Ask a Vet: How Much Should I Feed My Pet?

Is your dog and/or cat in shape? Round is a shape, correct? That’s my mantra. However, we all know that being overweight or obese is not healthy and can lead to many other health problems. Some studies show that in the U.S. almost 50% or our dogs and cats are overweight or obese. This is considered to be epidemic. What is the cause? In most cases it is simply not enough exercise and too many calories consumed. Sound familiar?

As a practicing veterinarian, when we announce to the owner that Ruffles or Princess is a little chubby, we are often asked, “How much should I be feeding?” A simple answer is expected but there are many considerations: age of the pet, activity level of the pet, health status of the pet, special dietary needs, living conditions, and the diet itself.

The first place to start is by reading the pet food labels on recommended daily amounts to be fed. This amount is an average and is  based on desired or healthy weight and not actual weight in the case of obesity. It is likely there will be a range to feed and not an exact amount. Depending on your pet and immediate activity level (activity often changes throughout the year), you may be feeding on the low end or the high end of the range. I have a client, let’s refer to as Mrs. N. Argee, who has several dogs and they are always in good muscle tone, great coats, and very “fit” with regards to their weight. I asked her what she does to keep her dogs so healthy and trim.  She said, “Doc, it’s simple. They get daily exercise and if they start to look fat, I feed them less and if they look skinny, I feed ’em more.” Simplistic statement but very true in most cases.

However, for those who wish a more scientific approach we need to discuss, in brief, your dog’s energy needs. This is typically discussed in calories consumed in a day. In people, this is relatively standard with considerations for activity and male vs. female. In dogs, of course, there are huge size differences and you will also have to factor in age (puppy vs. adult vs. geriatric), pregnancy, activity levels, intact vs. neutered, breed, living conditions (inside vs. outside and climates),  and if they are already overweight. A sled-pulling Husky will definitely have different caloric demands than a Pomeranian living in a small apartment.

One can calculate a starting point, however, with regards to caloric demand. This is termed the Resting Energy Requirement (RER) measured in kcal/day. This is the energy your dog would use in a day while remaining at rest. The formula for this is:  RER in kcal/day= 30 (body weight in kilograms) +70.  Therefore, a 70 lb. Labrador’s RER is: 30 X 31.8 kg + 70 = 1024 kcals per day. This is his resting energy needs. Hence, any activity or other variables other than rest will incur an increase in calories. For example, during fall hunting season, this Lab may need up to 3-4 times RER to remain fit. This could be true if this lab was a female feeding a litter of puppies. There are many references available regarding changes in RER.

As you can see there are many considerations when someone asks the question, “So, just how much food should I be feeding?” The simple answer (assuming an otherwise healthy pet) is, as so eloquently stated by Mrs. N. Argee, “If they are fat, feed less, and if skinny, feed more!”


Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to treat your pets once in a while, too! SENTRY Pur Luv treats are tasty, nutritious treats that your dog will absolutely luv. They are low in fat and contain omega fatty acids.


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