“How much should I be feeding my cat or dog” is probably one of the most common questions I get asked during a consultation. Unfortunately, the answer depends on a multitude of factors and is highly specific for an individual pet. However, understanding the general nutritional needs of our pets as well as optimal feeding practices can help to guide owners in giving the correct amount of food to their canine and feline friends.
When trying to establish how much to feed your cat or dog, the first thing you need to do is make sure the food you have is appropriate.
Just like us humans, our cats and dogs have unique dietary needs that are critical for their overall health and well-being. Notably, the needs of cats and dogs are also distinct from each other which is why you shouldn’t feed your cat food to your dog and vice versa.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provides guidelines that help establish nutrient profiles for pet food. These profiles are based on extensive research, ensuring that the essential nutrients required by our pets are adequately met. Checking your chosen food says, ‘Complete and Balanced’ and has the AAFCO statement on the bag identifies that the company has followed the established guidelines in the production of the food.
In addition, it is important to note that our pets’ nutrient demands can differ during certain periods of their lives. Puppies and kittens for example have unique growth and development requirements and should be fed a puppy or kitten-specific food. Again, the labelling on the bag will indicate if it is suitable for your pet’s life stage OR if you see ‘appropriate for all life stages’, like on the Feline Natural and K9 Natural complete diet range, then you know you’re onto a winner.
So, now that you’ve ensured you are feeding the correct type of food, it’s time to talk about how much you should be putting in the food bowl.
In a world where I see far more overweight pets than underweight ones, getting portion control correct is vital. Just like us, an overweight pet can be predisposed to joint issues, diabetes, certain cancers, and reduced well-being. However, determining the precise caloric intake and therefore the quantity of food for your cat or dog can be a challenging task. This is why most commercial foods have feeding guides on the back of their packets which indicate how much you should dish up at mealtime. These are usually based on energy requirement guidelines from bodies such as the National Research Council that factor in things like size, activity level, and life stage.
At the risk of sounding unprofessional, I generally advocate for people to simply start at the recommended amount on the back of the packet for their cat or dog. It is however important to note that these are only designed to be a guide and individual characteristics of your cat or dog such as their breed, activity level, appetite, and metabolism need to be considered. This is why it is a good idea to revisit your vet 4-6 weeks after starting a food for an assessment of your furry friend’s body condition and ideal weight range so that any adjustments to the quantity of food being fed can be made to suit your pet’s unique needs. It also allows you to discuss flexibility in the diet to include some treats… because life is short after all!
With the total amount of food sorted, determining the ideal feeding frequency for your cat or dog depends on a number of factors such as age, preference, and activity level.
For example, puppies and kittens, have a higher energy requirement and therefore benefit from more frequent meals. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) recommends puppies up to 4-6 months of age should be fed 3-4 meals per day and kittens of the same age between 4-5 meals per day. After they reach around 6 months old, both cats and dogs can transition to two meals per day, which suits most pets at this life stage well. Importantly, however, when reading feeding guides on the back of packets, be aware that these usually indicate the total amount of food for the day, not per meal. If you make that mistake, you may end up with a slightly rounder pet than you intended!
Of course, there are times in your pet’s life when temporary adjustments to the quantity and feeding frequency of their food should be made, such as increasing it during pregnancy and lactation or decreasing it if your pet is being rested for an extended period after surgery.
Nevertheless, the best way to stay on top of things, and to avoid the dreaded d(iet) word, is with appropriate, good quality food and regular check-ins with your vet to ensure the portions you are serving result in optimal health and well-being for your pet!
Written by Dr. Josie Gollan.