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Nutrition Nuggets
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 Much Should You Be Feeding Your Dog?

September 16, 2011 / (4) comments

As I mentioned in a previous post, "What should I feed my dog?" is probably the most common question that veterinarians hear in practice. The next most frequent question — I’d put money on it — is, "How much should I feed my dog?"

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. A dog’s caloric needs depend not just on his size, but on his metabolic rate, the amount of exercise that he gets, and even the temperature of his surroundings. Add to this the fact that different foods can have wildly different caloric densities, and you can see that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. This does not mean, however, that owners are without any resources to help figure out how much to feed their dogs.

As a starting point, use the feeding guide on the dog food label. You’ll see something along the lines of, "for dogs between 51 and 75 pounds, feed 2 ¼ to 3 cups per day." This gives you a ball-park figure, but the ranges are usually pretty large in order to accommodate for the needs of different individuals within a certain weight range.

While you are taking a look at the label, make sure your dog’s current food is providing him with the high quality ingredients and balanced nutrition that are appropriate to his lifestage. Quality is just as important as quantity when it comes to feeding dogs well. petMD’s MyBowl tool can help you determine whether your dog’s current food is meeting his needs, and can also be used to compare foods if you think he’d be better off eating something different.

Once you’ve picked a nutritious food and used the back of the bag to come up with a starting point on how much to feed, assess your dog’s body condition to narrow in on what the correct amount will be.

Several different systems are used by veterinarians to assess a dog’s body condition score, but what is most important for owners to recognize is what an ideal canine body condition looks like. Dogs that are at a healthy weight:

  • Have an "hourglass" figure when looked down upon from above. The abdomen should be narrower than the chest and hips.
  • Are "tucked up" when looked at from the side. This means that a dog’s chest is closer to the ground than his belly when he is standing.
  • Have ribs that are not readily visible but are easily felt with only light pressure.

If your dog is already at an ideal body condition, offer an amount of food that falls in the middle of the range recommended on the bag. If he’s a little thin, use the bigger numbers. And if he’s a little "stout," use the smaller ones. Once every two weeks or so, reassess your dog’s body condition and adjust how much food you offer accordingly. When he has an ideal body condition score (i.e., he’s not too thin, not too fat), you can use monthly weigh-ins in addition to body condition scoring to keep him right where he should be.

If your dog needs to gain or lose a lot of weight, talk to your veterinarian. He or she can rule out any health disorders that might be to blame for your pet’s condition and put together a plan specific to the needs of your pet.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: EraPhernalia / via Flickr

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Comments  4

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  • Free Feeding
    09/16/2011 06:54am

    Please keep in mind this comes from a cat person ~

    It must be terribly difficult to put out a teeny half cup of food, have the dog scarf it completely and then not feed the dog again for 12 hours.

    Is there ever a time and situation when one could free feed dogs?

  • 09/17/2011 12:58pm

    In my experience, very few dogs can handle free feeding without adding those extra pounds as the months and years pass by. Meal feeding is almost always best.

  • Help!
    11/20/2011 11:44pm

    Okay, I need help, BAD! Last week I picked up a dog who has been horribly neglected. You could see every bone in her body. I started off by feeding her small meals throughout the day consisting of rice and broth. I've now worked up to dog food a few times a day. The problem is she has horrible diarrhea. Everytime she eats, she does. I'm not sure what I am doing wrong. I just gave her a worm pill incase it was a parasite but I didn't find any worms in her feces. She will literally go to the bathroom about 30 times a day. I am afraid I am doing more harm than I am good. I've tried reading instructions about how to go about feeding her but nothing answers my questions about why she having such bad diarrhea. I feel horrible for her. She needs to eat, but she can't keep anything in. It's been over a week and nothing has worked. Any advice?

  • 11/21/2011 10:18am

    She needs to be seen by a veterinarian for a physical exam and fecal testing, at a minimum.




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.

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