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

Puppy receiving treat
(Image credit: Getty)

"How much should I feed my puppy?" is an important questions to ask. After all, your puppy is growing like a weed and that means good nutrition is especially important. 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.

Understand your puppy's weight and body condition score

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.

Check your dog food bag for guidelines

Most commercial dog foods have a feeding guide right on the label. This is usually located on the back of the bag alongside the other nutritional information. These guides will typically tell you how much food to feed based on your puppy’s current weight. However, because each puppy is different, you may need to make some adjustments to meet your dog’s individual needs.

A more accurate way to determine how much to feed your puppy is to ask your veterinarian to calculate your puppy’s required daily calorie intake.  This will tell you the total number of calories your dog should consume in a day. You can then check the back of your dog food bag or can to find out how many calories there are in a serving. Don’t forget to also take into account all of the other foods your dog eats, like puppy treats, table scraps, supplements, and chews. All of these items should be factored into your dog’s total daily calorie intake.  

Puppy eating out of a bowl

(Image credit: Getty)

Avoid free-feeding and provide plenty of mental stimulation

Have you ever been bored at home and found yourself wandering to the fridge for a snack just for something to do? Your dog is likely to do the exact same thing if left to his own devices and this can lead to him consuming a lot more calories than you realize! 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!

Be careful with treats

We love to give our puppies the best puppy treats and they can be an especially important part of the training process. Unfortunately, all those little snacks can really pack on the pounds! Make sure you are including your puppy’s daily treat intake when you are considering how much to feed your puppy. In general, treats should make up no more than 10% of your puppy’s daily calorie intake. Try switching to lower-calorie options like fresh fruits and vegetables, if your puppy enjoys them.  You can also break treats into smaller pieces or use part of your puppy’s regular meals as treats.  

There's no one-size-fits-all solution

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.