How much food do puppies need? The science behind puppy portion size

By on 25-04-2019 at 14:14

Not sure how much food you should give your puppy? John Woods, founder of "All Things Dogs", and recognised author by the Dog Writers Association of America, shares the science behind meal portion sizes for your puppy.

When feeding puppies, there are generally two schools of thought:


1. The first is to free-feed.


This is where a topped-up bowl is provided for the pup throughout the day and it is for the pup to decide when he/she wants to eat.


2. The other option is to follow the food label guidelines to a T and weigh out every meal.


We’re here to advocate the latter option and we’ll explain why. Firstly, let’s take a look at free-feeding.


What is free-feeding?

Here you are banking on your pup having self-control. They will eat until they're satiated and for no longer. You will hear owners say that pups do leave food in their bowl, which can indeed be true. But, playing devil’s advocate, is this behaviour likely to continue or be frequent enough to avoid overeating? Is it self-control or simply the spoiling of the food?


Leaving a bowl of food out all day carries its own hygiene risks. It will spoil, especially if it’s canned. To put it in human terms, would you rather eat a fresh biscuit from its packet or one that’s been left on a plate all day?


The trouble with free-feeding is often linked to fussy eating patterns. This can even result in dogs not eating. Here you run the risk of malnutrition, which is even more detrimental in puppyhood.

Puppy nutrition requirements

Puppies have totally different nutritional requirements than dogs. They are growing and developing at a rapid rate and need nutrients to support this. As a comparison, a puppy needs 12.5g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight whereas a matured dog only needs 2.62g.


It’s easy to see how puppies use so much energy whilst their small bodies are growing. Puppy foods are specifically formulated to meet these nutritional needs in the amounts suggested on their feeding guidelines. If your pup isn’t eating properly, their needs won’t be met, and they won’t grow or develop as they should.

Problem with overfeeding puppies

If a pup hasn’t yet developed self-control and continues to eat, you run the risk of over-feeding. Puppy foods are often higher in caloric content simply because of their energy requirements. Therefore, over-feeding can very quickly lead to unnecessary weight gain.


Apart from obvious issues associated with being overweight, overfed puppies can be a detriment to large or giant breeds. As these breeds grow rapidly, their skeleton and joints are less dense and therefore weaker. Unnecessary weight gain places undue pressure on the bones and joints, which can increase a puppy's chances of developing skeletal issues as they grow.


In short, there is a reason manufacturers have spent the time creating their feeding guidelines.


Science for feeding a puppy

For the mathematical nuts amongst us, the following formula is a sound guide to working out your puppy’s energy requirements. However, as always, we also recommend seeking expert advice from your vet - especially if you’re less inclined to get mathematical.


Talking to an expert about the right food/s and quantities for your puppy’s specific breed will be a surefire way to ensure they receive the right energy requirements throughout their various stages of development.

Determining your pup’s caloric needs

For a puppy less than 4 months old, use the multiplier 3

For a puppy more than 4 months old, use the multiplier 2

  • Determine your dog’s weight in kilograms (kg) (1kg = 2.2lb)
  • 70 x (kg x 0.75) = a
  • a x (multiplier) = calories per day

*70 = resting energy requirement


Example:


Your 14-week-old puppy weighs 5.8kg. At 14 weeks they are less than 4 months old, so we use the multiplier 3.

  • 70 x (5.8 x 0.75) = 304.5
  • 304.5 x 3 = 913.50 calories per day

Visual / physical assessment

You will know you are feeding your pup the right amount when they're high in energy, happy and healthy. Their perfect weight will have an hourglass figure from a bird’s eye view, and you should be able to see a waistline.


Breeders or shelter vets will be able to give you an indication of the predicted size of your pup at different ages. However, if you have a designer cross-breed, this can vary significantly, so your own eyes and hands may be the best judge.


In the absence of any health issues, if your pup appears a little overweight, it's important to reduce their caloric intake. If you start to notice their ribs becoming visible, you'll likely need to increase their caloric intake.


Because of the potential for weight fluctuations particularly when free-feeding, it is for this reason we advocate scheduled feeding with weighed meals. This also helps if you have a multi-pet home. If you left a topped-up bowl out all day, how do you know other pets aren’t eating your puppy's food?


However, if you do need to increase/decrease energy intake, you'll know where to start. After all, you have absolute control over what your pup eats.

It's down to you!

As you can see, puppies have very specific nutritional needs. The food you feed and how much of it will affect how they grow and develop. Allowing a puppy to over-feed can lead to excess nutrient levels and unnecessary weight gain that can be detrimental to their skeletal development. Equally, not feeding your pup enough can result in stunted growth and development.


How many calories your pup uses will be influenced by their breed and lifestyle. Make sure to monitor their weight and general health alongside manufacturer's guidelines and their predicted energy requirements.


And as always, if you have any concerns about what or how much you are feeding your puppy, speak with your vet for complete peace of mind.


How do you determine how much to feed your pup?


- John Woods

Founder of All Things Dogs, a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, graduate in animal welfare and behaviour and a recognised author by the Dog Writers Association of America.

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