The rise in dog obesity is increasing, with up to 40% of dogs in some areas carrying too much weight. If a dog is overweight, it increases the risk of them developing debilitating health conditions such as arthritis and diabetes, and can shorten their lifespan by up to two years. Feeding your dog appropriately throughout his life will help prevent excessive weight gain, and he will be much healthier.
How Much Should I Feed My Dog?
Most commercial dog foods recommend how much to feed your dog on their packaging, taking into account his age and activity level,
If you enjoy mathematics, you can calculate your dog’s daily energy needs and from that, figure out how much food he needs to meet them. This is a lot of work. It also isn’t very accurate, with an individual dog’s requirements varying by up to 50% of your calculated amount.
The best way of working out how much to feed your dog is to look at his body condition score (BCS).
The body condition score ranges from 1 to
Dogs with a BCS of 1-3 are too thin. Their bones can be easily seen and they have very little body fat. These dogs need more food than they are currently eating.
On the other hand, a score of 6-9 indicates that a dog is getting plenty of food, and really should be fed less. It’s not easy to feel their ribs, and they often have very obvious fat deposits over their back and the base of their tail. They have no waistline or abdominal tuck, and can be quite round.
The ideal body condition score is 4 or 5 out of 9. These dogs have a good covering over their bones, but it’s easy to feel their ribs. They have an obvious waistline and their abdomen is neatly tucked up. This is what you should aim for when feeding your dog.
Puppies should be fed the same way: start by offering them the recommended amount on the puppy food pack, then adjust that amount based on their body condition. Too much food and a rapid growth rate has been associated with the development of orthopedic conditions such as OCD and hip dysplasia in dogs.
When a dog is neutered, or a bitch is spayed, it affects their metabolism such that they don’t need as many calories. The amount that is put in their dinner bowl should firstly be reduced by one third, and then adjusted up or down depending on whether they lose or gain weight. Similarly, dogs need less calories after around 5 years of age, so their food should be reduced by a similar amount.
It’s not difficult to work out how much to feed your dog. He will tell you exactly how much he needs. Look at him, feel his body, and you’ll know if you’re putting the right amount of food in his bowl.
How Often Should I Feed My Dog?
There’s no doubt dogs enjoy their food, and many of them would eat all day long if they could.
It’s important that we do control how much food our dogs eat. This means calculating how much to give him and feeding him a measured amount several times a day.
Some people feel their dogs should eat like their ancestor the wolf, with a regular fast day when they don’t eat at all. This mimics the wolf lifestyle where if they didn’t manage to kill some prey, they just wouldn’t eat. This is also inappropriate, because our pet dogs aren’t wolves, and don’t live like they do.
Ideally, your dog should be fed twice daily. This helps to even out his energy intake over the course of the day and to regulate his blood glucose. This is particularly significant in diabetic dogs, where feeding twice daily at specific times is an important part of controlling the disease. Many dogs do just fine on one meal a day. There are disadvantages to this. Firstly, it means that they often run out of muscle glycogen and have to rely on fat metabolism to keep up their activity levels. This is fine, but it’s a slower method of providing energy than using glucose and glycogen stored in the muscles. Secondly, a long period between meals may cause a condition known as bilious vomiting. This is characterized by vomiting bile with no obvious illness and often responds well to feeding the dog two or three meals daily.
Note: there are some circumstances in which more frequent feeding is necessary.
Young puppies should be fed three times daily until they are three or four months old, then they should be fed twice daily.
Toy breeds such as Yorkshire Terriers can suffer from low blood glucose when they are young because their liver metabolism is not yet mature. These tiny pups need food every 6 hours or so, to prevent their blood
Feeding one meal daily is a risk factor for bloat. This potentially fatal condition occurs in deep-chested dogs after a big meal or a big drink of water. Their stomach swells and may twist, and they need urgent veterinary care if they are going to survive. Deep-chested breeds are most prone to bloat, and they should be fed three times daily.
Underweight dogs also benefit from three meals a day. This makes it easier to give them the nutrition they need to improve their body condition, without overfilling their stomach.
However, you choose to feed your dog it’s a good idea to give him his meals at the same time each day. Dogs enjoy the routine, and it also makes it easier to predict when he is likely to need to go to the toilet. This is particularly important if you are toilet training him.
Ultimately, your dog’s feeding schedule must fit in with your lifestyle. If your dog isn’t in one of the groups mentioned that need three or more meals a day, then you have some flexibility. People who work long hours may prefer to give their dog a big meal in the morning, so they are comfortable for the rest of the day. Ultimately, whether your dog is fed once or twice a day is less critical than feeding him a good quality food in the right amount.
The easiest and most convenient option is what is known as free feeding. As the term suggests, free feeding involves simply filling the dog bowl with dry food and allowing her to eat whenever she is hungry. When the bowl is empty, you refill it. You can see the drawback here, you never really know the amount of food your dog is eating.
Note: You want to avoid canned food if you choose to free feed. Canned food can spoil if left out all day, and that is definitely not something for your dog to eat.
Sounds simple enough, and to someone who does not know otherwise, it might seem like a really good option. But you should remember that easy and convenient is not always better. This is actually the least recommended option for feeding your dog, no matter her age.
A break in between meals is actually a good thing. It allows the digestive system to rest and prepare for the next meal, which is good for her health. When you free feed your dog, you reduce the likelihood that your dog’s digestive system will have a chance to rest. Free feeding can also cause your dog to become lethargic and overweight.
Another thing to consider is the idea that food is a great motivator. It is one of the key motivators used in training. If there is food readily available at all times then it makes it harder for your dog to get excited about receiving food as a form of reward.
Most people actually feed their dogs on a schedule. Not necessarily at a set time, but more or less around the same time each day. Some people choose to feed their dogs once daily or twice daily, more often if they are feeding a young puppy.
For adult dogs, once daily is a good choice. Although, you may find your dog begging for food and scraps throughout the day. You can help to prevent begging through training.
You can also choose to feed your dog twice daily. This is ideal for two reasons:
- Meals are spaced enough for your dog’s digestive system to get a rest.
- They are close enough that your dog won’t be as fixated about bugging you for her meals.
The Importance of Consistency
Another important thing to point out is the importance of consistency. As much as possible, be consistent with meal times, how much, and how often you feed your dog. Dogs thrive on routine and sticking to a feeding routine is best.
The time of day that you choose is not yoursyouimportant. What is important, is that you feed your dog around that same time each day. Being consistent is part of teaching your dog what is expected of her, and can help you in training and other activities as well.
Just remember to feed your dog a high quality dog food, and to have fresh water available at all times. Apart from that, you do have some flexibility when it comes to how often you feed your dog.