- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Whether you have a pup whose mantra is “live to eat” or “eat to live,” one of the most important thing you can do for your dog’s lifelong health is to help her maintain a healthy weight—that starts with a combination of feeding the right amount of food and giving the right amount of exercise.
But just what is the “right” amount? And how do we account for a dog’s changing nutritional needs as they grow?
Lots of factors will play into how much food your dog needs. Consider her age, breed, activity level, and how much time she spends outdoors. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), larger breeds and more active dogs will require more calories per day, as will dogs who spend lots of time outdoors, particularly in colder weather.
Puppies’ nutritional needs are of course different from an adult or even adolescent dog. For starters, they often eat more times a day than adult dogs. Depending on your pup’s breed and age, she may eat up to four meals per day or two to three times the amount of an adult dog.
AKC recommends a method called “watch the dog, not the dish.” Giving puppies a schedule for their meals, and then taking away any leftover food 10-20 minutes after a meal is served, helps to establish good eating habits.
This method will help you to learn how much your puppy needs and helps your pup to establish good habits, as in: if you’re hungry, eat!
If a puppy misses out by not eating enough at one meal, their hunger will help them finish their meal at the next feeding and learn to eat when the food is available. And because they have frequent meals, they won’t go hungry for long.
Most breeds of adult dogs eat twice a day, according to PetMD. If you are adopting an adult dog and aren’t familiar with her eating habits, two cups of age-appropriate food per day is a good place to start—one in the morning and one in the evening, and always with fresh water available. (Dog food companies often market foods for different stages of life, so it’s easy to find a food designed for your dog at her stage of life.) Some dog food brands will have guidelines printed on the bag, and this can be a good place to start, and increase or decrease depending on your dog’s current size and her ideal weight.
According to WebMD, adult dogs, depending on their personality, may be responsible enough to decide how much food is enough. In this case, you’d leave food out during the day and let the dog decide how much she wants.
Owners of these “eat to live”-type dogs often have little trouble helping their dog to maintain a healthy weight, as long as the dog gets enough exercise. Some dogs thrive with this “grazing” routine, while others…simply can’t control themselves.
For those of us with “live to eat”-type dogs, we need to help our dogs with portion control. If you are having trouble helping your dog to maintain a healthy weight, your vet can assist with ideas for weight control and portion control. They may recommend a specialized diet that often includes premium food.
If you’re still at a loss, try PetMD‘s general rule of thumb for adult dogs:
- Toy Breeds (3-6 pounds): 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup per day
- Small Breeds (10-20 pounds): 3/4 cup to 1 1/2 cups per day
- Medium Breeds (30-50 pounds) 1 3/4 to 2 2/3 cups per day
- Large Breeds: (60-100 pounds) 3 to 4 1/2 cups per day, plus 1/3 cup for every 10 pounds over 100 pounds
A note about wet food
Wet food can be a more pricey option that dogs certainly tend to prefer, but it is important to do your research to make sure the food you are feeding is good quality. AKC warns that meaty food alone may not give your dog the fully-balanced diet she needs, and you may have to supplement with a mix of wet and dry foods.
Some pet owners prefer to prepare their own food for their dogs, which can have some benefits over store-bought kibble. For starters, homemade food can be easier for dogs to digest, according to the AKC, and owners who go this route can feed these foods at all stages of life without transitioning from puppy to adult to advanced-age dog food.
Some owners choose this type of food if their dog has very specialized nutrition needs or other health considerations. AKC has some ideas for recipes if you are interested in homemade dog food or treats.
As a general rule, dog treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. Plan treats accordingly if you are in a training program, to make sure that they aren’t getting too many.
If you have a dog who is already overweight, consider creative treat ideas that don’t add many calories. We once had a dog who loved green beans—a nice low calorie “treat.”
According to PetMD, there are a few telltale signs that your dog is at a good weight. You can survey your dog’s shape quickly to determine if she’s where she needs to be.
First, your dog should have an “hourglass” figure when you look at her from above. What this means is that you should see wider shoulders and ribs, a tapering behind her ribcage, then widening again at her hips.
Second, when looking at her from the size, she should be “tucked up,” which means that her ribs should be closer to the ground than her belly.
Last, her ribs shouldn’t be visible, but you should be able to feel them with your hand with only slight pressure. This quick survey should help you to gauge whether your dog is getting enough food and exercise, or if she needs to have her food intake adjusted.
Obesity is a common problem in dogs and often results from a combination of too much food and too little exercise.
While it can happen to anyone, it is important to help bring your dog to a healthy weight if she is obese, as this condition can lead to a host of other health problems, including musculoskeletal problems, congestive heart failure, Cushings disease, skin disorders, and some types of cancer.
If your dog is overweight or obese, consult your vet for assistance in helping her maintain a healthy weight.