If your dog had his way, he would probably eat six or seven meals a day – maybe more. The fact of the matter is that dogs love to eat but, as a pet parent, it is your job to make sure that your dog gets the nutrients he needs without going overboard on calories. Overweight and obesity is just as dangerous for dogs as it is for humans, perhaps even more so since once a dog becomes obese it can be very difficult for him to lose weight. If you are concerned about keeping your dog at a healthy weight, you may be wondering how many times a day you should be feeding him. There is no magic number and the right answer depends on multiple factors.
Determining Your Dog’s Calorie Needs
While deciding how many times a day to feed your dog is important, it is more important to determine the right amount to feed him. What many dog owners do not realize is that different brands and recipes for dog food have very different caloric contents. For example, the Classic Real Chicken adult dog recipe from Merrick contains 3,585 calories per kilogram, or about 359 calories per cup. In contrast, the Blue Wilderness Chicken Recipe adult dog recipe from Blue Buffalo contains 3,598 calories per kilogram, or about 409 calories per cup. A difference of fifty calories may not seem significant to you, but you must realize that many dogs only need a couple hundred calories per day, so fifty extra calories each day could make the difference between a healthy bodyweight and an unhealthy bodyweight.
Before you can decide how many times a day to feed your dog, you need to determine the total daily amount you need to feed him and then divide it into multiple portions. In the same way that your body burns a certain number of calories on a daily basis just to maintain essential bodily processes, your dog also needs a certain number of calories for essential energy – this number of calories is referred to as his Resting Energy Requirement (RER). You can calculate your dog’s RER by multiplying his weight in kilograms raised to the ¾ power by 70 – the formula is RER = 70(X kg)3/4. You can perform this calculation yourself or simply find a dog calorie counter or chart online. Once you know your dog’s RER you must then multiply it by his activity factor to determine his total daily calorie requirement.
The more active your dog is, the more energy he will need to maintain a healthy bodyweight. Puppies also have higher energy needs than adult dogs and senior dogs generally have lower energy needs than adult dogs. For example, to calculate the daily energy needs of the average neutered adult dog you would multiply his RER by a factor of 1.6. For a working or active breed, the activity factor could be anywhere from 2.0 to 5.0 and, for an inactive or obese dog, it may be as low as 1.0 or 1.2. Puppies aged zero to four months should use a factor of 3.0 and puppies aged 4 months to adult should use 2.0 as their activity factor. Try using an online calorie calculator to determine your dog’s daily energy requirements.
Once you have your dog’s daily calorie needs, you then need to take a look at the label on your bag of dog food. Locate the “Feeding Guide” or “Feeding Recommendations” portion of the label to determine how many calories the product contains – this information may also be part of the “Guaranteed Analysis”. Then, simply take your dog’s total daily calorie needs and divide it by the number of calories per cup to determine how many cups of food your dog needs each day. You can also simply use the chart on the dog food package that estimates a dog’s needs based on his bodyweight. This estimate doesn’t take into account different activity levels, however, so it may not be as accurate.
Feeding Tips for Puppies and Adult Dogs
After you have calculated your dog’s calorie needs and have determined how many cups of food he needs to meet those needs, your next step is to decide how many times to feed him each day. For the most part, it is a matter of convenience how you choose to divide your dog’s daily portion. If you work a full-time job, it may be easiest for you to feed your dog half of his daily portion in the morning before work and the second half when you return home. This is the best feeding schedule for most dogs. You must consider, however, that puppies and small-breed dogs have higher energy needs than adults and large-breed dogs so they may need to eat more frequently. Most veterinarians and animal nutritionists recommend three daily feedings for puppies and small-breed dogs.
Another question you may find yourself asking is whether it is okay to simply keep your dog’s bowl filled and let him ration his meals himself. This is generally a good idea for puppies because you don’t want to risk not feeding your puppy enough. It may also be a good option for highly active and working breeds. Unless your dog has good self-control and gets enough exercise to balance out the occasional overindulgence, however, measured portions and scheduled feeding times are generally the best way to go. Again, a difference of just a few calories can be significant for some dogs and once your dog becomes overweight or obese, exercise becomes more difficult or even dangerous which means that losing the extra weight will be tough. Prevention is always the best medicine.
Some dog owners find that when they switch their puppy from free feeding to two or three daily meals, their puppy tends not to eat his entire meal at one time. If you feed your dog dry kibble this may not be a problem, but wet food can spoil if left out for too long. One way to deal with this problem is to create and stick to a feeding schedule and, at meal time, only leave your dog’s bowl out for ten minutes then put it away. It may take a few days, but eventually he will get used to eating his meals at the scheduled time. But why is this important? If your dog just picks at his food throughout the day it may be hard for you to monitor how much he is actually eating. Loss of appetite is an early symptom for many health problems – if you notice your dog eating less, you should take him to the vet for a check-up.
As a dog owner, it is your job to take care of your dog’s needs, and that includes regulating his diet. If you aren’t sure where to start, try reading the feeding recommendations on your dog food package or speak to your veterinarian.