- Breed and size — These factors play a major role in determining how much to feed your dog
- Think about the big picture, not just meal time — Snacks, activity level, age, and even climate are just some additional factors to be mindful of
- A poor diet can significantly impact your pup’s health — Watch out for dangers, including toxic foods, overfeeding, and more
Your dog’s diet and nutrition play an important role in their overall health. Eating the right amount of food properly nourishes your pup and prevents obesity, which alone can shave off several years of your dog’s life, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. But your dog’s nutrition is also important to their skin, coat, and overall behavior. That’s why deciding how much food you should feed your dog is so critical.
There are many factors that come into play when choosing food quantity, type, and frequency of feeding. We’ve put together guidelines to help you navigate what’s best for your dog — to keep those bellies full and tails wagging.
General rules of thumb for adult dogs and puppies
Every dog is different, but there are some general principles that can be applied to most situations, assuming your dog is healthy without major ailments that may affect their diet.
Find the daily total
While this may seem obvious to most, dogs should be fed daily. Just like their people-parents, dogs are warm-blooded animals and need to be fed each day or they’ll be at risk for health issues. The dog food you buy will tell you what that recommended daily quantity is, based on your dog’s ideal body weight. Then, you’ll need to divide that amount by the number of meals you’ll feed your dog each day.
For instance, if your dog is a 35-pound adult, the food may give you a range of 2 ⅓ to 3 cups. Divide that amount by the number of meals per day, and that’s your per meal portion. In this case, since it’s an adult dog, we’ll say two. So that means each meal is roughly 1 ½ cups.
Number of meals for adults
When it comes to the number of meals in a day, veterinarians recommend feeding adult dogs twice a day, morning and night. This will help keep them full and happy throughout the day. An empty stomach for a large part of the day can lead to nausea and vomiting, or BVS. If you only feed one big meal a day, larger breeds become even more susceptible to bloat, which can lead to excessive drooling, stomach pain, vomiting, increased heart rate, and shock, among other nasties.
What’s more, some dogs may develop behavioral issues brought on by hunger, such as whining in anticipation of food or aggressiveness when food finally comes. Having a regular feeding schedule in the morning and early evening can help reduce stress for you and your dog!
👉 Feed adult dogs twice per day to avoid discomfort (and excessive nose bumps and staring) as your dog’s hunger wades between meals.
Number of meals for puppies
For young puppies, most veterinarians recommend even more feedings per day. This is because puppies are still growing and developing, weaning off their mother’s milk and getting used to solid foods. Feed young pups three to four times a day to start. After they’re about four months old, you can begin to scale back the frequency of meals to two times per day.
Toy breed puppies may need 4 to 6 meals a day because they’re more prone to hypoglycemia if their stomachs are empty for several hours at a time. Hypoglycemia, which means low blood glucose, can cause your pup to become severely lethargic and lose consciousness. This is a medical emergency. If you feel your puppy may be suffering from hypoglycemia, rub a small amount of Karo syrup on the gums and rush your puppy to the nearest emergency hospital.
👉 After four months, reduce puppy meal frequency to twice a day. Remember to redistribute the same total daily intake evenly to two meals (instead of three or four).
The difference is in the brand
As your dog ages, it can be hard to know how much you should be feeding them. Any Saint Bernard’s owner will tell you that their dog’s appetite varied significantly from puppy to a full grown adult!
Fortunately, the dog food brand you choose will have specific instructions on the label for every dog breed size: extra small, small, medium, large, and extra large. Note that the label’s provided figures are typical size and weight ranges for your dog’s age, but each dog is different. You’ll notice substantial portion differences between small breeds and large breeds. Consult your veterinarian to ensure yours is getting the right quantity for its dietary needs.
Also note that when comparing brands, it’s not one-size-fits-all for meal portions. Different brands contain different calorie levels per cup. For instance, Blue Buffalo diets contain a higher amount of calories per cup compared to Royal Canin or Science Diet. It’s not uncommon for vets to see overweight dogs that are eating certain brand diets or other higher calorie diets because they’re fed too much per feeding. Pay particularly close attention if you switch food brands, as the portion quantities can be significantly different between brands.
The best recommendation is to follow the feeding guidelines on the bag or can of food based on your dog’s age and ideal body weight. Consult with your vet to determine what an ideal body weight for your dog is and if the feedings need to be adjusted based on your dog’s energy level and body condition score.
👉 Puppies get slightly more food in their first year (to encourage growth), and then will get slightly less food as they age to sustain healthy weight as adults.
Other important feeding considerations
Because every dog is unique, it’s important to look at feeding considerations outside the standard food chart. There’s a good chance you’ll need to factor in at least one of these in your pup’s diet.
Your dog’s age
As you can see from the feeding chart, the quantity your dog will consume as it ages decreases incrementally from puppy to adulthood. Changing your dog’s food as they age matters. For example, once your dog becomes an adult, you’ll want to change from a puppy to adult formula. The growth-inducing, high caloric ingredients will be replaced with weight-sustaining, lower calorie ones as your dog’s energy levels subside.
Confirm the age classification on the dog food label when purchasing. Some foods are suitable for dogs of all ages, but they usually come with a higher price tag.
👉 Aren’t sure how much to feed your puppy? Read our guide to feeding your new puppy!
Type of food
One of the most common questions vets get from dog parents deciding on food is, “does the type of food change how much you feed your dog?” The short answer is yes. Here’s why:
Wet vs. dry
Wet food and dry food have different volumes and moisture levels, so it’s not an easy 1:1 ratio when comparing portion sizes. It’s much easier to measure out for a single type of food than to try to do the math for converting wet to dry food and vice versa. Your best bet is to have your vet calculate your dog’s caloric needs, and then determine the appropriate ratios based on calories.
Fresh or raw
The same goes for fresh and raw food diets, which have become more common in the last several years. Like traditional dog food, your dog’s daily needs will depend on their size and activity level.
Note with these types of diets, feeding fresh or raw foods may seem like a good idea from a holistic perspective, but you’ll need to do your research and make sure that you’re providing the essential vitamins and nutrients — and preparation processes (such as cooking meat) — that your dog needs for a balanced, healthy diet.
Raw diets can be risky to feed your dog just like it is a risk for people to eat raw meat. Raw diets may be contaminated with Salmonella or E. coli which can make your dog very sick.
When it comes to the ingredients in dog food, you get what you pay for. Many low-cost foods contain “filler” ingredients that take up volume but lack the substantive nutrition your dog needs. Review the label and look for proteins. They should be listed first. Pay attention to the type of protein, however, as some dogs have allergies to specific kinds.
Carbohydrates are also important for energy and are often listed as grains. Grain-free diets have been linked to heart disease in dogs so it’s important for dogs to eat diets with grain.
👉 Paying a little more for high-quality food over the long term can help you avoid costly vet bills in the short-term.
Dog’s activity level
No one wants to spend time counting calories for themselves, let alone their dog. The good news is you don’t have to. While it’s a good idea to have a rough estimate of your dog’s caloric requirements, as provided by your vet or other reputable resources, the goal is to generally consider how much your dog is consuming and burning.
It goes without saying that active dogs will burn more than couch potatoes. That’s one of the reasons that puppies generally consume more despite their breed (even notoriously lazy ones). They burn a lot with zoomies and all that play time! The same is true for dogs with an active lifestyle or those that get a lot of natural exercise. Whether your dog runs with you, herds sheep (or family members), or generally moves quite a bit, they’re going to need a little more fuel to keep them going strong.
Start out with the provided range in the feeding chart. From there, you can determine how much you need to scale back or up, depending on your dog’s weight.
👉 Dogs in colder climates burn significantly more than those in warmer ones, so they often require more caloric intake (i.e., food portions).
Dogs are experts at sneaking snacks. But snacks are just as good at sneaking added calories into their diets.
Much like your dog’s activity level, the number of dog treats your dog should be allotted depends on their daily caloric requirements. You just need to subtract the calories from your dog’s daily meals. Lower calorie foods, such as baby carrots, provide more quantity without the waist-building side effects. And foods that take longer to eat (like peanut butter or frozen bananas) help to stimulate their brains and satisfy their stomach.
Other healthy snack options include:
- Green beans
- Plain yogurt
As tempting and convenient as it may be, you want to avoid the “table toss” of feeding your pup scraps/snacks of your own food while you eat, as that can cause your dog to develop pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which leads to diarrhea, abdominal pain, and can be life threatening.
Table food can also lead to perpetual begging or other behavior issues. Also, avoid giving your pup a dirty plate to lick before the dishwasher. Though helpful, you risk accidentally giving your pup a toxic ingredient like onions or garlic.
Despite our efforts and wishes, health conditions for dogs do arise, particularly as they get older. This will likely affect how much you should feed your dog. There are specialty food recipes with their own designated quantities for these common ailments, among others:
- Food allergies
- Kidney problems
- Urinary issues
If your vet has prescribed any specialty foods or food supplements for these types of conditions, follow the portion instructions on the labels closely.
Common foods to avoid
- Cinnamon. Make sure to check labels, as cinnamon sneaks its way into many products.
- Cooked bones (chicken, steak, pork chop bones)
- Corn-on-the-cob (commonly causes a gastrointestinal obstruction)
- Garlic. If you’re getting puppy eyes after making a nice chicken or steak, don’t forget that even powdered garlic from seasoning can be toxic to dogs.
- Grapes or raisins
- Ice cream (of the human variety)
- Macadamia nuts
- Peaches (whole)
- Plums (whole)
What if my dog eats too much?
Every dog likes to snarf down food and probably would indefinitely if we weren’t there to stop them! But overfeeding can lead to bloat if they eat too much in one sitting, or obesity and other health-related problems down the road.
That’s why sticking to the guidelines provided by your vet and food source is the best way to keep your dog healthy. A BCS chart is a great tool to help you make sure your pup is at an ideal weight. If you have a hard time feeding your dog because of physical limitations, consider a timed food dispenser. These provide portion control and convenience, and you only need to fill them back up every so often.
Free feeding, or self-regulation, is a misnomer and a big no no. As mentioned, dogs are not good at regulating their own diets. Anyone who’s come home to trash all over the kitchen floor knows this!
Set a routine with quality foods in the right proportions and reinforce your pup’s positive eating behavior, and you’ll be sure to keep them healthy and happy for years to come.