On one hand, feeding your dog isn’t exactly rocket science: You dump some kibble in a bowl and slide it in front of her face – she’ll take it from there.
But on the other hand, there are a few details that require some thought. For example, you need to feed her the proper quantity of food, and you must offer it on an appropriate schedule.
We’ll jump into these issues below, so keep reading.
How Much and How Often to Feed Your Dog: Key Takeaways
- Dogs need to consume an appropriate number of calories each day. You can determine the approximate amount of food she’ll need by calculating her caloric needs, consulting the recommendation of the food manufacturer, talking with your vet, or using a reputable calorie calculator.
- You’ll also want to monitor your dog’s body weight regularly and adjust the amount of food provided as necessary. While calculators and expert advice can provide a pretty close estimate of your dog’s daily food requirements, this only represents a starting point.
- It is wise to feed your dog a few smaller meals, rather than a single giant feast each day. It is also important to provide your dog food on a regular, consistent schedule. Typically, adults need to eat at least twice per day, while puppies should have three meals every day.
How Much Should I Feed My Dog? The Caloric Needs of Canines
It’s natural to wonder how much food you should feed your dog. After all, it’s an important part of your dog’s overall care!
And given that dogs come in different shapes and sizes, each one needs a different quantity of chow. This may cause you to wonder how much you need to feed your canine to provide enough calories, without causing her to put on extra weight.
Veterinarians and scientists often use a mathematical formula to determine the correct number of calories a dog needs. This is going to get a little dense, so if you’d prefer to skip the math lesson, just scroll down to the next section. I won’t be offended.
The first step is to determine your dogs Resting Energy Requirement or RER. This is the number of Calories your dog requires to keep her heart pumping blood, lungs inflating with air, and brain figuring out how to get you to give her more treats.
Be aware that, in the context of nutrition, the term “Calorie” (with a capital “C”) refers to a kilocalorie, or 1,000 calories.
RER can be determined by first determining your dog’s weight in kilograms and then raising this number to the ¾ power. This number is then multiplied by 70, which gives you the dogs RER.
Ohio State University provides a good example for a 10-kilogram dog:
RER = 70(10kg)3/4 = 400 Calories/Day
But we’re not finished yet. The RER is only part of the total. Your dog needs additional calories above and beyond the RER. The exact amount varies based on a number of factors, including the age and reproductive condition of your dog.
Accordingly, scientists and vets use a second set of equations to find the total number of daily calories your dog needs.
- Unaltered Adults – RER x 1.8
- Spayed/Neutered Adults – RER x 1.6
- Inactive Dogs – RER x 1.2
- Working Dogs – RER x 2.0
- Puppies Younger than 4 Months – RER x 3.0
- Puppies Older than 4 Months – RER x 2.0
If, for example, the 10-kilogram dog above is a typical spayed adult, she would need 640 Calories per day (400 x 1.6). On the other hand, if she was not spayed, she’d need 720 Calories per day (400 x 1.8).
Now, it is very important to understand that these formulas only provide a ballpark figure. Just like people, individual dogs have varying caloric needs.
So, you’ll have to monitor your dog’s weight and body condition and make adjustments accordingly.
And naturally, you’ll want to be sure to keep your vet in the loop whenever making substantial changes to your dog’s diet.
Don’t Like Math? Check Out These Shortcuts
I know, caloric calculations are some heady stuff. But don’t have a math-induced anxiety attack – there are three shortcuts you can use to determine the number of calories your dog needs that don’t require an abacus or degree in theoretical math.
- Consult a calorie chart. Several veterinarians and pet-health organizations produce charts based on the above formulas. For example, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) produces a good one. You can simply find your dog’s weight, and then look over to see how many calories she needs.
- Refer to the recommendation on your dog’s food. Most dog food manufacturers print recommendations on the bag. While these recommendations are usually in the ballpark, it is important to understand that they are in the business of selling dog food, so they certainly aren’t an impartial authority on the matter.
- Use the simple formula of 30 Calories per pound of body weight. For very broad, back-of-the-envelope purposes, you can use the formula of 30 Calories per pound of body weight to get a ballpark figure of how much food energy your dog needs. However, active dogs will require more than this, while inactive dogs may require slightly less.
Monitoring Your Dog’s Body Condition & Weight For Proper Feeding
Again, individual dogs have varying caloric requirements, so formulas, charts and manufacturer recommendations only provide you with a rough estimate – you’ll have to monitor your dog’s body condition and weight to determine the perfect number of calories she needs.
Try to employ the following tips to help ensure your dog is getting the right amount of food:
- Weigh her regularly. Most dogs should be within the average weight range for the breed, although those that are exceptionally short or tall may fall just outside the typical range.
- Try to feel her ribs. You shouldn’t be able to see your dog’s ribs, but you should be able to feel them if you press through a bit of fat. If you can see them, she’s too thin and needs more food (in which case you’ll want to consider switching to a dog food designed for weight gain). If you can’t feel her ribs, she’s a bit heavy and needs to lose a bit of weight.
- Look at her waist from above. If she is at the proper body weight, the waist should obviously taper behind the ribs, but her pelvic bones should not be visible. Overweight dogs will not exhibit an obvious taper.
- Examine her rear haunches. Dogs of healthy body weight have muscular haunches without a great deal of fat. Dogs with excessively rounded or broad haunches may be overweight.
This handy chart from Purina can help show what to look for when considering your dog’s shape:
If you feel that your dog falls outside the boundaries of a healthy bodyweight, consult your veterinarian. He or she can confirm your suspicions, and recommend the proper changes to her diet. If your dog is getting a bit round in the middle, consider a dog food catered towards weight loss.
Feeding Frequency: How Often Should I Feed My Dog?
Now that you understand how much food your dog needs, you need to decide upon the best schedule for feeding your hungry hound.
Some people simply feed their dog once per day, but this isn’t ideal. In most cases, you should spread out your dog’s calories over the course of two or three meals. For example, if your dog needs 500 Calories a day, you could give her about 250 Calories of food in the morning and 250 Calories of food in the evening (give or take – it doesn’t matter if one meal is slightly larger than the other).
Puppies should be fed three times per day, as they burn through calories in a hurry, and their little tummies only hold a small amount of food at a time.
Feeding your dog several smaller meals rather than one large meal helps keep her full for more of the day, and it may help prevent your dog from suffering from bilious vomiting syndrome and similar conditions.
Smaller meals may also help prevent your dog from over-indulging and then barfing up her food a short time later.
But perhaps the most important reason to feed your dog multiple times a day is that it probably reduces the chances that she will suffer from bloat – a potentially fatal condition, in which the stomach becomes twisted, trapping gases inside.
Another popular strategy for slowing down your dog’s eating is to feed your pooch with a Kong, which can be stuffed with your dogs meal (and even frozen), forcing them to work to get at their food and preventing speedy food guzzling.
When Should I Feed My Dog?
Now that you know you’ll want to feed your dog twice a day (and thrice a day while she’s a puppy), you have to decide when to feed your dog.
Generally, you’ll want to feed her once in the morning and again in the evening (with puppies enjoying a “lunch” sometime in the middle of the day too). Ideally, your dog’s dinner should occur about 8 to 12 hours after breakfast.
In other words, if you feed your dog breakfast at 7:00 AM, you’ll want dinner to be sometime between 3:00 and 7:00 PM.
Aside from this, there are no hard-and-fast rules about meal times, except that you’ll want mealtimes to remain consistent.
This will not only help prevent your dog from becoming ravenous between meals and give her body an appropriate amount of time to digest her previous meal, but it will also help establish a regular routine — something dogs crave.
In practice, it is often helpful to consider your own schedule when establishing regular feeding times. If, for example, you leave for work each day around 8:00 AM, you may want to make 7:30 your pup’s normal breakfast time. And because you get home from work around 5:30, you may want to make dinner time around 6:00 each day.
Of course, not everyone has a consistent day-to-day schedule. That’s fine, but you’ll just have to figure out a way to feed your dog around the same time each day. An automatic feeder may be helpful if you come and go at odd hours. You may also want to set your phone to alert you at your pup’s breakfast and dinner time if you have trouble remembering.
Other Assorted Feeding Tips
While we’re talking about feeding your dog, there are a few other tips that bear mentioning.
- Don’t forget about the calories in your dog’s treats. Dog treats often pack a bunch of calories into a relatively nutrition-free package. Some treats contain 100 Calories or more! That can represent a significant percentage of your dog’s daily needs and lead to weight gain over the long term. Be smart about your dog’s treat intake.
- Go easy on table scraps. Just like treats, the odd piece of chicken from your plate can add up over time. Additionally, feeding your dog table scraps can encourage begging behaviors. If you can’t help but give your pup a tasty morsel or two, choose low-calorie bits (give her a carrot slice or green bean instead of a hunk of fat) and be sure to avoid anything toxic.
- Don’t switch foods abruptly. If you need to switch from one food to another, do so gradually to avoid stressing your dog’s digestive system. Most veterinarians recommend mixing in increasing portions of the new food over about 5 to 10 days.
- Always feed your dog a high-quality food. There is a huge difference in the quality of various dog and puppy foods, and some of the low-end options can cause health problems for your pet. Pick foods that feature a whole protein as the first ingredient, and try to avoid those made with artificial colors or flavors.
- Be sure to keep your dog’s food and water bowls clean. The combination of warm temperatures, saliva and food residue is the perfect storm for bacterial growth. Wash your dog’s food bowls after every meal and wash her water bowl every time you re-fill it (at least once per day). Use dish soap and warm water when washing bowls, and be sure to rinse them well with cool water; alternatively, you can just throw them in the dishwasher. Implementing a flowing dog water fountain is another solution to prevent standing water and keep your dog’s water fresh.
We’d love to hear about your dog-feeding procedures. How much food do you give your pup? Do you split it up into several different meals or give her a single giant meal every day? Do you give her too many table scraps?
Tell us all about it in the comments below.
December 20, 2021
Hi, do you know of a calculator that tells how much (cups) to feed when you know the calorie level you need but are switching to a new food with different calorie content? All I can find are estimators for how many calories a dog might need, but I already know that part of the equation. Thanks
December 20, 2021
If I understand your question correctly, you know the number of calories you want to feed but don’t know how many cups of food that is. To do that, you’ll just need to look on the bag — that information should appear somewhere (calories/cup).