How Much to Feed Your Dog: Importance of an Ideal Weight

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Far too many people are not aware of the amount of food their dogs really require each day to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.   According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), a majority of dogs in the U.S. are overweight. Just like with people, an overweight dog will have a shorter life span— up to 2 years shorter— and a lower quality of life.


There are numerous health problems related to canine obesity, including arthritis, kidney and gastrointestinal disease, and even cancer. Furthermore, having an overweight dog can be a costly proposition to the pet owner. Extra food and medical bills can easily surpass $1,000 per year or more – expenses that you would not incur if you had a leaner, healthier pet.

how much to feed your dog

Determining the proper amount of food your dog needs to achieve or maintain a healthy weight requires several steps and a few calculations. Although I have written about this topic in the past, I thought it would be worthwhile to review these steps again. However, this time, I will break the process down into a series of smaller posts and provide some simpler ‘rules of thumb’ that can be used as alternatives to some of the more complex calculations. The end result, hopefully, is that by the end of the series, anyone will be able to quickly ascertain proper portion sizes for their dog.


Determine a Dog’s Ideal Weight

It is impossible to determine proper portions without first knowing if your dog is overweight, underweight, or at their ideal weight. Based on the research performed by APOP, a little more than one out of every two dogs in the U.S. are being over fed and need to lose weight. That means that there is a greater than 50% chance that your dog is being fed too much! (In actuality, if you are a regular reader, you have probably taken steps to make sure that your dog is not overweight, so those odds are probably a lot lower).


Knowing your dog’s ideal weight is important because it will tell you two things: 1) does the dog need to lose or gain weight, and 2) portion sizes should be based on the ideal weight and not a dog’s current weight (unless the dog is already at their ideal weight). Many dog owners incorrectly think that their dog is at an ideal weight already when, in fact, their dog is actually fat. APOP calls this phenomenon the ‘fat gap’ and it is a big reason why we have a pet obesity problem. I have personally spoken with many dog owners who fall into this category. I have also frequently encounter another ‘type’ of pet owner, the owner who knows their dog is overweight, but rationalizes this with thinking that is something like: “yes, my dog could stand to lose some weight, but they are only 5 lbs. overweight”. Obviously, this is an example and you can swap any number for the 5 lbs. The important thing to point out is that a few extra pounds can be a big deal on a dog’s body. Because most dogs will weight a lot less than do humans, the percentage that a dog is overweight is the critical data point, not just the amount that the dog is overweight. Below are some examples comparing a 20 lb. dog to a 150 lb. human.


Dog Ideal Weight (lbs.) 20
Human Ideal Weight (lbs.) 150
Lbs. the dog is overweight 2 5 10
Human equivalent overweight lbs. 15 38 75


So a 20 lb. dog that is overweight by ‘just’ 5 lbs. is the same thing as a 150 lb. Human being ‘just’ 38 lbs. overweight.


The best way to determine your dog’s ideal weight is to consult with your veterinarian so that they can assess the overall health of your dog and help determine the dog’s ideal weight. Make sure to inform your vet of any previous orthopedic issues or other health issues if they do not have your dog’s full history. Be sure to ask the vet for their honest opinion on this! There are many vets who are uncomfortable informing their clients that their client’s pet is fat.


For those who would like to get a general idea of their dog’s weight, the canine body condition guide is a useful visual guide of how a dog’s body should look.


Once you have your pet’s ideal weight, the next step is to determine how many calories they will need at this weight. I will explain how to do this in the next installment of this series.

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  1. I actually feed less than what is recommended on the bags. The girls are right around 30lbs and they get 1/2 cup twice per day plus treats. They are doing really well and it works for us. The bags of food usually say they need like 2 cups a day or something crazy. I’m like… no way! They’d be 40lbs or more if I fed that! It’s so annoying!
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  2. “only 5 lbs”… that’s a lot for a dog and we worked like horses for months till “only 5 lbs” were gone …
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  3. It is hard for humans to judge how much smaller pets really need to eat, that is a fact. Really never feed as directed on a food bag either as it is almost always too much. Lastly, those ridiculous treat bags where it says no more than seven cookies a day or something ridiculous like that…what are they thinking. I think most pet parents have no clue, read the bag and go, but there is so much more to know and watch for and they have no idea how to figure it out. It is sad food companies don’t provide better feeding info on their products, but most of them are concerned more with selling food than the weight of pets being fed their food. That is our opinion on it all.
    Emma recently posted…Freeze Dried Treats For TroublemakersMy Profile

  4. The nice part about having pups with short coats is that it’s a lot easier for me to keep tabs on their weight. Extra pounds are tough on any pup, but with larger breeds to problem compounds significantly.

  5. Yeah, I’m not a fan of the bag feeding guidelines or food scoops. Neither are very accurate, in my opinion. Over the winter the dogs did tend to gain extra weight, so this winter when they are not as active as they are now, I will be giving them a little less and keeping an eye on their waistlines!
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  6. I am proud that Bentley is the correct weight. It is so important for dogs and cats to stay a healthy weight.
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  7. I really like Purina’s Body Condition System infographic. It is an excellent visual to show just how much extra weight their dog is carrying around. We have it in all our exam rooms. I hate to bring this up but your link doesn’t go to the body score chart:-(
    Anne recently posted…When Your Dog Eats His Own PoopMy Profile

  8. Our boy Buzz weighs 74 lb and gets a total of 4 lb of fresh, raw food every day (split up into 2 portions). We had started feeding him 12 oz per meal after having transitioned him from kibble to raw, but it ended up being too little for his level of activity (he is MUCH more active than his sister) ~ we could tell by being able to slightly see his ribs. Now he looks perfect with a nice waistline 🙂

    His sister Missy weighs 20 lbs less than him, and only gets 14 oz per day (also split up into 2 portions).

    Age and activity level definitely play a big role in determining how much to feed. I would never just rely on the feeding instructions of the various dog food companies out there.
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  9. Its so important to monitor your dog’s weight. I’m glad you pointed out that its important to determine the dogs ideal weight rather than make assumptions based on their current size.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them
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  10. The best way to control weight on pets is just like for bipeds. Portion size and exercise. I’ve had to decrease size and up exercise on one dog who would eat everyone’s food if allowed. It took a while, but we got it off her and she was in great shape which helped her aging joints when she got old. I always had hope it helped extend her life somewhat as well-she was somewhere in the 13-15 year old range when she passed. 😉
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  11. We always use to tell clients at the vet that the recommended feeding on the bags was always very gracious and there was a lot of other things to factor in like how many calories the pet was burning per day. It was always amazing how many people measured using a coffee cup or their hands.

  12. Figuring out how much to feed our dogs was harder than I anticipated. There are raw food calculators online, but it took me a while to figure out that this was just a starting point. So much goes into what each dog eats. Rodrigo is one of our smallest dogs, but he eats the most (higher metabolism). Sydney is our largest dog and she eats the least (losing weight). It’s an interesting balance that I’m enjoying figuring out.
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  13. Yup, you know we’re regular readers and are already on top of this! However, I’m glad you put this post up, because we are in the process of switching foods and you’ve reminded me I might need to re-calculate after checking the calories on the new food.
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  14. great information, it’s unreal the amount of extra money spent on food when you don’t need to
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