How much should I feed my dog?
Getting the amount of food right for your dog is just as important as finding the right food but it is a question that is often overlooked. Too much or too little of even the very best food available can quickly lead to problems so it’s important to spend some time finding the right amount for your individual dog.
Manufacturer’s feeding guide
All commercially produced foods come with feeding recommendations which are a great place to start but should not be regarded as strict rules or even particularly accurate.
The amount of food required can vary widely from one dog to another depending on a whole host of factors including activity, lifestage, breed, whether or not the dog has been neutered, genetics and even how high you have your central heating.
So it’s generally best to start with the suggested amount for your dog’s weight (many pets shops and vets offer free pet weighing or you can stand on the scales whilst carrying your dog to calculate it at home) and then to fine tune from there.
Once your dog has been on the food at the manufacturer’s suggested amount for a couple of weeks, you can start tinkering with the feeding amount to get it just right. Look for the following factors:
1. Body condition
As you might expect, your dog’s weight and body condition is generally the best way to gauge whether or not you are feeding the correct amount.
Use the above guide to get an idea of what sort of shape your dog is in. Most breeds are at their ideal weight when you can feel, but not easily see, the last two or three ribs and when there is an easily identifiable waist line when looking down from above.
Carrying too much weight is never good for a dog so if yours is overweight or obese, it’s important to start taking measures to get the extra pounds off as soon as possible. Start by reducing the daily feeding amount by 5-10% and monitor the effect over the next 2-3 weeks. If, after that time, the weight still isn’t dropping, try reducing by another 5-10%. You will need to continue reducing the amount of food until the weight starts to slowly come down towards the ideal level. We’ll give lots more tips on feeding dogs that are prone to weight gain in a forthcoming article.
If, on the other hand, your dog is starting to get a bit skinny you will want to start gradually increasing the amount of food you’re giving until gradual weight gain is achieved. Note though that dogs should be fairly slim and that being slightly ‘underweight’ is a lot less harmful than being overweight. If you are sure your dog could benefit from weight gain, start by increasing the daily amount of food by 5-10% every 2-3 weeks until the weight starts to come back up. Another option is to change to a higher calorie diet but we’ll cover that in a future article.
It’s amazing how much your dog’s poop can tell you about what’s going on under the hood! Loose stools and diarrhoea, for example, can indicate all sorts of problems but are very often signs of simple overfeeding. In these cases the body is unable to cope with the amount of food being ingested and responds by rushing it through the system without attempting to properly process it. Unfortunately for the dog, this often results in weight loss, which leads many owners to increase feeding amounts even more creating a vicious cycle.
If your dog has persistent loose stools, try reducing the daily feeding amount by around 30%-40% for a couple of days. If the digestive problems disappear during this time and then reappear when the feeding amount is raised back up, you may well be over-feeding so begin gradually reducing the amount of food your giving until the digestive problems go and stay away.
Of course, if weight gain or loss becomes a serious issue for your dog or if the digestive problems don’t clear up after a week or so, be sure to consult your vet.
3. Hungry dogs
It’s essential to remember that for the majority of dogs, appetite has little to no bearing on dietary requirements. Most of our furry friends, if left to their own devices, would eat a lot more than is healthy for them so just because your dog is hungry does not mean you need to feed more.
Every dog’s dietary requirements change over time so be sure to keep an eye on his or her weight, stools and general condition to see if any changes might be needed.