As with humans, obesity is an epidemic in the dog world. The reason? Most people feed their dogs too much food. Feeding guidelines on bags of commercial food are just that: guidelines. They’re written for unneutered adult dogs; spayed and neutered dogs have lower metabolic rates and need slightly less food. Also, many pet parents don’t measure their dog’s portions, instead of filling the plate or (worse) “free feeding” with a bowl full of food that the dog is allowed to eat at will throughout the day.
Instead, it’s best to measure your dog’s food for twice-daily feedings. (Feed puppies three to four times per day.) The rule of thumb is that your dog should eat about 2.5 percent of his weight per day. You’ll adjust this up or down depending on your dog’s activity level and if you’re trying to maintain his weight, trim a little off, or put on some weight. For a 100-pound dog, that translates into about 2.5 pounds of food per day or 1.25 pounds of food per meal.
Feeding Guidelines by Breed and Weight
This is, of course, a very broad guide, one that varies with the food you’re feeding, your dog’s activity level, your dog’s age, and any relevant medical conditions. (If your dog will be outdoors hiking around with you during cold weather, he’ll need more food. If your dog is pregnant, she’ll need more food.) This table gives you a general baseline to start from, though, and you can work from there, as you see if your dog is still hungry after the meal or if your dog is gaining/losing weight.
Although indulgent dog guardians may sometime fail to notice that their pooch is packing extra pounds, it’s easy to ask your veterinarian if your dog might be overweight. You can then monitor your dog’s weight with a periodic hands-on examination by feeling his ribs. If you are able to feel his ribs, he is usually not overweight. Your dog’s ribs should feel much like the back of your hand. Also, look at your dog from above and see if his waist is visible: It should show tapering from behind his rib cage toward his tail. From the side, you should also be able to discern an upward “tummy tuck” in his abdomen area.
Whether you are feeding a homemade or a commercial diet or a combination of the two, it is also important to establish a feeding schedule for your dog.
Your objective is to make sure your dogs receive proper nutrition without becoming overweight. Just as with humans, dogs that are overweight become susceptible to various health issues, including extra stress on their joints, lethargy, liver disease, and diabetes.
Although an adult dog may be able to receive adequate nutrition from one large meal daily, breaking it up into two smaller meals served twice a day may reduce the chance of bloat, especially if your canine wolfs down his food. Plus, it gives you twice as many chances to bond with your dog via your homemade food! You can also use mealtime as a quick training exercise, asking your dog to sit and wait politely for your “okay” signal before diving in to enjoy the meal.
If you look at most commercial dog foods, you’ll see the phrase “complete and balanced” splashed on the packaging somewhere. This means that the food has been formulated to include the key nutrients in your dog’s diet in balanced proportions: vitamins, fat, minerals, carbohydrates, protein, and water. A complete and balanced commercial dog food means that it is complete as it is, with no supplements required.
It’s important that dogs be fed a complete and balanced diet—but that doesn’t mean that each and every meal be completely balanced, as it is with commercial foods. Our own human diets balance out over time. Through the week, we all eat a wide variety of foods that give us nutrition in different forms. Together, they come together to provide a complete and balanced diet. We normally don’t eat one particular meal that answers all our nutritional needs. The same can be done with our dogs. Your dog’s diet can be diversified from meal to meal, balancing out over the breakfasts and dinners served throughout the week.