How Do I Know I am Feeding the Right Amount of Food?

Judging how much to feed your pet can be difficult because of the large variation in the food requirements between different pets. Even pets of the same weight and breed can have very different food requirements. All pet foods have feeding guides, and these are a great place to start, but sometimes you need to make adjustments based on your individual pet. A feeding guide should reflect the energy requirements of your individual cat or dog, because the golden rule of nutrition is you eat to meet your energy requirement. Eat too little and pets become thin, eat too much and pets become fat. Any deviation in your pets’ energy requirement is reflected in their food requirement, because the two are directly connected. There are many different reasons why your pets’ energy requirements may vary. Here we will explain some of those reasons and help you determine how much to feed your pet.

 One Size Does Not Fit All
The weight and breed of your pet affects their energy requirement, and therefore the amount of food they need. This is especially true for dogs, due to their wide range of breeds & weights. Feeding guides try to take into account differences due to weight, but there is still scientific debate on which energy equations are the best to use to account for variation in weight. Different breeds of the same weight can have very different energy requirement. A good example are Newfoundland dogs which have a much lower energy requirement than other dogs of a similar weight. Activity level will also affect energy requirement, but the greatest variation of all is a cat’s or dog’s individual variation in body metabolism. Just like us, some dogs and cats have a low body metabolism and therefore lower energy requirements. These pets seems to put on weight very easily, while other dogs and cats have a high metabolism and can pack away the food without putting on weight.

So how do you know how much to feed your pet?
Look at the feeding guides to get an estimate of how much food to start feeding your cat or dog, then look at your pet’s body condition to judge if the amount of food needs to be adjusted up or down.

Here are 2 ways to quickly tell if your pet is getting too much or too little food:

  • Check the ribs. With short-haired pet you should see some outline of the ribs, but the ribs are not predominant. In long-haired pets you should be able to feel the ribs under their coat, but not see their outline.
  • Check the waist. Like humans, the waist is the first thing to disappear when a pet gains too much weight. Both dogs and cats should have a narrowing between the ribs and the hind legs when seen from above, and a noticeable tuck when seen from the side. Cats often deposit more fat in the upper chest, so look and feel between their front legs.

We all eat to meet our energy requirements; your cat or dog will eat roughly the same amount of energy no matter what food you feed. For this reason, when changing or comparing foods, the best way to judge how much to feed of a new food is to start by measuring how much you are currently feeding. The better pet foods will tell you their energy content per cup, or per can of wet food. Use your current feeding rate and adjust for the difference in calories to know how much to feed of the new food.

For example: Your dog is eating 2½ cups a day of a food which has 400kcal/cup. Now you want to compare to another food that has 370 kcal/cup (less calories per cup). This means your dog would eat 2.5 x (400/370) = 2.7 cups of the new food.

Pudgy Puppies and Kittens
It is harder to judge how much to feed a puppy or kitten because their food requirements need to be adjusted up as they grow. The advantage of pups and kittens is because of their higher energy requirements; their body condition is quick to reflect if you need to adjust their food up or down. One problem with body condition scoring kittens and puppies is that we think they are adorable when slightly overweight. Remember, slightly overweight pups and kittens are cuter, slightly trimmer pups and kittens are healthier.

Did the adjustment in food work?
While you still need to check your pet’s ribs and waist, the quickest way to know if your adjustment is making a difference is to get on the scale. It’s easier to see a change in weight by weighing your pet versus judging their body condition, so if possible jump on that scale to measure changes in weight. Feeding requirements can change spaying, neutering or certain health issues are good examples of where feeding guides don’t always reflect the pets’ energy requirement. For example, spaying or neutering causes an almost immediate 25% decrease in energy requirement. If the amount of food provided is not decreased, this can result in a 20% increase in weight in just 4-5 weeks. After spaying or neutering, it is advisable to decrease your pets’ food intake by 25% and then monitor their body condition, readjusting as required.

For cats or small dogs which eat under 1½ cups per day it can be very difficult to accurately measure fractions of a cup. Our easy & accurate suggestion is to measure the entire day’s eating into a container and feed their meals from the container. You can also try weighing the food (most accurate) if you have a handy measuring device.

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