Tuesday, 15 March 2011

TVIL: How Much Should I Feed My Dog?

How much should I be feeding my English Springer Spaniel, she has a baked bean tin size tin of meat in jelly a day and biscuits left in her dish all the time, some days she doesn't eat them others she'll eat a mug full. Is this the right amount?? She's 2 & weighs 12kg. 
Cathy D

Dear Cathy,
'How much should I feed my pet?' is a question I get asked all the time.
No matter what kind of pet is involved my answer is usually the same: Read the Label!
Pet foods vary so wildly in their nutritional content that the only way to be sure you are feeding your pet the 'right' amount is to read the recommended amount specific to the food your pet is eating.
All decent brands will have this information on them somewhere, if you can't find a recommendation then I suggest you swap brands! 
If you feed different types of food, ie cans and dried, then you will have to adjust your proportions accordingly. 

Cathy, your dog sounds like she is slightly unusual in that she is able to eat only what her body tells her she needs. This is uncommon in dogs and is the reason we don't recommend dogs have free access to food. If you fed a Labrador this way, it would probably go through 15kgs of dried food in a week and quickly start to resemble something that should be upholstered and used as a footrest. Cats are often better at just eating what they need, and no more, but if you notice they are becoming 'cuddly', it's time to feed them a measured amount each day.

Most recommendations are presented as a range of amounts. If your pet is an average size, then start with a middle-of-the-range amount. If your pet is carrying too much weight, then feed at the lower end of the range and if they are on the skinny side, then go for a higher amount.
I don't bother too much with weights as they can be tricky to measure correctly if you don't have proper walk on scales. Learn to score their Body Condition and you can make sure they are getting the right amount of food without fixating on their weight. And if you have a cross breed or a purebred animal that obviously falls outside the norm, then you will know they are the right size when they have a body score of 3. You should be able to feel their ribs just under their skin and their abdomen should look tucked up when they are viewed from side. If their ribs start disappearing, feed them 10% less, and if their spine starts becoming visible then give them 10-20% more.

Cathy's Spaniel is 6 kgs than she should be if you look at the breed standard weight, but is almost certainly not  emaciated. Dogs, like people, come in different shapes and frames. Cathy's dog sounds like she has a small frame and so probably has a body score closer to 2 , than 3. This doesn't mean there is a problem. If you think your pet is too thin, no matter what you feed them, it's worth getting them checked out just to make sure they aren't sick. But if they get a clean bill of health from your vet, then don't stress about it. Just accept that your pet is petite but healthy and try not to get too cross when people comment on how skinny they are.

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