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Feeding Guide for Dogs and Cats:
How Much to Feed for Optimal Health

A well-balanced diet with the proper nutrition is important for a happy, healthy dog or cat. Knowing how much to feed isn't always easy. Taking a flexible, common-sense approach to a can help you figure out what works best for your pet.

Most people feed commercial pet foods, either those that are purchased in pet supply stores or the supermarket brands. They can vary significantly in nutritional value (here is one person's take on rating dog foods). Your vet is one source of information about appropriate diets - even better, ask a veterinary nutritionist if you can find one.

People choose to feed different foods for varying reasons. Without analyzing those reasons, here are a few general tips for feeding your dog or cat. There is deliberately an emphasis on keeping your pet at a healthy weight. This is because excess weight can lead to weight-related health issues. Examples of these include joint issues and respiratory problems.

  • Limit table scraps. "People food" is not formulated to meet the nutritional needs of your pet... and it's often too greasy or too rich. This can cause digestive upset in your pet, and too many table scrap treats can lead to your pet becoming overweight. Your pet may also refuse to eat regular pet food once he or she has developed a taste for human food.

  • Don't overfeed treats. Treats are often salty and fatty, and once again, they can cause your pet to gain weight. They're fun to feed and pets love them so it can be hard to stop altogether... but if you find you're feeding too many one day, cut back on your pet's meal to compensate. Obviously it's better for your pets to consume a nutritionally-balanced meal rather than treats, so try not to make too many treats a regular thing.

  • Homemade and raw diets must be carefully balanced. It's hard to provide all the nutritional requirements for your pet. A pet nutritionist can help you figure out appropriate recipes for your pet, as well as what supplements to include, if any.

    Even if you primarily feed a homemade or raw diet, consider occasionally feeding a meal of commercial pet food. The reason for this is that it's not always practical to feed homemade or raw diets - for example, if your pet is staying with friends or family, or with a pet-sitter, or even while traveling with a pet. A pet that's accustomed to an occasional meal of kibble or canned food won't be fazed if that's what's given to him.

  • Do not feed cat food to your dog, or dog food to your cat. Cats and dogs have very different nutritional requirements. Most dogs really love cat food so try to keep it out of reach.

  • Don't feed cooked bones to your pet. Cooked bones splinter easily and can potentially cause serious problems such as intestinal blockages, internal punctures, choking, vomiting, and so on. Some dogs, and even cats, consume raw food diets where they eat raw meaty bones as well as enjoy raw recreational bones. There is still controversy about whether or not feeding raw bones is safe; here is an opinion from Healthy Pets.

  • Kittens and puppies require more food and extra nutrients. Growing animals have special needs in order to develop properly. Some commercial pet foods are specifically formulated for kittens or puppies.

  • Resist "free-feeding". Free-feeding is when pet is left out all the time so that pets can eat whenever they like. Some pets will never overeat; others will eat everything in sight, every chance they get. Free-feeding a pet with the latter tendencies can very easily result in obesity.

  • Set a feeding schedule. Kittens and puppies should be fed several times a day, with the number of meals decreasing as they get older. Adults need only be fed once or twice a day.

  • Use feeding guides as just that: a guide, and not a rule. Pet food bags and cans often recommend that you feed your pet a certain amount of food per day. This is only a guide; every pet is an individual and has different caloric needs. For example, a dog that goes for a run 2 or 3 times a day will likely need more calories than one who prefers to nap the day away on the couch. If your pet gains too much weight, decrease the amount you feed. If he's too thin, increase it. If he's too heavy but always seems hungry, add some healthy fillers like green beans, pureed vegetables, or a tablespoon of pureed pumpkin (pumpkin is very high in fiber and help him feel fuller for longer - make sure it's not pumpkin pie filling, just pure, pureed pumpkin).

  • Always provide fresh water. Wash the bowl daily and make sure that cool, fresh water is always available should your pet want it.

  • Consult your vet if your pet has special needs. Some pets require "senior's" food; others a low-calorie diet; still others are allergic to certain foods. Your vet will be able to advise you on what food may be best for your pet.

There's no universal feeding guide for dogs and cats. Each pet is an individual and the amount fed needs to be catered to each individual pet. Pets who are ill, injured, recovering from surgery, etc... may have different nutritional and caloric needs which your veterinarian can discuss with you.