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How much should I feed my puppy? A vet's guide

how much should i feed my puppy? a vet's guide
(Image credit: Getty Images)

"How much should I feed my puppy?" is an important question to ask. After all, your puppy is growing like a weed and that means good nutrition is especially important. You want to feed your puppy the right amount for optimal growth and wellness.  

Feeding your puppy too much of even the best puppy food can cause rapid growth and excessive weight gain, leading to orthopedic issues and other health problems. On the other hand, feeding your puppy too little may deprive him of the essential nutrients his growing body needs. So how do you find the proper balance? Consider using these guidelines to help you find the ideal amount to feed your puppy daily.

How much to feed a puppy

Although asking, 'How much should I feed my puppy?' feels as if it should have a straightforward answer, there's actually a good few things to keep in mind. 

First of, a feeding recommendation guide is included on the label of most commercial dog foods. This is normally found on the back of the bag, next to the nutritional data. The feeding chart will advise you how much food to feed your puppy based on his or her present weight. However, because each puppy is unique, you may need to make some alterations to your puppy’s food intake to match his or her specific dietary requirements.

For a more precise estimate of how much to feed your puppy, you'll need to understand how many calories your dog needs to ingest every day. This is most commonly provided by a vet. You may then look up the number of calories in a serving of food by checking the back of your dog food bag or can. Don’t forget to factor in all of the other foods your puppy eats as well, like treats, table scraps, supplements, and chews. These all count towards your puppy’s daily calorie total!

puppy eating food

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How many times a day should you feed a puppy?

As a general rule of thumb, your puppy should eat three meals a day until he is over 6 months of age. Small or toy breed puppies may need additional meals, particularly if they have had episodes of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. 

When it comes it how much to feed per meal, you’ll need to find out your pup’s daily calorie requirement. This is something your veterinarian can help you with.

How much to feed a puppy by weight

Every puppy is different, even puppies from the same breed or litter. Your puppy’s ideal weight depends largely on the size of his frame, which is why veterinarians also use a subjective measure called a body condition score. To understand this concept, think about a person weighing 150 pounds. Without knowing any other information about them – such as their height, gender, or how muscular they are – you really can’t tell whether or not this is a healthy weight for that person.

 A body condition score helps describe whether your dog is underweight, ideal, or overweight by taking these factors into account. A body condition score is usually ranked on a scale from 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 being obese. An ideal body condition score for your dog is usually ranked at 4 or 5.

To help you determine how much to feed your dog, ask your veterinarian about your dog’s weight and body condition score at your next visit. Your veterinarian will assess your dog’s body condition by feeling the fat deposits over the ribs, spine, and hips. If your dog’s body condition score is too low (1-3 out of 9) then you may need to increase your dog’s food intake. 

If your dog’s body condition score is too high (6-9 out of 9) then you may need to cut back on how much you are feeding to help him maintain a healthy weight. Your veterinarian can also use this information to calculate your dog’s recommended daily calorie intake, which you can then use to determine exactly how much to feed your puppy.

how much should i feed my puppy

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can I use a puppy food calculator at home?

For the do-it-yourself pet owner, you can also get a rough idea of your dog’s calorie needs by calculating your dog’s Resting Energy Requirement (RER). This is the minimum number of calories your dog needs to function on a daily basis. This number is then multiplied by 3.0 for puppies 0-4 months of age or by 2.0 for puppies 4 months of age to adulthood to determine the total number of calories your dog should consume in a day. You can learn more about calculating your dog’s calorie requirements using The Ohio State University’s Basic Calorie Calculator.

For example, according to the OSU Calculator, a 6 month old puppy weighing 25 pounds has a resting energy requirement of about 433 calories per day and a total calorie requirement of approximately 866 calories per day. If we want to feed this puppy two meals per day with no additional treats or snacks, we’ll need to feed about 433 calories per meal.

Remember, this is just a rough estimate and every puppy is different! Calorie calculations provide a great starting point, but it’s still important for you and your veterinarian to monitor your puppy’s weight and body condition closely and make adjustments to your puppy’s diet as needed to maintain a healthy weight and growth rate.

Puppy eating out of a bowl

(Image credit: Getty)

Should puppies have treats?

Puppy treats can play a crucial role in the training process. Unfortunately, all those small nibbles can add up quickly and really pack on the pounds! 

When deciding how much to feed your puppy, make sure to account for his or her daily treat intake.  As a rule, treats should make up no more than 10% of your puppy’s daily calorie intake. If your dog likes fresh fruits and vegetables, try switching to these lower-calorie alternatives. You can also split treats into tiny pieces or use pieces of your puppy’s regular kibble as treats to reduce his or her calorie intake.  

How to prevent obesity in puppies

While some rare dogs are natural grazers and have no problem regulating their own intake, most dogs will happily eat more than necessary if given free access to food. For most dogs, it’s best not to leave a big bowl of food out all day. Instead, feeding carefully portioned meals two or three times a day will ensure your puppy gets the right amount of food without overdoing it.

In addition to restricting your dog’s access to food, providing them with plenty of exercise and mental stimulation will also help curb his urge to snack and seek out food during the day. Just as boredom can lead to overeating in humans, boredom can make your dog come begging for food as well! 

Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and active play time with you during the day to keep boredom at bay and perhaps learn to play some indoor games for dogs when the weather is bad. Slow feeder bowls and dog feeding puzzles are another great option to keep your dog occupied and make mealtimes last a little longer. You can also hide bits of your dog’s kibble around the house for him to find, or use meal times as a training session and make him work for each piece. He’ll still get his required daily calories, but it will be a lot more fun!

Conclusion

No two dogs are exactly alike. How much to feed your puppy depends on several individual factors, including your puppy’s current weight and body condition score, activity level, and the type of food you’re feeding. With these tips and your veterinarian’s guidance, you can make sure that you are feeding your puppy the right amount of food to support optimal growth, nutrition, and of course, all of that puppy energy!  

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

Since obtaining her doctorate in veterinary medicine, Dr. Racine has worked exclusively in small animal general practice. Her work has been featured in blog posts, articles, newsletters, journals, and even video scripts.