This is by far the most asked question in veterinary practice. It is a great question because the answer is not as straight forward as you might think. The amount of food changes as they grow. The nutritional profile for puppy food needs special qualities. Feeding a combination of wet and dry food requires more careful calculations. And finally, the number of meals also changes as they grow.
How Much to Feed
- Follow the directions on the bag or can of food
This is certainly the easiest method. These instructions are always amounts for the entire day, not each meal. They also assume that no other food is offered. They have been calculated to supply the necessary daily calorie needs to the puppy for its weight.
Important: The directions are for a measuring cup, not a coffee mug, plastic soda cup or big gulp cup!
These instructions are always too generous so feed at the lower end of the range of recommendations. You can always feed more if the puppy begins to thin. Always feed to maintain a 4-5/9 BCS (Body Condition Score) as your puppy grows.
Remember to recheck the feeding instructions after every 5lb. weight gain. These adjustments will need to continue until your puppy reaches its adult weight or its BCS starts to increase above 5/9. Your vet can help.
- Calculate the daily calories
The formula for calculating the daily calorie needs is:
[30 x (Wt.lbs/2.2) + 70] x 3 = Total calories per day
This number is divided by the number of calories per cup or can of food to calculate the number of cups or cans to feed per day. This is a more precise way to feed.
The BAD NEWS: Dog food manufacturers do not have to disclose the number of calories on the label until 2015. To use this method you will have to go to the company website to find the calorie information. Legally it does not have to be posted there either so you may have to call the company.
Calculating calories is the only method that you can use if you feed both canned and dry food. You will need to calculate the number of cups and cans so that the calories of each meet the total daily calories. Guessing amounts of dry and canned to feed at each meal could result in inadequate or excessive nutrition. Your vet should be able to help with the calculations.
Re-calculation is required for every 5lb. weight gain with adjustment made to maintain the ideal BCS.
Feeding amounts are always starting points or land marks whether using the label or calculating. Use the BCS as your guide. If your puppy or dog’s BCS slips to a 3/9, feed more and if it increases to a 6/9, feed less.
If you change brands of puppy food, canned or dry, you will need to change the amount you feed. There is no standard for calories per cup or can and they can vary as much as 100-200 between brands. Always read the feeding instructions for the new food or re-calculate based on the new calorie count.
What to Feed
Puppies need food, canned or dry, that is specifically formulated for them. Puppies need more calcium and phosphorus in very specific proportions. They need more protein and fat. Adult foods do not meet these criteria so always feed a formula labeled for puppies or “all life stages.”
It is recommended to feed dogs a puppy formula until their skeletons are mature. This of course varies with breeds. Toy and small breeds generally achieve skeletal maturation at 6 months, medium breeds at 12 months, large breeds at 16-18 months and giant breeds 24-30 months. Ask your veterinarian for specific advice for your dog.
The Number of Meals to Feed
Five to eight week old puppies should be fed 3-5 meals daily. The amount for each meal should be divided to equal the total daily requirement. Overfeeding in this age group is not critical since it is a very fast growing period. Puppies between eight and 16 weeks should be fed 3 meals daily. Puppies older than 16 weeks can be fed two meals daily just like adults. Once a day feeding is not ideal for dogs.
~Dr Ken Tudor
The Dog Dietitian