Whether you’re welcoming an adopted dog to your family, trying to manage your senior pooch’s weight, or raising a new pup for the first time, knowing how much (and how often) to feed your canine companion is vital to his health. Although feeding your dog isn’t a terribly complex task, there are several key factors to keep in mind when monitoring your dog’s nutrition. In this article, you’ll learn helpful suggestions to help you determine how much food to feed your fur baby, including useful guidelines and tips.
Your Dog’s Diet: Factors That Impact Your Pooch’s Nutritional Needs
Just as humans rely upon adequate nutrition to support their health, the same rules apply to dogs – in fact, research has shown that providing your pooch with the right amount of quality dog food can ensure his longevity and physical condition for years to come. Additionally, it should be noted that while feeding your dog too little can result in nutritional deficiencies, overfeeding your dog may lead to obesity and a host of other health-related problems, including arthritis, congestive heart failure, Cushing’s disease, skin disorders, and even certain types of cancer. Therefore, it’s imperative to find a dietary balance for your dog, along with proper care and exercise – your dog’s quality of life is directly correlated to the type and amount of food you feed your four-legged friend.
As touched upon, there are numerous components to consider when choosing your dog’s food. Factors that will directly affect your dog’s dietary needs include:
- Weight: Maintaining your dog’s ideal weight will not only benefit his health, but potentially add years to his lifespan. Selecting a dog food that is appropriate to his size, breed and specific dietary needs are essential to his peak condition and overall well-being. Speak with your vet for recommendations, including specially-formulated dog food, particularly if you’re trying to incorporate a weight management regimen in your overweight pooch’s daily routine. For obese dogs, you may need to feed him a bit less than the recommended amount indicated on the package.
- Activity Level: While the feeding recommendations indicated on your pup’s food packaging is based on an average adult dog with a normal level of activity, it may not apply to your fuzzy pal’s lifestyle. For inactive dogs, you may want to exercise portion control, whereas active dogs who exercise daily may require more food. In the case of working dogs, such as dogs who work on a ranch herding cattle, they may require an even higher caloric intake. Your veterinarian can advise how much/how often your pooch needs to be fed, as well as the best pet food options to consider.
- Age: Your dog’s age is also an important factor to keep in mind – because puppies’ nutritional requirements are quite different from adult dogs, consult with your vet if you’re not sure what type of food to feed him. The same goes for adult dogs, whose needs differ from senior canine companions. Consult with your veterinarian to learn how these various life stages impact your dog’s nutritional requirements, including how much/what type of food your dog needs to maintain his optimal health.
- Health: For most healthy dogs, once you’ve determined your pet’s dietary needs, his nutrition regimen shouldn’t pose too much cause for concern. On the other hand, if your dog has any known preexisting health conditions, such as canine food allergies or diabetes, taking the necessary precautions (including a restricted diet and in some cases, medications) is imperative to your dog’s health. Your veterinarian can provide you with appropriate dog food recommendations, as well as mealtime frequency and serving sizes.
For dogs suffering from food allergies or food intolerance, it’s important to be observant of your dog’s reactions to different foods (for example, if you’re switching foods and he’s trying a new brand for the first time). Some signs of canine food allergies include:
- Itchy, red or irritated skin
- Chronic scratching at his ears, face, paws and back
- Watery eyes; discharge around eye area
- Recurring ear infections; persistent head shaking
- Red underbelly and dull coat
- Red, brown or bronze nail beds
- Bronzing around the lips
If you notice any of these symptoms, ask your vet to run an environmental allergy test, food allergy test or a food allergy elimination diet. However, most experts recommend administering an elimination diet under your vet’s supervision only, as it’s difficult to determine what your pup’s allergic to on your own – and the root cause behind it.
Fortunately, there are many safe hypoallergenic dog food options to choose from on the market that cater specifically to dogs with food allergies. Natural supplements for dogs are also worthy of consideration to further optimize your four legged friend’s nutritional needs and overall health.
How Much Should My Dog Eat?
You’ve met with your vet, you’ve figured out the best dog food brand for your beloved pooch – but the question still remains: how much do I feed my dog? As a general rule of thumb, puppies’ needs are very different from their adult counterparts, as seen below:
- Puppies: Your puppy requires several small meals throughout the day – most experts recommend five small meals a day initially, reducing the frequency to four meals a day at the age of 3 months; at 6 months, your pup should only be eating 3 meals a day. Additionally, consult with your vet to ensure your pooch’s nutrition is appropriate to his age and breed size. There are a host of specially-formulated dog foods designed just for puppies and young dogs to ensure your pal receives the nutrition he needs to thrive.
- Dogs 12 Months & Older: While it’s traditionally recommended that most healthy adult dogs should be fed two meals a day, it really depends on the level of your dog’s activity and the other factors covered so far. Your vet can provide you with more information pertaining to your dog’s individual dietary needs.
Mealtime & Your Dog: Commonly-Asked Questions
Although you may have found a complete and balanced dog food that is ideal for your pet’s weight, activity level, age and overall health, it’s natural to have additional concerns when it comes to your beloved pooch – after all, he’s part of the family. Below, some frequently asked questions pertaining to your dog’s mealtime:
Q: Is expensive dog food really necessary?
A: When it comes to dog food, it’s really quality over quantity. While you don’t have to purchase the most expensive dog food on the market, choosing high-quality products are better for your dog’s health for a number of reasons – poor quality foods actually produce more waste, may cause digestive (and other health) issues, are laden with substandard ingredients, and typically wind up being more costly (because you’ll have to feed your dog more to satisfy him). Be sure to read the labels for by-products, corn syrups, fillers and other chemical additives, and if your budget allows for it, opt for all-natural/organic brands – as a rule of thumb, the shorter the ingredient list, the better the dog food.
Q: What’s the best way to introduce a new food to my dog’s diet?
A: Familiarize your pooch with new food gradually, as their digestive systems are often sensitive to any type of dietary change. If you’re trying out a new dog food, mix it with his old brand, increasing the ratio each day over the course of ten days until your dog is only eating the new food. If you notice any signs of digestive distress – including vomiting, loose bowel movements or constipation, discontinue feeding your dog the new food, and if symptoms persist, contact your vet’s office immediately for next steps. Although it probably goes without saying, always offer fresh clean water beside your dog’s bowl throughout the day.
Q: Are table scraps off-limits?
A: One of the most commonly-asked questions, feeding your dog table scraps can become problematic for many reasons. While the occasional sampling of “people food” isn’t harmful (depending on what you’re offering him – see below), experts recommend against it. Feeding your dog fatty scraps of meat may cause weight gain, while raw veggies can be too harsh on your pup’s stomach due to the fiber content. Raw meat is especially dangerous, as it may be infected with bacteria, and bones may damage his teeth and cause obstructions in his digestive system. It’s also not a good idea to feed cat food to your dog, since it’s formulated specifically for felines and lacks the proper balance of vitamins and minerals for dogs. Finally, the big no-no is chocolate, as it can be toxic (and in some cases, fatal). In addition, feeding your dog leftovers encourages your pooch to beg during mealtime and may lead to stealing food from the table, which can lead to potential health hazards.
Although this isn’t an all-encompassing list, avoid feeding your dog the following foods:
- Chocolate: Chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) contains theobromine, which may cause increased heart rate, restlessness and vomiting. It can be fatal if consumed in large doses.
- Dairy Products: Your dog cannot digest the lactose found in dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, butter, ice cream etc.
- Fruit: Often high in sugar and acidic, it’s best to avoid feeding your dog fruit, as it can also cause stomach problems.
- Garlic: Also part of the onion family; when eaten in large quantities, garlic may cause asthma and dermatitis. However, garlic tablets are sometimes used as a natural flea repellent – be sure to get your vet’s approval before administering any type of homeopathic treatment and follow the instructions carefully.
- Onions: Onions have been known to cause anemia in dogs.
- Potatoes: Due to their high starch content, experts advise feeding your dog potatoes, as they are not easily digested by dogs and can lead to health issues.
- Raisins & Grapes: Grapes and raisins are also toxic to dogs and may cause renal (kidney) failure.
Additionally, there are numerous household and garden plants/flowers (such as daffodils) which can be toxic to dogs, with symptoms ranging from minor skin irritations to severe poisoning and death.
Q: How can I prevent my dog from eating too quickly at mealtime?
A: If your dog has a tendency to wolf down his kibble, chances are he’s taking in large amounts of air, which often leads to upset stomach, gas, hiccups and other digestive problems. There are several ways to manage this problem – first, try placing a large object (such as a tennis ball) in his bowl, as this will coax h