How Much Should I Feed My Dog?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. After all, a Chihuahua and a Great Dane will have different calorie needs, and that’s before we take into account varying activity levels and lifestyles!

Hungry Dog

As a veterinarian, I commonly get asked, “how much should I feed my dog?”. I see many pet owners incorrectly feeding their dogs, and it’s a massive concern for me and others in my profession.

After all, a Chihuahua and a Great Dane will have different calorie needs, and that’s before we consider varying activity levels and lifestyles!

All good pet parents want the best for their dogs. And making decisions about their diet can seem overwhelming, especially when there are so many options to choose from.

Pet obesity is a growing problem. Incorrectly feeding your dog can lead to severe disease and health complications such as obesity.

In this article, I will help you understand why portioning your dog’s food is vital for their overall health and wellbeing. I will give you some of my top tips on how much you should be feeding your dog.

Obesity: Why Does It Matter?

Obesity and overweight-related health conditions are becoming an increasingly common problem for humans as well as dogs. [1]

And with up to 40% of dogs in the developed world being overweight, dog owners must ensure they are feeding their dog appropriately and to the required nutritional standard. [2]

Dogs need body fat for their bodies to keep warm in cold conditions, have surplus energy reserves, and reduce frictions between the body and its organs.

However, overweight dogs are more likely to develop severe health conditions such as:

  • Musculoskeletal problems such as osteoarthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Urinary bladder stones
  • Cancer

Obesity can be a cause of an underlying health condition such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease. [3]

It is always best to speak to your veterinarian if you have any concerns regarding your dog’s weight.

Recent studies show that fat tissue is biologically active, which causes inflammation in a dog’s body because of various hormones and molecules.

Unfortunately, obesity causes an imbalance in the body, leading to osteoarthritis and developing into severe tissue damage and cancer.

Fat tissue is the leading cause of heavy metal bioaccumulation which is heavily linked to cancer. [4]

How Much Should I Feed My Dog Per Day?

It’s a good starting point to use the feeding guidelines on your dog’s food, and remember that these are only guidelines. Below is the average portion sizes of dog food you should be feeding your dog and how many calories are needed in 24 hours.

Remember, this is only a guide and only shows the average for each size of breed. This table does not substitute your vets’ recommendations made explicitly for your dog.

How Much Should I Feed My Dog

Most adult dogs require two meals a day, with puppies typically needing around three meals.

The above table is their average daily required calorie intake. If your dog is fed twice a day, divide these numbers by two to show you how many cups and calories they need per meal.

Each dog’s metabolism and nutritional requirements will vary, so you will need to adjust the guidelines accordingly.  

For example, smaller dogs have quicker metabolisms and lose more body heat due to their surface area to volume ratio. Therefore, smaller dog breeds require higher calories and energy per pound of body weight than large dog breeds. [5]

Looking for the right dog food for your dog’s breed? Check out our helpful guides here.

Many dog foods have feeding guides printed on their packaging. This information can give you a good idea about the amount you should be feeding your dog. Just remember, these are only guidelines and still have around a 30% margin of error.

You can also use this feeding calculator to establish how much you should be feeding your dog based on a variety of different factors. We will be discussing some of the variations and factors you need to consider later on.

How Much Should I Feed A Pregnant or Lactating Dog?

Overall, dog pregnancies can last for nine weeks and are divided into three trimesters.

For a female dog to become pregnant, their bodies need to be at an optimal body condition. Within the first two trimesters, the energy toll of pregnancy is not very demanding because the embryos develop at a much slower speed.

However, when a female dog is in the third trimester, embryonic growth substantially increases. So this increases a mother’s minimum nutritional requirements. During pregnancy, it is normal for your dog to experience weight gain of around 15% to 20% [6]

It is vital during pregnancy that a mother has the appropriate caloric intake and nutrients needed to grow her puppies and maintain her body weight.

Excessive weight loss can increase the risk of stillbirth and weak puppies. On the other hand, excessive weight gain can decrease the chances of the puppies surviving, and your dog can experience difficulties giving birth. [7]

Lactation requires even more energy for your dog, particularly during the third and fifth weeks after whelping. I recommend that dog food is readily available for her during these weeks to eat when she wants to.

Factors to consider when feeding your dog

Several factors need to be considered to determine how much food you need to feed your dog. These factors also affect what kind of food your dog may need. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Age, or life-stage

A puppy has much higher calorie requirements than an adult dog. Recent studies suggest that puppies should gain approximately 5% of their current body weight per day within the first four weeks. [8,9]

Puppies also need to be fed little and often due to their small stomachs.

Senior dogs also have unique nutritional requirements since their appetite is reduced compared to dogs in other life stages. Old dogs also have an increased risk of developing severe underlying health conditions. It’s a good idea to choose a dog food specifically formulated for your pet’s life stage.  

Activity levels

Naturally, a collie herding sheep all day will have much higher calorie requirements than a pet dog who doesn’t run much, so you’ll need to increase the amount you feed these dogs.

I previously mentioned the nutritional requirements of new mothers who are feeding their pups. This is another example of when more calories and added nutrients are needed.

You can purchase foods formulated for specific breeds, including working dogs, or you can tailor the amount you feed to how much exercise your dog gets.

Neutering status

Neutering can increase a dog’s appetite while decreasing their energy requirements due to changes in their metabolism. [10]

You will most likely need to feed your dog slightly less after neutering, although this varies between dogs.

After a dog is neutered, I recommend reducing the food your dog used to eat by around a quarter until you can see the overall effect the neutering has had on your dog.

Underlying health conditions

Certain medical conditions have unique nutritional needs. This is because those nutrients and vitamins can help dogs suffering from a variety of health conditions.

Many dog food companies will formulate a variety of formulated dog foods that aim to help dogs that suffer from conditions such as:

  • Urinary stones
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney failure
  • Hyperactivity
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Arthritis
  • Jaundice
  • Hepatitis
  • Cystitis
  • Neurological diseases
  • Allergies

You can find these formulas at veterinary clinics or by getting a veterinary prescription. Stricter controls are on these foods to protect healthy dogs from consuming incorrect nutrients specifically required for a health condition.

If your dog has an underlying health condition, you should speak with your veterinarian about how much and what you should be feeding them.

Quality of the food

The feeding guidelines will vary depending on the nutrient and calorie content of the diet, which varies between brands.

Mainly, your dog food should have quality protein sources, healthy fats, and a healthy source of carbohydrates. I recommend finding a dog food that contains around a 25% crude protein content or higher. This will ensure the ingredients are meat-based and high quality, without excessive calories.

Always speak with your veterinary team for advice if you have any concerns regarding your dog’s weight. 

How To Tell If Your Dog Is A Healthy Weight

Firstly, this entirely depends on their current weight. It’s essential to be aware of your dog’s weight condition to establish if they need to lose weight, gain, or maintain it. Of course, you can weigh your dog and compare their weight with breed standards, but this won’t consider individual variation.

The best way to monitor your dog’s weight at home is by completing a body condition score (BCS).

In general, a dog who is at an optimum weight will have:

  • An “hourglass” figure when you down at them. Their belly should be narrower compared to their chest and hips.
  • Ribs that cannot easily be seen, but you can easily feel them with some slight pressure.
  • A “tucked up” appearance from the side. Typically, their chest is closer to the ground than their belly when standing up.

Below is an example of a body condition score chart for smaller breeds like pugs or goldendoodles. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) have also put together this handy guide for body condition scoring.

Body Condition Score Chihuahua

It can be challenging for a new dog owner, so it’s best to double-check your result with your veterinarian the first few times. 65% of dog owners incorrectly estimate their pups BCS. [11]

Your veterinarian or veterinary technician will be able to advise you on a healthy weight for your dog. 

Veterinary Top Tips For Feeding Your Dog

Now that you know how to assess if your dog needs to change or maintain their weight and which factors will affect the amount you need to feed, here are our top tips for how much to feed your dog:

  • Use the feeding guidelines on the package as a starting point and adjust as needed for weight changes, life-stage or activity levels.
  • Always weigh the food out rather than guessing. Weighing is also much more accurate than scoops.
  • Feed the same number of meals a day, at roughly the same time. Puppies will need to be fed little and often, whereas adult dogs can be fed once or twice a day. Some dogs do well being fed ‘ad lib’ or free-fed. But this does run the risk of over-eating and has been linked to arthritis. If you choose to feed ad-lib, it’s essential to measure the amount they are allowed per day and not top up the bowl if it is empty!
  • Remember to take treats into account! Treats should make up less than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. If your dog receives treats daily, you will need to reduce their food to account for these extra calories slightly.
  • Resist the urge to feed table scraps! Human food is often too high in salt and fat, with some human foods even poisonous to dogs. Table scraps can significantly increase daily calorie intake. There is a known association between obesity and table scrap feeding.  [12]
  • It’s helpful to keep a feeding diary or chart on the wall if more than one person is involved in feeding your dog. This will prevent accidental double feeding! Alternatively, you can put each day’s food allowance into containers so that it’s clear if the dog has been fed.
  • Make use of your veterinary team! They will be happy to offer consults for professional advice on nutrition and programs for weight loss or gain. These may be with a veterinary nurse and are often provided free of charge.

Final Thoughts

Feeding your dog the correct amount can be a daunting and confusing task for a new dog owner. It is always best to do the homework and research thoroughly about the subject to make an accurate, evidence-based decision and keep your dog healthy.

I hope you found the above information helpful in finding out the right amount of food you should be feeding your dog.

If you have any concerns about your dog’s nutrition, appetite, or weight, book an appointment with your veterinarian.

Dr Sarah Molier BVM&S BSc MRCV

Dr Sarah Molier (BVM&S MRCVS BSC)

Content Writer at Honest Whiskers

Hi there! I’m Dr Sarah Molier. I graduated from Edinburgh University with a degree in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery in 2009. Since then, I’ve run an independent, multi-site small animal practice. In my spare time, I love to write and provide readers with accurate nutritional information regarding their pets!

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