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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