The other day I came across a conversation in a Labrador Retriever focused Facebook group in which a dog owner was asking fellow dog owners how much they fed their dogs. Their puppy was still growing and they were not sure if he was gaining too much weight too quickly and if they were feeding him an appropriate amount of food or if they should pull back his food intake.
I watched the conversation continue as different owners chimed in with the number of cups that they fed to their own Labrador Retrievers as puppies and as adults. Some owners said that they fed three cups split into two meals, others fed four cups of food, others gave two cups. What I found interesting was that nobody mentioned the number of calories that they fed their dogs or took into consideration the brand and formula of pet food that they were each feeding, meaning that their answers were not even remotely close to being helpful for the particular dog owner. It was like comparing apples to cucumbers for the dog owner who had asked the question. Of course this made me wonder how many other dog owners struggle with this question.
Jackson and Tinkerbell both consume roughly 1797 kcals per day, split into three eight once cup servings. Most adult dogs do not get three meals a day but mine are creatures of habit and we just kept on that schedule after puppyhood. In fact, they know the phrase “puppy lunch” quite well and know that it happens at 11:30 on the dot. This amount is perfect for them in the winter months. Tink weighs in around 65 pounds which is perfect for her and Jackson is around 78. They both have a nicely tucked up waist and a lean layer of fat over their rib cages which is ideal for their breed, neither too skinny nor too fat.
Think of kcals as you would think of the number of calories in a serving of human food. A serving of dog food is measured as an 8 ounce measuring cup, so instead of 140 calories for your container of human yogurt, you will see “Kcals per cup” on your dog food bag or manufacturer website. If you want a very detailed explanation of how Kcals are actually calculated you can find it at the Association of American Feed Control Officials, otherwise known as the AAFCO. Since pet food manufacturers have to provide the information, as well as the guaranteed analysis of other nutritional information, you can just go with the information that is provided instead of figuring it out on your own. It is an interesting read, though, if you have the time.
Brands of food vary dramatically in how many kcals per cup are in their food. I am a committed customer of holistic, organic dog food Canine Caviar, which has around 599 kcals per cup in most of its formulas with the exception of their Special Needs formula, which is just one of the many things that I love about their food. A low quality food like Purina Beneful Originals in beef flavor has 333 kcals per cup, so you would have to feed your dog nearly twice as much of that food in order to match the kcals per day that I feed in Canine Caviar. Zignature Whitefish formula, which is my backup brand for Jackson and Tinkerbell has 424 kcals/cup so I have to increase their portions each day to meet the same caloric count if I feed them that food.
Here are some other brands of food and their kcals/cup:
Wellness Complete Health Adult Deboned Chicken & Chicken Meal Recipe: 386
Fromm Four Star Nutritionals Whitefish & Potato: 360
Hill’s Science Diet Advanced Fitness: 363
Royal Canin Labrador Retriever Adult: 276
Nutro High Endurance Adult Dog Food: 365
Each brand should have feeding guidelines on the bag for a variety of activity levels. It is important to be honest with yourself on how active your dog truly is and also monitor your dog’s weight carefully throughout her life to ensure that she is growing at an appropriate pace during her puppy years and is neither underweight nor overweight as an adult. It is likely that you will need to adjust the number of kcals that you feed your dog as he/she goes through different phases of life and sometimes at different times throughout the year. For example a hunting dog will burn more calories during duck or pheasant season than when just hanging with the family in front of the fireplace.
With both Jackson and Tinkerbell we hit a point where their puppy metabolism slowed and I had to reduce their calories accordingly as they gained more than the desired “layer of fat” between their rib cage and skin. This happened with each of them as they left puppyhood and became adult dogs. I have also learned that they are far more active in the fall, winter and spring than they are during summer, so I reduce their kcals slightly during the summer months when the Chicagoland heat and humidity soars and they take up their residency on top of the air conditioning vents. Usually cutting down to a half a cup at puppy lunch and leaving their breakfast and dinner the same works just fine. I signed a “No Fat Labs” promise when I picked both of my puppies up and I make sure that I abide by it for their overall health.
If you are raising a puppy that you purchased from a professional breeder, go with the guidelines on your bag of food but also make sure that you check with your breeder to find out how much to feed and how quickly your puppy should grow. Exemplary breeders should be more than happy to answer these questions and provide information on nutrition and other topics throughout your dog’s entire life.
The rate of growth is particularly important for large breed puppies who could have joint issues from too many calories and growing too quickly or becoming too heavy while their joints are growing. You can also ask your veterinarian during your first puppy visit, which should occur within days after bringing that puppy home, and then consult about your puppy’s weight and progress at each of your subsequent puppy vaccination appointments.
Another very interesting resource is a Google Hangout that I was fortunate to participate in with Jeff Baker, the founder and President of Canine Caviar, when I was a content writer for them. He shares what I consider to be extremely interesting information on how the amount of food that you feed to small breed puppies can impact their colon and cause incontinence or colon issues. He also talks about how you can gauge whether or not your puppy is growing too quickly by whether or not their paws turn out to the side or face front.
A great resource on how many calories to feed your dog can be found on the Dog Food Advisor website using their Dog Food Calculator. Also check out their page about How To Determine Your Dog’s Ideal Weight.
Thank you for reading and following me. Love, Laugh, Woof, and give your dog a tummy rub from me.