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Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

How You Feed Your Dog Is As Important As What You Feed

December 05, 2014 / (3) comments

Let’s say you’ve already figured out what type of food you’re going to feed your dog. I hate to break it to you, but your work’s not quite done. There are three more aspects of feeding dogs that require your attention.


How Much to Feed Your Dog


Determining how much food to feed your dog is like trying to hit a moving target. Amounts will vary with growth, reproductive status (e.g., decreasing after spay/neuter), exercise levels, health status, and even with something as basic as ambient temperature. I recommend that you use the pet food label’s directions as a starting point and then make adjustments based on your dog’s body condition.


Your goal should be to feed your dog the amount of food that keeps him or her slightly on the skinny side of normal. Research has shown that thin dogs live longer and experience fewer health problems than do dogs who are overweight or even at a “normal” body condition. It can be difficult for owners to accurately assess their dog’s body condition so there is no shame in asking your veterinarian for help in this regard.


How Often to Feed Your Dog


Most healthy adult dogs do best when they are fed twice a day (roughly twelve hours apart). Puppies need to eat two to five times a day depending on their age and breed. In general, the younger and smaller the puppy is the shorter the time between feedings must be to avoid potentially dangerous low blood sugar levels. As puppies mature, you can gradually decrease the number of feedings aiming for the adult’s schedule of twice daily by 12-18 months of age.


Method of Feeding


Owners can pick from three different feeding methods, or a combination thereof:


  1. Free Choice – an essentially unlimited amount of food is available at all times
  2. Time Limited – the dog has a certain amount of time in which to eat after which the food bowl is picked up
  3. Amount Limited – owners determine the size of each meal


Most dogs do best with amount limited feeding, with a touch of time limited thrown in for good measure. By controlling the amount your dog eats, you have the best chance of meeting the “slightly skinny” benchmark that is associated with optimal health and longevity. By keeping an eye on how long it normally takes your dog to finish his or her meals, you can identify health problems that adversely affect appetite in their earliest stages when treatment is at its most effective and least expensive.


If your dog normally grazes throughout the day, you don’t have to pick up the bowl between meals. Just watch how much is food normally left before the subsequent feeding. If it begins to increase, this is a sign that the dog’s appetite is decreasing.


You’ve spent a lot of time, effort, and money to pick the right food for your dog; don’t mess that all up by feeding the wrong way.


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: dogboxstudio / Shutterstock


Comments  3

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  • Dogs vs. Cats
    12/05/2014 04:43pm

    Guess I'd have a really hard time feeding a dog. (Luckily cats usually just graze and eat a little at a time.)

    I'd have a really hard time saying No if they looked hungry and gave me "the look."

    "keeping an eye on how long it normally takes your dog to finish his or her meals"

    Serious question, when one gets a "new" dog (assuming an adult), about how long do you think it takes to determine the amount of time the critter usually takes to eat a meal? How many meals would you suggest the human monitor to see how long it takes for Fido to clean his plate?

  • 12/06/2014 01:31am

    A constant supply of dry kibble has always been available to all of my dogs. They have gotten enough "treats" and "goodies" as reward and variety feeding that they have used the kibble as a source to hold them over until the next "treat". That may be a little while or more than a day. The kibble is there when they get hungry enough to eat it but they don't hog it all down and want more because they hold out for the "good stuff". By leaving a constant supply of food for sustenance and controlling the "good stuff" it's not too hard to monitor and control their eating habits. I've never had a dog who would get fat on kibble nor completely ignore kibble when hungry. I've never had a "fat" dog, nor one who was underweight. They have a way of eating just enough when not tempted with that was too good to pass up, but they will easily eat until they're sick if given enough food that's just "too good". Regular exercise is important too, (for me and the dogs). They need to work off what they eat and will soon develop a routine that's right for them and their lifestyle. Constantly available kibble with no goodies should keep most dogs at a good weight with little intervention, they won't starve themselves and most probably won't overeat dry food unless they're bored.
    Disclaimer: This is what I've learned through personal experience, I've had dogs in my life since I was a little kid and have been personally responsible for the well being of 4 healthy dogs in the past ≈40 years. (The previous three lived to be about 14 - 15 years old and my current canine companion just celebrated his 3rd birthday anniversary).

  • 12/08/2014 02:58pm

    I would let a dog settle in to his or her new home for a week or two and then monitor how long a "normal" meal lasts for a few days in a row.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.