Why should you care how much you feed your dog? 1. You don’t want to kill her, and 2. You don’t want her to be unhealthy (Which is really just killing your dog slowly. Sorry to be morbid.)

Like humans, dogs' bodies abide by the physics of diet and exercise. Also like humans, their short term desires don’t always have the best long term effects. If you take nothing else away from this except that diet and exercise are linked to a dog’s health and that they sometimes eat more than they need, you probably will do right by your dog.

For those of you who like details though, here’s how, or rather, here’s how to think about how to feed your pup because Spoiler Alert: You won’t find an exact answer below. You ultimately should ask your vet, do your own research, and use your own judgement based on observations of your specific pet.

That being said, here are some general considerations to get you started:

How often should you feed your dog?

As you’ll see if you read all the answers to these rhetorical questions, your dog’s ideal diet will mostly depend on the same handful of factors:

  • Age
  • Size
  • Breed
  • Activity Level

When it comes to how often to feed your dog, the biggest factor is age. The general guidelines are thus:

Puppies 2-6 months old: 3-4 times a day Little bellies mean lots of small feedings.

Puppies 6 months - 3 years old: 1-2 times a day Most people agree that around 6 months you can switch to 2 feedings a day. From then until about the age of 3 years old, you’ll want to follow your vet’s advice and adjust your dog’s feeding frequency as he grows. Keep in mind it’s best to make changes in diet gradually.

Mature Dogs 3+ years old: 1-2 times a day After the age of 3, how often you feed your dog will depend more on the other factors. Most people opt to feed their dogs twice a day - once in the morning and again in the evening; however, if you have an older dog or even a younger dog that is... how should we say this? more of a professional lounger, you may opt for feeding once a day.

How much should you feed your dog?

All dog food should have serving recommendations somewhere on the packaging. If you spend 2 minutes on the internet you’ll learn that those recommendations aren’t perfect. They’re likely not breed specific and they certainly aren’t made with any knowledge of how active your dog is.

But they’re a starting point.

Use those recommendations and adjust up or down based on what you know about your dog. Some things to consider:

  • Is she active?
  • Is she finishing all of her food now? (If she’s not, you might want to feed her less, if she is, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should feed her more though.)
  • Is she getting additional calories from treats?
  • Is she currently at a healthy weight?
  • What do others recommend for your dog’s breed? (smaller breeds tend to require more food per pound than larger breeds)

Keep in mind that labels will often give recommendations in AMOUNT PER DAY. This means you’ll have to do the math of how much to feed at each meal depending on how frequently you feed.

What type of dog food should you feed your dog?

If you ever need to explain the paradox of choice to someone, you should probably use dog food as the illustrative example. That is to say, you have lots of options and because there are so many options you’ll actually be less happy with whatever you choose.

That’s only in the beginning though. Once you find the right dog food there will be few reasons to change. In fact, sudden changes in what you feed your dog are bad.

Dry vs Wet (canned) vs Semi-moist

If you dig deep you will certainly find someone making a nutritional argument for one type of dog food over another, but popular wisdom will tell you that dry food is the most economical and can be perfectly healthy. Most people resort to wet (canned) dog food if their dog is a picky eater, and semi-moist dog food is rarely mentioned at all.

Food for Puppies

Puppies require different types of nutrients and in different quantities than adult dogs, but rather than leaving you to figure out those differences yourself, someone invented puppy food.

The One Thing to Look For

After reading this you’re not going to be an expert on reading a dog food label, but maybe you don’t have to be. If you don’t trust yourself to learn nuances, like that “beef dinner” means the food is 10% beef but “with beef” means it contains less than 3%, then you can ignore those and focus on one thing: “Complete and Balanced.”

Apparently, this means something in the dog world (unlike in the human world where sugary cereal is somehow part of a complete and balanced breakfast). The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) strictly regulates what it means for dog food to be “Complete and Balanced.” Any dog food with this claim must contain the minimum amount of all of the nutrients necessary for dogs.

There are a lot of reasons for your dog to have more than the minimum of a given nutrient, so again, this is just a starting point.

What should you NOT feed your dog?

You’re probably at least vaguely aware that some foods which are regularly enjoyed by humans can be deadly to our canine friends. Your primary weapon in mitigating the risk of your dog eating something deadly is to only ever give your dog food that is formulated for dogs.

That being said, your dog may find a way to eat something that you didn’t give him. To prepare yourself for that scenario, here is a partial list of the most common foods you do NOT want to let your pup eat:

  • Chocolate - can lead to vomiting, dehydration, abdominal pain, muscle tremors, irregular heart rhythm, seizures, and death
  • Cooked bones - they can splinter and cause injuries
  • Leeks, Onions, and Garlic - they can cause anaemia and if eaten in large quantities may require a hospital trip
  • Dairy - most dogs are lactose intolerant and may experience vomiting, diarrhea or worse
  • Grapes, raisins, and cranberries - they can cause rapid kidney failure. Keep in mind these can often be found in trail mixes
  • Sugar-free candy - can lead to a spike in insulin levels and consequently liver problems
  • White bread - can lead to pancreatitis