By Joe Bodewes, DVM
One of the most common questions that I am asked concerning dogs is how much
to feed them.
While this seems like a very straightforward question, there
are actually some unique circumstances that make this question very difficult
to answer. This article will help to explain those circumstances and will
help pet owners choose the right amount of food for their canine
The importance of knowing how much dog food to feed
I once had an elderly client that bred and raised Labrador Retrievers. Whenever
she brought her dogs in to the clinic I was consistently impressed with the
fact that they were always about the perfect weight with beautiful coats
and good muscle tone. Finally, one day I asked her what her secret was that
allowed her to feed her dogs in such a way that they were always the perfect
weight. She thought for a few seconds and then leaned forward and in a serious
whisper divulged, "when they are skinny I feed 'em more and when they get
fat I feed 'em less."
Several years and hundreds of nutritional consultations later,
I am still impressed with the simplistic truth of that statement. Despite
our determined efforts to devise a quality canine diet that will
tell us exactly how much to feed a dog of a given weight, we still do not
have one, and it is very unlikely that we ever will.
What that owner displayed was years
of experience that allowed her to make slight adjustments in the
canine diet to keep her dogs at the perfect weight.
Unfortunately, most owners do not
have years of experience and hundreds of dogs under their care to
allow them to become good at regulating their dogs' caloric intake.
Yet, maintaining the proper weight is critical to ensuring a healthy
Underweight dogs often suffer from
poor muscle tone, delayed healing, loss of energy, and metabolic and
reproductive disorders. Overweight dogs, which are much more common,
suffer from arthritic problems, an increase incidence of metabolic
disease including diabetes and liver problems, as well as a lack of
energy, and an increase in skin problems. They may also have a
shortened life expectancy. The health benefits from providing proper
nutrition in your canine diet are immeasurable.
What the pet food labels say...
There is one readily available source
of information concerning feeding amounts. Every bag of food has a
suggested feeding guideline based on the weight of the dog. But
there are several problems with these guidelines. First, there is
usually a wide range of recommended quantities to be fed. Second,
determining a quantity to be fed based on weight is an extremely
inaccurate way of feeding. Third, there is little consistency
between brands in the recommended quantities to be fed. For example,
I did a quick survey of the labels of three of the most popular
brands of dog food. They were all adult maintenance formulas with
fairly similar ingredients, levels of fats, proteins, fiber, etc.
All three labels had different recommendations on the total daily
amount to be fed. One recommended 1¾ cups, the second recommended 2
cups, and the third stated 2¾ cups. This is a discrepancy of over
50% in recommended feeding amounts between three of the most similar
types of dog food. What happens when you take into account puppy,
senior, performance, and low fat foods? It is little wonder
consumers are confused on this issue. The point is that the amount
on the back of the bag is rarely the amount that should be fed, but
should be considered a rough starting point.
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