How to Properly Feed Your Dog

Properly feeding your pet may seem easy.  It should be, but it’s not.  As veterinarians in Southeast Wisconsin, we have this discussion all the time!  You can think that figuring out your dog’s weight and using the recommendations on the side of the bag would be enough: it’s not.  Maybe you can adjust it down a little if your dog is overweight or up a little if they are “really” active.  Here’s the truth – IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE.

First, the “recommendations” on the bag of food are standardized.  The recommendations are for intact (not neutered), healthy weight, males.  In other words, if you have a spayed, overweight, female, you DO NOT FEED what is recommended on the bag.

Here are some factors the affect how we feed animals:

  • Current body score (are they over or under weight?)
  • Sexual status (are they intact, spayed or neutered?)
  • Activity level

Current Body Score

Remember in our previous post that we measure dogs on a 9-point scoring system (Purina Body Condition Score).  At Prairie Side Veterinary Hospital and Franksville Veterinary Clinic, we measure each patient when they come in.  

If they are overweight (or the body condition score is greater than 5), we need to decrease the amount fed.  Additional, being overweight means that they carry too much fat.  Fat is active and actually will suppress metabolism.  So, just to maintain an overweight dog’s current weight, we need to feed less.  To get them to lose weight and obtain that perfect number 5, we need to feed even less.

Spayed or Neutered

“My spayed dog will become fat”.  No, spaying your dog does not make them fat.  And neutering doesn’t make male dogs fat either.  Overfeeding them makes them fat.  However, few people realize that their energy requirements go down after an animal is spayed or neutered.  This fact means that dogs need to eat less after their surgery.  If you continue to feed them the “normal” amount, they will become fat.  You should estimate that you will need to reduce what you are feeding them by about 25-33%.  For example, a dog that was eating 4 cups of food per day will only need about 2.5-3 cups of food per day after their surgery.

Activity Level

I can hear it now.  My dog and I jog throughout Kenosha and Pleasant Prairie.  I need to feed them more.  Or, I need to feed them an “active” formula dog food.  Probably not.  

The “active” dog formulas made by several food companies are for working dogs and dogs that live outside.  Think of a sled dog having to pull the weight of a sled every day and spending a lot of time in the cold.  Those dogs need the extra energy.  Some of the hunting dogs that go out every day may need the “active” formula.  

If you hunt on the weekends or go running 2-3 times a week.  Congratulations, your dog probably loves this!  However, do not start feeding the “active” formula.  It will be a quick way to lose the activity you enjoy with your dog.

Let’s add all of this up with an example.

Clifford is a neutered male Labrador with a body condition score of 7 out of 9.  He is 70 lbs, but really should be 60 lbs.

We start with checking the dog food and find that a 70 lbs dog is fed 4 cups per day (not per meal).   

Clifford is neutered (negative mark #1).  Immediately, we can reduce the amount fed by 25-33% from the bag recommendation.  So, we alter Clifford’s food to 3 cups per day.

Additionally, Clifford is already overweight (negative mark #2).  We should not be feeding him to maintain 70 lbs, but less to reduce his weight to 60 lbs.  So, we adjust his diet another 10-15%.  Now, Clifford is down to 2.5 cups per day.

And finally, Clifford’s owner is busy and rarely gets him off the couch (negative mark #3).  His activity is very low and really not conducive to good health.  So, we adjust his food again by 10-15%.  Now, Clifford is down to 2.0 cups per day.

As you can see, we started with the bag recommendation of 4 cups per day and quickly reduced his diet to 2 cups per day.  Although this may seem extreme, it is not unusual to feed 50% of the recommendation on a bag of food.

We hope this helps.  A healthy weight dog is at lower risk of arthritis, diabetes, cardiac disease….  We’ve all heard the list before, but for humans.  Many of these same diseases and risk factors exist for dogs too.  Good luck.  Don’t forget, consult your veterinarian before starting ANY weight loss plan.  We can help you if you live in or near Kenosha, Racine, Mt. Pleasant, Franksville, Caledonia, etc.