How Much Should I Feed My Pet?

by Sarah Griffiths, DCH in Raw Basics, Dogs, Cats
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Do you feel unsure about how much food your pet needs on a daily basis? When you feed processed food, the bag gives some guidelines about how much to feed and when you feed raw, there are some basic instructions as well. But what if I told you, it’s not just about what it says on the bag? In today’s blog, we are going to talk about the best way to feed your pet to ensure they are getting enough (or not too much) and why feeding the exact same amount every day might not be the best approach.

There is No One Size Fits All When It Comes to Feeding

We get a ton of questions about how much food to feed pets. And it’s always a really tough question to answer. The reason being that animals are individuals with their own unique metabolisms and energy levels. Factors that go into deciding how much to feed include age, weight, what their ideal weight should be, exercise and, even health challenges can affect the amount of food your pet needs. My best advice: FEED THE ANIMAL IN FRONT OF YOU. 

Let me explain.

Whether you feed raw or something else, it’s important to make a daily assessment about what to feed. This is especially true for animals that do performance sports or have very active lives. It’s also true for young animals who are constantly growing and changing. What you fed yesterday might not be appropriate today. So while we can give you charts and labels with feeding recommendations, it cannot take the place of your observational skills. All things must be considered in order to make decisions about how much to feed your fur family members.


The Determining Factors For Feeding

Age
Whatever age your pet is, it matters for determining how much to feed. Young puppies may eat anywhere from 4-6% of their own bodyweight at certain stages of development. Adults can range in their caloric needs depending on whether they are sterilized vs. intact, giant breed vs. miniature, a working dog or just a companion, healthy or suffering from health challenges. In their senior years, pets can have a reduction in their metabolism which often results in them needing less food.

Desexed Pets Vs. Intact Pets
Intact pets have higher metabolic rates, especially males. Testosterone promotes higher muscle mass which, in turn, increases metabolic rate. Healthy intact females also have an increased metabolic rate, though not quite as drastic as males. Animals that are spayed and neutered have lower metabolic rate and higher risk of obesity. (1) (2) So, if you have a young animal (under 1 year) and you spay or neuter them, their food intake will likely need to decrease after their surgery.

Breed
Breed will play a part in how much your pet needs to eat. In the dog world, giant breeds have a significantly lower metabolic rate than smaller breeds. Giant cats (the Maine coon) may need some special considerations as well. I’ll teach you how to figure out the best method for feeding all breed types. Keep reading!

Weight 
Is your pet fat or fluffy? Your pet’s current weight will need to be assessed to figure out if you need to maintain, increase or decrease the calories. Your pet’s ideal weight is his weight at a body score of 3 (see chart below). The perfect body condition will mean that you can feel the ribs and vertebrae, one by one but you should not be able to see them. If you can see them clearly, your pet is underweight and needs more food. If you cannot see or feel the ribs and vertebrae, your pet is too heavy and needs to eat less. We encourage you to regularly check your pet’s body condition to catch these changes as early as possible and correct them. Both obesity and malnourishment are serious health concerns that can cause damage to your pet if it’s not addressed in a timely fashion.

Dog Body Condition Scoring

Dog Body Condition Scoring Chart | Red Dog Blue Kat

Cat Body Condition Scoring

Cat Body Condition Scoring Chart | Red Dog Blue Kat

Activity Level
Animals all have their own energy level and natural vitality. This is determined partly by all the factors mentioned above. If you have a really fit and athletic pet or a dog or cat who spends a large part of the day moving around outside, they will often need more food than a companion pet that only walks for 1 hour a day and spends more time indoors.

Golden Retriever running in water

Health Challenges
If your pet suffers from a health issue such as diabetes, obesity or hyper/ hypothyroidism this will affect their dietary needs. You will need to really watch them to help them maintain their ideal weight. These issues increase the need for you to carefully observe your pet for signs of weight gain or loss.

Caloric Value of Food
Different foods have different caloric values. Calories are energy and each type of food has its own unique caloric value. And when you’re feeding raw, the formulas can be so diverse, it can get a bit overwhelming! That’s why we have a feeding guide to help you determine how much to feed based on the caloric value of the food. We urge you to use this to give you a ballpark on where to start with how much to feed your pet. It’s free!

Feeding Guide | Red Dog Blue Kat

Using Your Observational Skills: The Golden Rule!
This is the number one most important rule of thumb when it comes to feeding animals. I always stress to clients that you must observe the animal in front of you. Take the time to really look at your pet on a regular basis so you are in tune with what they need. If you regularly touch them, you can feel their body condition, even if they are fluffy. If you take an all-day hike once a week, don’t be afraid to feed more food that day. If you see your pet gaining weight, adjust their food intake until you see the result you want. Same thing if they are losing weight. Just remember to make changes slowly and steadily so there isn’t added stress on your pet. If you’re having trouble keeping weight on your pet or helping them lose weight, it’s a good idea to do a wellness check with your veterinarian to make sure there is no underlying medical condition that needs addressing.

I hope this helps guide you in the best way to judge how much to feed your pet. If you need more help, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Happy feeding!

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References:

  1.  Effects of neutering on bodyweight, metabolic rate and glucose tolerance of domestic cats, Research in Veterinary Science, 1997
  2. Effect of diet on bodyweight, body composition, metabolic status and physical activity levels of adult female dogs after spay surgery, Journal of Animal Science, 2020