When it comes to eating, most dogs are seemingly bottomless pits. Not only are they used to having their meals at regular times, but they’re also used to manipulating their owners into giving them snacks and treats between meals. How much should we feed our dogs? Many dogs always beg for food once they get a taste of those dinner scraps and it can be hard to say no to the “puppy face.” The calories add up over time and lead to weight gain, digestive problems, and a host of other health issues. People have enough trouble making the distinction between need and desire for food, so how can we tell whether we have a hungry dog — or one who’s just bored?
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention‘s 2016 survey of veterinary professionals and pet owners reveals that the porky Pug you see on your daily walk is not an outlier. Indeed, the survey found that over half, or approximately 42 million American dogs, are either overweight or obese. Since dog nutrition needs differ widely by size, age, breed, and genetics, it can be difficult for dog owners to determine just how much food is ideal for their canine companions. Healthy options as I listed below can help as well. Feeding with more lean protein and less fillers or (insert meat here)-meal.
How to know if you feeding your dog too much or too little?
If your dog feeding schedule has you filling a bowl even once a day, chances are your dog is not, by any definition of the word, “hungry.” According to veterinarian Dr. Lou Budik, as long as they have ready access to fresh water, dogs that are “relatively healthy can go three, four, five days without food, many even longer than that.” A truly hungry dog, at least in a comfortable domestic setting, is a rarity.
This doesn’t mean you should put an overweight dog on a starvation diet. But since over half of American dogs are overweight, it does mean that one out of every two people reading this is probably over-feeding their dog on a regular basis. The differences between dog sizes, breeds, and ages mean that the amount and frequency of feeding is spread between a number of factors. If you’re wondering, “How often should I feed my dog?” here are some very basic guidelines:
- Puppies: Three small meals per day.
- Small adult dogs: Two small meals per day.
- Medium to large adult dogs: Two well-portioned meals per day.
- Large to giant adult dogs: One well-portioned meal per day.
- Senior dogs: One to two smaller meals per day.
These are sweeping generalizations. There is no universal dog feeding guide calculator. Much depends on the health and activity level of your individual dog — let’s look at those factors next.
How much food should dogs eat? Activity level matters!
Does your dog sit on the couch so much that he practically has his own indentation in the couch pillow, fitted neatly to his curled-up girth? Daily, or at least regular, exercise plays a part. In many cases, a hungry dog — or a dog who seems hungry — is actually just in need of more physical activity. I try to walk my dog, Baby, every day. Realistically, it works out to about 4-5 times each week. Movement uses energy, and energy expended means a dog needs nutrients to replenish it.
Regular exercise affects digestion, too. At Dogster, we think a lot about dog poop. A healthy dog eating wet food can move their bowels within 4 hours after eating. The same amount of dry food might take 8 hours. Each of these times to evacuation is affected by motility or the operation of the muscles in the digestive tract. A dog that exercises regularly moves and processes the food he eats more efficiently than a sedentary dog.
Environmental factors also influence how much to feed your dog
Even the weather affects how much a dog should eat! I typically feed Baby twice a day. During the summer months, a bowl of food in the morning is untouched when I get home from work. Summer heat drives dogs to cool resting spots where they do not need or use much energy.
My dog’s need for food and her hunger is diminished when she is less active. I started feeding her one smaller meal during the dog days of summer and she was better about finishing it. The same principle — energy expended guiding the amount of food you provide — can be applied to any dog, regardless of environmental conditions.
When it comes to how much to feed your dog — Ask your vet
I learned, through a lot of wasted dog food over the last three summers. A dog’s need for food changes over the course of the year sometimes, especially the first year. If there is that much variance in my dog, imagine the task in trying to prescribe to all dog owners how much food their dogs need!
Suggested portion sizes on dog food bags and containers are only that, suggestions, and vary by manufacturer. The best way to determine how much your dog should eat is to consult with your veterinarian.