One of the most common questions new dog owners have is “how many calories does my dog need?” As you probably guessed, there isn’t a one size fits all answer to this question. Big dogs should clearly be eating more than small dogs, but even dogs within the same breed may require different amounts of calories. Just like humans have different metabolic rates, dogs do also.
Dogs should eat around 25 calories per pound of body weight if the goal is to maintain weight. If your dog needs to lose weight, have them eat 20 calories per pound. If the goal is to gain weight, increase the number to 30-35 calories per pound.
However, those are just the starting numbers. The only accurate way to determine how much your dog should eat is to use general feeding guidelines based on height and weight and keep an eye on weight gain/weight loss over time.
The General Guidelines of How Many Calories to Feed Your Dog
Take a look at the back of your dog food label. It will have a recommended daily feeding amount. An example would look like this:
3 Pound Dog: 1/3 cup
6 Pound Dog: 1/2 cup
10 Pound dog: 3/4 cup
15 Pound dog: 1 cup
…and so on
These are just example numbers. Each brand of dog food contains a different amount of calories per cup, so take a look at what the label says on your dog food and start off by feeding your dog the amount according to their weight.
Does that mean this is the correct amount to feed your dog? Maybe, but probably not. It’s an excellent place to start, but the only way to get the proper amount is to start with the recommended number as the base and then adjust the calories as you monitor your dog’s weight (discussed below).
How to Monitor Your Dogs Weight
Every two weeks, you will want to monitor your dog’s weight until the weight stabilizes in the healthy weight range.
This means you’ll need to do two things.
1. Figure Out The Healthy Weight Range For Your Dog
This is simple, just do a search on the internet for “how much should a [your dog’s breed] weigh.” For example, if you own a black lab, search for “how much should a black lab weigh.” Right away, I can see that a black lab should weight between 64-79 pounds.
2. Get Your Dogs Starting Weight
If you have a dog you’re able to pick up, getting your dogs weight is simple. All you need to do is weigh yourself without the dog and write down how much you weigh. Then pick up the dog and weigh yourself with the dog. Subtract that number with the first number, and you’ll have your dogs weight.
For example, let’s say you weigh 150. Then when you pick up your dog, the scale now reads 172. You would subtract 172 from 150, which means your dog weighs 22 pounds.
But what if you aren’t able to pick up your dog?
If you have a large dog and aren’t able to pick them up, unfortunately weighing them can be a bit of a challenge.
The best thing to do here is to go to the vet and request a weigh in. Most vets will do it for free or relatively cheap. If your city has multiple vets, call around and let them know you’re adjusting your dog’s diet and want to get a starting weight. After calling a few vets, you’ll likely find one that will do it for free.
Keeping an Eye on Body Shape
In addition to keeping an eye on your dog’s weight, you’ll also want to keep an eye on the body shape. Just like you used the search engines to find the ideal weight, you’ll also want to use the search engines to learn your breeds optimal body shape. Using a black lab as an example again, search the internet for “healthy body shape for a black lab.”
You’ll see plenty of images of healthy looking black labs. Does your dog currently look like this? If so, great! If not, you’ll need to make some adjustments to their diet to either increase or decrease their weight.
Making The Adjustments
Now that you know your dog’s weight and what their ideal body shape should be, the next step is to decide if your dog is overweight, underweight, or considered healthy.
For Overweight Dogs
Decrease the recommended calories on the food label by 10% for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, check your dog’s weight and body shape. Have they lost at least 1 pound? Do they look leaner? If so, keep this up until they reach the ideal weight and shape. If they didn’t lose any weight, decrease the calories again by 10%.
For Underweight Dogs
Increase the recommended calories on the food label by 10% for two weeks. At the end of the two weeks, check your dog’s weight and shape. Have they gained at least 1 pound? Do they look more muscular? If so, keep this up until they reach the ideal weight and shape. If they didn’t gain any weight, increase the calories again by 10%.
For Dogs Considered Healthy
Stick to what the food label says and weigh your dog in two weeks. If they didn’t gain or lose much, continue with that amount of calories. If they gained over a pound or lost over a pound for consecutive weigh-ins, increase or decrease the calories accordingly.
Should You Use A Calculator?
We don’t recommend calculators because they aren’t accurate. Whether you go with what the recommendations are on the food label or a calculator, both are just guesses. Calculators might consider more things such as age, activity level, current weight, and so on. But they still don’t know your dog’s natural metabolic rate.
Since neither the calculator or the food label will be 100% accurate, you might as well take the easiest route and go with what the food label says.
Either way, both calculators and labels are there to give you a starting point. You’ll be adjusting the number every two weeks until you figure out what works best for your dog.
Calories Per Day NOT Per Meal
It’s best if you can feed your dog twice per day. This will prevent them from having an irritated stomach from overeating in one sitting and will also prevent them from getting hungry later in the day.
It’s VERY important to recognize that the recommended amount on the back of the dog food bag is for daily calories, not per meal.
This means if the recommended serving size is 1 cup, you’ll want to feed your dog 1/2 cup in the morning and 1/2 cup in the evening.
We have seen plenty of dogs become obese because the owners assume the recommended serving size is per meal, not total for the day.
Keeping it Simple
Figuring out how much to feed your dog is actually a simple process. Dogs do a great job at maintaining body weight, so once you find the number that works for them, you can stop analyzing their weight every two weeks and keep an eye on their body shape.
Don’t over-complicate this process. There is no scientific formula that will provide you with the exact amount of calories your dog should eat. All you need to do is start with what the label recommends and make adjustments every two weeks.
What if My Dog is Old?
Just like humans, as dogs age the amount of calories they require to maintain weight goes down. The older they get, the more significantly it drops. This is for two reasons.
- Their basal metabolic rate begins to drop
- Their activity level goes down so they don’t burn as many calories.
As your dog begins to age, keep an eye on their waist. If you notice the waist is starting to grow, you’ll want to decrease the calories. On the other hand, some dogs lose their appetite as they age. If the waist is beginning to shrink the unhealthy levels, you’ll want to purchase a higher calorie dog food.
My Dog is Obese, Should I Drastically Cut Calories?
No! Make sure you don’t drastically cut the amount of calories your dog eats overnight. If your dog is obese then you will need to cut the amount of calories they eat, but not by large amounts at once. For obese dogs, start off by decreasing the amount of calories they eat by 100. Weigh your dog again in a week. Did they lose weight? If so, great! Keep feeding them that amount of food until they either stop losing weight or reach a healthy weight. If they stop losing weight, then decrease by 50 calories for the following week. Continue doing this until they reach a healthy weight.
My Dog Won’t Stop Eating, Does That Mean I Am Not Feeding Her Enough?
There’s only one way to tell…pay attention to the scale. If your dog is already at a healthy weight but begins to lose weight, it might mean you aren’t feeding her enough. However, if your dog is maintaining weight, you’re feeding her plenty. Some dogs will continue eating no matter how full they are! This is most likely a survival instinct. It doesn’t mean you aren’t feeding them enough calories.
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