How Much Food Should I Feed My Dog?

Dog food in a bowl being held by a person in a kitchen while yellow lab looks at it.
Different dogs may need different amounts of food.

 Getty Images/Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm

Dog owners have a lot of options when it comes to the food they choose for their pet, but their brand of choice is only the beginning. Age, size, disease status, and activity level of a dog will determine how much a dog should eat. The amount your dog should be fed might be very different than someone else's dog, so knowing what your specific dog needs is important. Providing proper amounts of food and the appropriate nutrients can help keep your dog not only happy but healthy.

Types of Dog Food

Dog food can come in many forms and each option provides different levels of nutrients and calories that a dog needs. Some of the most common types of dog food include:

  • Dry kibble
  • Canned wet food
  • Pouched wet food
  • Refrigerated kibble
  • Refrigerated tubes
  • Frozen discs or patties
  • Frozen kibble
  • Freeze-dried kibble
  • Homecooked diets
  • Raw food

Nutritional Needs of Dogs

Dogs are omnivores; this means they need more than just meat. Fruits, vegetables and even grains provide a variety of nutrients that a strictly carnivorous diet cannot provide. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets food standards that governing bodies use to ensure dog foods are nutritionally adequate and contain what a dog needs. This means that dog food companies that follow the AAFCO guidelines make foods that are complete and balanced for the specific life stage of a dog that they are labeled for.

Dogs that have health concerns may require different levels of necessary nutrients therefore your vet may recommend a special diet for your specific dog that does not follow AAFCO guidelines. Additionally, large or giant breed dogs may benefit from special formulas to help make sure they don't grow too quickly.

AAFCO Nutrient Requirements for Dogs
Nutrient (% or per kg of food) Growth and Reproduction Minimum Adult Maintenance Minimum Adult Maintenance Maximum
Protein (%) 22.0 18.0
Arginine (%) 0.62 0.51
Histidine (%) 0.22 0.18
Isoleucine (%) 0.45 0.37
Leucine (%) 0.72 0.59
Lysine (%) 0.77 0.63
Methionine + cystine (%) 0.53 0.43
Phenylalanine + tyrosine (%) 0.89 0.73
Threonine (%) 0.58 0.48
Tryptophan (%) 0.20 0.16
Valine (%) 0.48 0.39
Fat (%) 8.0 5.0
Linoleic acid (%) 1.0 1.0
Calcium (%) 1.0 0.6 2.5
Phosphorus (%) 0.8 0.5 1.6
Ca:P ratio 1:1 1:1 2:1
Potassium (%) 0.6 0.6
Sodium (%) 0.3 0.06
Chloride (%) 0.45 0.09
Magnesium (%) 0.04 0.04 0.3
Iron (mg/kg) 80 80 3,000
Copper (mg/kg) 7.3 7.3 250
Manganese (mg/kg) 5.0 5.0
Zinc (mg/kg) 120 120 1,000
Iodine (mg/kg) 1.5 1.5 50
Selenium (mg/kg) 0.11 0.11 2
Vitamin A (IU/kg) 5,000 5,000 250,000
Vitamin D (IU/kg) 500 500 5,000
Vitamin E (IU/kg) 50 50 1,000
Thiamine (mg/kg) 1.0 1.0
Riboflavin (mg/kg) 2.2 2.2
Pantothenic acid (mg/kg) 10 10
Niacin (mg/kg) 11.4 11.4
Pyridoxine (mg/kg) 1.0 1.0
Folic acid (mg/kg) 0.18 0.18
Vitamin B12 (mg/kg) 0.022 0.022
Choline (mg/kg) 1,200 1,200
The amounts of key nutrients dogs need in every kilogram of food.

Caloric Requirements of Dogs

Just like people, the more active a dog is, the more calories it should consume to meet its energy requirements. To determine a starting point, or resting energy requirements (RER), for how many calories your dog should eat each day, a little math is involved.

First calculate how much your dog weighs in kilograms. To determine this, divide your dog's weight in pounds by 2.2. Once you have your dog's weight in kilograms, multiply it by 30. Last, add 70 to that number to get your dog's RER in calories. Next, if your dog is healthy, multiply the RER by 1.8 if it is not neutered or spayed, 1.6 if it is neutered or spayed, and 1.4 if it is prone to becoming overweight. If your dog is between four months and a year old, multiply the RER by two and if it is less than four months old, multiply it by three. This will give you the maintenance energy requirement (MER) for a healthy dog that is moderately active. If your dog is very active or lives outdoors, more calories will usually be needed but the MER may need to be adjusted by up to 30% more or less than you calculated depending on how your dog maintains its weight.

How Much Food Does Your Dog Need?

After taking into consideration the nutrients and calories your specific dog needs you'll be able to determine how much food you should feed it. If a food is higher in calories, you won't need to give as much compared to a food that is lower in calories so you'll want to look at the bag of food to see how many calories each cup of dog food contains. For example, a healthy, neutered, 50 lb. dog should consume about 1200 calories a day. This equates to about 3 cups of dog food a day, depending on how many calories are in the food you choose to feed your dog.