Correct food portioning might be the most important skill that a dog owner should have.
As a vet, I see many loving dog parents overfeeding their dogs.
In this article, I will help you learn more about portioning your dog’s food and maintaining a healthy feeding schedule.
Obesity: Why is it important?
As the canine population around the world becomes increasingly obese, reflecting the trend in human lifestyles, previously uncommon diseases related to obesity are becoming more common.
Obesity is the scourge of the developed world.
Some amount of body fat is important to reduce friction between organs in the body, insulate against cold conditions, and having energy reserves in times of need.
Overweight individuals are on the other hand much more prone to developing cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal problems (ex. osteoarthritis), diabetes, urinary bladder stones, and cancer. 
It was previously thought that body weight was the cause of these problems through increased straining of the joints and heart.
However, we now know that fat tissue is biologically active and can produce a number of hormones and molecules that promote inflammation around the body.
A disproportionate production of these molecules and chemicals due to obesity can give rise to osteoarthritis and free radical production leading to tissue damage and potentially cancer.
How much should I be feeding my dog?
A simple way to feed a healthy dog can hinge on three factors: body weight, stage of life, and in the case of puppies, projected growth. Let’s see below how to go about it.
How much food does my dog need based on their body weight?
The amount of dog food a dog needs is not directly proportional to your dog’s weight.
This means that if you feed your 20-pound dog 1 cup of dog food, 2 cups of the same feed will usually be too much for your 40-pound dog. This is because smaller dogs often have:
- A higher metabolic rate
- A bigger surface area to volume ratio that would result in more body heat loss
Therefore it should not come as a surprise that small dogs have a higher energy requirement per pound of body weight than large dogs. 
Wet or dry food products usually have feeding guides printed on their packaging. These can provide you with a fairly good idea on the amount of food you should feed your dog per day, however, these estimates still have a margin of error of around 30%.
While your dog’s weight can give you a fairly good idea on the right amount of food to feed your dog, every dog is an individual and the metabolism of one dog varies from that of the next one.
This is where using body condition scoring and muscle condition scoring methods is important.
These methods allow you to calibrate how much food you should feed your dog. You can also use a feeding calculator such as this one which is verified by both veterinarians and animal nutritionists. 
How much feed do dogs at different life stages need?
Different life stages come with different nutritional requirements. Growing dogs and pregnant and lactating female dogs usually have the greatest energy and nutrient requirements.
How much to feed a puppy
Healthy, newborn dogs are estimated to gain 5% of their total body weight per day during their first four weeks of life.
It is important to weigh them regularly and make sure that they are thriving.
Runts and orphans usually need a helping hand to make it to adulthood. This is best done using a good puppy milk formula that meets their nutritional requirements.
This has the advantage of allowing them to feed without having to compete with their siblings.
When the mother is present, it is important to make sure that they drink the mother’s milk shortly after being born and during the first few days.
This is important because the first milk (called colostrum) is very rich in antibodies and will help the puppies fight off disease until they build an immune system of their own.
If a litter does not have access to their mother’s milk or that of a surrogate, there are products on the market that have colostrum added to their normal puppy milk formula. Follow the directions of the puppy milk formula closely to avoid harming your puppy. 
Weaning your puppy
Puppies need some time before they can transition from their mother’s milk or milk formula to feeding on proper dog food.
It is best to help them transition by leaving out some dry mother and baby formula feed for both the mother and her puppies to feed on during this phase. Puppies are usually weaned at 8 weeks, after which they can be switched to puppy food that is appropriate for their age.
It is important to establish good feeding practices early on in their lives and avoid overfeeding; chubby puppies might look cute on camera but obesity and disproportionate body development will cause problems that can still affect them even later on as adult dogs.
It is nowadays accepted that it is better to slightly underfeed your puppy than to overfeed it.
Adopting a maximal growth feeding strategy will not only cause obesity but will also result in musculoskeletal developmental issues.
Bone and muscle tissue grow at different rates and if growth is not controlled, these can cause some painful deformities.
It is best to adopt an optimal growth strategy that will allow your puppy to develop at a slow but steady rate. 
An optimal growth feeding strategy is especially important in large and giant dog breeds. This is because these breeds often develop very rapidly and are the most susceptible to abnormal and suboptimal bone growth if not kept in check. 
How much to feed young adults
The young adult stage follows the first year of life. Different breeds reach full maturity at different times with some taking up to 2 years.
Dogs are usually considered young adults until they are 5 to 7 years old. Health conditions are uncommon but proper, balanced nutrition during this phase will set the trajectory for what their health will be like in their senior years.
As they grow into adult dogs their energy needs decrease.
However, it is worth taking into consideration whether your dog has an active lifestyle or not. A working dog has higher energy requirements than a house dog.
It is very important to find a diet that is adequate for your dog’s lifestyle in order to avoid obesity. (ex. Lower protein, lower energy, lower fat, and higher fiber diet for inactive dogs).
Due to dog food guides being relatively loose estimates, some veterinarians and animal nutritionists suggest to calibrate your dog’s dietary requirements by first feeding 15% to 20% less than suggested by the manufacturer (ex. Feed your dog 2 cups a day instead of 2 and a half cups).
How Much to Feed Senior dogs
Senior dogs have an even lower energy requirement. Senior dog food has a higher protein quality in order to help these dogs maintain their lean muscle mass into their old age without increasing the workload on the dog’s liver and kidneys; organs that are often compromised at old age.
For dogs suffering from specific health conditions, there are many veterinary-approved diets that can help with the therapeutic process of these diseases. 
Pregnant and lactating dogs
These two life stages are unique to female dogs. Dog pregnancy spans over a period of 9 weeks and is divided into three trimesters.
In order for a female dog to conceive it is important that she is at optimal body condition. The first two trimesters of the pregnancy are not very energy-demanding as during this time the developing embryos grow at a slow rate.
However, the third trimester sees a marked increase in embryonic growth, and the mother’s nutritional requirement rise accordingly. It is normal to see a 15% to 20% weight gain throughout the pregnancy. It is important to maintain the mother’s optimal body condition.
Excessive weight loss might lead to small litter sizes, weak pups, and still-birth. Excessive weight gain can cause difficulty giving birth and greatly reduce the puppies’ chances of survival after birth. 
The lactation phase has an even greater energy requirement than pregnancy particularly between the third and fifth weeks after whelping. During this time a nursing mother’s energy requirements might increase twofold to fourfold than that of a non-pregnant and non-nursing female. It is suggested that during these weeks dog food should constantly be available so she can eat whenever she needs to. 
So how do I feed my dog?
Follow these tips to feed your dog in the healthiest way.
1. Control Portions
Divide the suggested daily amount into at least two portions per day. This curbs feeling of hunger throughout the day, promotes better digestion and therefore reduces the chance of overeating and obesity.
It also reduces the risk of Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus, hyperacidity (and resultant ulceration) and nausea.
2. Feeding Routine
Establish a feeding routine.
Dogs are creatures of habit and benefit from having a routine.
This helps them have a healthy eating pattern and helps with problems of overeating and obesity. This can also help owners notice any difference in feeding behavior that might otherwise go unnoticed. Dogs will generally be hungry every 8 to 10 hours.
Don’t Let Your Dog Decide
Do not feed until your dog is unable to eat more. Dogs can eat much more than they need to in one go and are terrible at regulating their food intake.
Until recent evolutionary history, dogs have been scavengers and depended on good luck and providence to get by.
Such feeding will in most cases result in obesity. This rule is particularly important in puppies because overfeeding might result in developmental issues.
Avoid Feeding Before Exercise
Do not feed your dog heavy meals just before exercise. This can lead to torsion of the stomach and Gastric Dilation and Volvulus, especially in large, deep-chested dogs.
Slow Your Dog
Slow your dog down if he is a fast eater. There are special feeding bowls that give your dog a challenge while eating and result in slower eating.
You can also spread the food on a clean floor which makes the dog take longer to eat as they look for the food.
You can also find interactive feeders that can slow your dog’s eating down and serve as a fun game.
Mix Wet Food with Dry Kibble
If your dog is an overeater, mix wet dog food with their dry kibble. This will increase the moisture content of the food and makes the dog feel full quicker.
You can also wet the dry kibble before feeding which will make them bigger and make your dog feel full quicker.
There are also specially formulated diets that are high in fiber, designed to help dogs lose weight.
Consider Wet Food Diet
Wet food is also quite a good option for fussy eaters. Feeding your fussy dog wet food or mixing it with their dry kibble can get their appetite going.
While some dogs are able to graze throughout the day without issues, it is still healthier for your dog to get used to a feeding routine. This is especially useful if you decide to get another canine addition to the family in the future. [15, 16]
Are there any other things to consider?
We have learned that bad nutritional practices can harm your dog. However, nutrition can also be of help to dogs suffering from a number of pre-existing conditions.
Several companies nowadays formulate a number of veterinary formulated diets that aim to help with the treatment of a number of health conditions like:
- urinary stones
- kidney failure
- gastro-intestinal diseases
- neurological diseases.
These diets can be bought for veterinary clinics or by obtaining a veterinary prescription. This is because these diets would otherwise be nutritionally inadequate for healthy dogs.
The bottom line
Feeding a dog can be a very confusing task for the novice dog owner. Let go of any preconceived ideas and inform yourself thoroughly about the subject in order to make the best decisions and keep your dogs healthy.
We hope that the above information is helpful when it comes to deciding on the right amount of food and what method you choose to feed your dog. We suggest speaking to your veterinarian if you have any queries about this subject.