If you’ll pardon the pun, obesity in pets is a growing problem. According to the 8th annual National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey (2014), 58% of cats and 53% of dogs in the USA are obese. According to the 2014 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day survey, 52.7% of dogs and 57.9% of cats in the USA are obese. Different studies, similar results.
As with humans, the primary causes of obesity are overeating and not enough exercise, but it goes further than just portion control. Sometimes the type of food we feed our pets is to blame. Many foods contain ‘fillers’ like grain, corn and bone meal that provide more bulk than substance. These can cause weight gain and other health problems.
Let’s look at dogs first
How much you should feed your dog depends on their age, breed and size. There are general guidelines, of course, but if you want to be spot on then you should consult your vet about the right quantity of food for your dog.
Birth to 8 weeks
Unless you’re a breeder or foster parent with rescued puppies, you shouldn’t have a puppy younger than 8 weeks old as they should still be with their mom. The mother’s milk provides all the nutrients and antibodies needed for pups to become strong and healthy. Moms usually wean their puppies by the time they are 8 weeks old, but when the pups are around 3 – 4 weeks old you can begin feeding some solid foods. A mixture of three parts food with one part puppy replacement milk (or water) helps puppies digest solid food. When puppies are 6 weeks old you can feed the puppy (semi) solid food 3 – 4 times a day. Once they’re 8 weeks old, you can feed the puppies three times a day. It’s not uncommon for puppies to be chubby, but puppy fat usually melts off as they get more active.
Three months through to six months
This is the teething stage and pups may become fussy or reluctant eaters. Dry kibble helps them through the teething stage. If there are issues like upset tummies or you’re worried about excessive loss of appetite, take your pup to your veterinarian. There may be an underlying medical problem and pup might need a prescription diet for a while. At this stage puppies should be fed 2 – 3 times per day.
Six months to one year
Dogs start to lose their puppy looks at this stage but they are still technically puppies and should still be on high quality puppy food. You can switch from puppy food to adult food when your dog is one year old. Puppy food is higher in fat that adult food. If you keep your pup on puppy food for too long, you run the risk of obesity. Try to stick to the same brand or diet, as this will make the transition easier. From around 6 months on you can feed your pup twice a day.
Adult dogs also have a general feeding guide but you may need to tweak it according to weight, health, age and activity. If you are worried about your dog’s weight you should pay a visit to your vet. If your dog doesn’t have any weight issues, follow the feeding directions on the packet of food.
One other thing you should consider is the number of treats your dog gets per day. Allocate part of your dog’s daily food allowance to training treats, including high-value cheese, chicken and liver. According to Dog Breed Info Center, you need to adjust the amount of dry kibble you feed if your dog also eats wet food. Half and half is usually a reliable ratio.
Dog Breed Info Center also provides the following feeding reference table:
|Typical Breed||Weight in pounds||Dry Food|
|Chihuahua, Yorkshire Terrier, Toy Poodle||0 – 10||1/4 to 3/4 cup|
|Miniature Poodle, Scottish Terrier||10 – 25||3/4 to 1 cup|
|Cocker Spaniel, Beagle, Springer Spaniel||25 – 50||1 to 2 cups|
|Collie, Boxer, Labrador, Golden Retriever||50 – 75||2 to 2 ½ cups|
|Great Dane, Malamute, St. Bernard, Mastiff||75+||2 to 4 cups|
Moving onto cats
Most cat parents leave a bowl of dried food next to the water bowl so that their cat can nibble when she feels like snacking. It may seem like a good idea if your cat blows off set meal times, but this route can also lead to overfeeding and obesity, as most people simply fill up the bowl when it’s empty without really considering quantities.
Cat feeding variables
Do you have a cat or a kitten, is your cat is pregnant or nursing kittens, what are your cat’s age, weight and activity levels? All these are important factors when determining your cat’s feeding schedule.
Again, brand and quality of cat food makes a difference. A high quality cat food will have far more nutrients by weight than a lower quality brand and you will use less of the higher quality cat food to reach the right nutritional balance while still satisfying your cat’s appetite. A combination of wet and dry food is usually best, with the wet food being fed twice a day.
The pellets from breakfast can be left out for your cat to nibble on throughout the day, but the bowl shouldn’t be topped up until supper time. Any pellets left by suppertime should be thrown out as they get stale and they could get damp and moldy.
Overfeeding is easy
The Animal Medical Center in New York suggests that a healthy, active adult cat needs approximately 30 calories per pound daily. So an 8-pound adult cat needs 240 calories per day. Typically a cup of dry cat food has around 300 calories per cup and canned food has around 250 calories in a 6oz. can. So, an average 8-pound cat will eat 4/5 of a cup of dry food, or just less than a full can of wet food per day. If you’re feeding a combination of dry and wet food, you can just divide each portion in half. It’s best to feed your cat twice a day, so you’ll have to divide any daily portions in half again.
As for the kittens
Kittens need to be fed more than twice a day, because their tummies are tiny and they expend a great deal of energy with all their playfulness. Very young kittens can have 3 – 4 small meals per day. From 3 – 7 months you can feed your kitten three times a day and from 7 months on you can feed your kitten twice a day.
Kittens also need more protein in their diets than adult cats. A balanced diet for an adult cat contains at least 26% protein and 9% fat. Kittens need approximately 30 – 40% more than that. That’s why you should always feed your kitten food specifically for kittens and not adult cat food. When your cat is a year old you can transition to adult food.