these foods. However, wet food can be more tempting to eat and provide more moisture for dogs that don’t like to drink.
Meanwhile, dry foods tend to be more affordable and easy to manage.
Read our guide to five affordable ways to feed your dog a healthier diet.
How Often To Feed Your Dog
How often you should feed your dog will obviously depend on your lifestyle and how often you can feed your dog.
Ideally, though, adult dogs should have their calorie intake divided into two meals a day: one meal in the morning, and another meal around 12 hours later.
You should stop feeding your dog about three hours before bed time so they have a chance to digest and pass a bowel movement before being stuck inside the house for the evening.
Puppies need to be fed smaller portions on a more frequent basis. They generally should get three to four meals per day.
Very small breeds, such as toy breeds, also benefit from smaller meals more often, since their tiny stomachs aren’t necessarily equipped to hold 12 hours worth of food.
When we bring home our guide dog puppies they are 8 weeks old. At that time they are eating 3 meals a day. When they reach 4 months old we wean them to two meals a day.
Just like humans, dogs need a balanced diet. This means feeding them nutritious food in the right amounts.
You can get a good idea of how much to feed your dog based on their weight, as they should be eating around 30 calories per day per pound of bodyweight.
But while this is a general rule, you also need to make adjustments based on a variety of factors, including your dog’s size and breed, their life stage, and their lifestyle and energy levels.
You should always observe your dog and make a note of their energy and weight to ensure they are getting the right level of nutrition.
Generally, the best dog food formulas have:
- A high-quality, clearly labeled meat as their first ingredient
- Some healthy fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and blueberries
- A nutrient pack to supplement your dog’s diet with vitamins A, D, E, K, and complex B vitamins as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium
- No artificial colorants or flavorings
And don’t forget that there are calories, and often lots of calories, in doggy snacks!
Not sure what to read next?
Should you feed your dog a raw diet?
How much does your dog eat?
What breed is your dog and how large?
How old is he/she and what is her lifestyle like?
Tell us a little about your dog in the comment section below.