With more pet food options available than ever before, many owners feel unsure about how much they should be feeding their dogs. In fact, over 50% of pets are considered overweight, which suggests that the majority of us aren’t quite getting it right. This article will discuss pet food labels and interpreting feeding guidelines, as well as how to accurately measure out the correct portion for your dog.

Understanding dog food labeling


A complete and balanced dog food must include feeding guidelines on the label, but it’s important to remember that they are exactly that – a guide. Every dog is a unique individual and will have different nutritional requirements depending on factors like breed, current weight, activity levels, health, and if they’ve been neutered. An active working breed like a Border Collie herding sheep, for example, is going to need more energy from their diet than a whippet that prefers to snooze on the sofa!

The calorie content will also vary immensely between different dog foods – so just because 1 cup of your dog’s current food is the right amount to feed, it doesn’t mean this will be the same if you switch your dog to a new food.

How to work out how much to feed your dog


1. Use your dog’s ideal body weight as a guide

Most feeding guidelines will list a recommended amount of food for your dog’s body weight. The weight to which you should be feeding is your dog’s ideal body weight and not their current weight if they are under, or more commonly, overweight.

Your veterinarian will help you work out your pet’s ideal body weight using the body condition scoring system. As a general rule, a pet in ideal body condition will have minimal fat coverage over the ribcage and the ribs will be easy to feel. They will also have a visible waist or narrowing between their ribs and their hips.

2. Adjust for your dog’s activity level

Many pet food labels will also list a range of weights and a corresponding range for the suggested amount to feed. These ranges can be extremely wide, especially for large breed dogs, so it can be difficult to know quite how much you should be feeding.

This is where individual variation comes into play. If your dog is at the lower end of the weight range, they should also be fed an amount at the lower end of the recommended feeding range. If your dog is a bit of a couch potato and puts on weight easily, they should also be fed towards the lower end of the range, compared to a highly active dog.

3. Divide between the number of meals

It’s also important to remember that the suggested amount of food on most dog food labels is for the entire day (24 hours). As most adult dogs eat two meals a day, the recommended amount needs to be divided into two meals.

4. Let your veterinary team work out how much food you should feed

A more accurate way of calculating the amount of food your dog needs is to have your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist calculate their individual daily calorie requirement. Most pet foods will also specify the number of calories per cup on the label and this can be used to work out how many cups of food per day your dog needs. The Pet Nutrition Alliance has a free calorie calculator but it’s important to use this alongside advice from your veterinarian, and only for healthy dogs that are currently an ideal bodyweight.

5. Regularly reassess

Once you think you’re feeding your dog the right amount, weigh them after two weeks to see if their weight is changing. If they’re on track, weigh again a month later to check again. You can then adjust their food up or down as needed to make sure they’re the right weight.

How to accurately measure your dog food portions


As previously discussed, it’s important to make sure you’re using a level standard 8oz measuring cup and not just filling up any old cup or container!

How much is a cup of dog food?

Just like a cup of coffee, size really does matter! Most feeding guidelines are referring to a level standardized 8oz. measuring cup that hasn’t been under or overfilled. Using a coffee cup or any non-standardized measuring container means you could be feeding your dog a lot more (or less) than you think! Even if you’re using a measuring cup that was sent with the food you’re using, it’s still inaccurate.

Is using a cup the most accurate way to measure out a dog’s food?

Studies have shown that even using standardized measuring containers, we humans aren’t very good at accurately measuring out portion sizes. In a recent study, up to 80% of pet owners were found to consistently overestimate portion size, even when using a standardized measuring container. Greater levels of inaccuracy were seen when measuring out smaller amounts of pet food, which is particularly important to keep in mind when feeding small breed dogs like chihuahuas.

Weigh your dog’s food instead!

In fact, the most accurate way to measure out your dog’s food is by weighing it out in grams using a set of kitchen scales. Though this might seem unnecessary and time-consuming, it’s actually relatively simple and helps your pet maintain a healthy bodyweight by feeding them the correct portion size consistently.

When weighing out your dog’s food make sure the kitchen scales are placed on a level surface and the container’s weight is ‘zeroed’ or ‘tared’ before you begin to add the food to measure it out.

How to work out how many grams of food your dog needs

1. If you already know how many cups per day your dog needs of their current diet.

Many manufacturers will list the number of grams that make up a standardized cup on the label or product website. The number of grams per standardized cup will be different for every dog food and will depend on things like kibble size, shape, and weight.

You can then use this to calculate the expected number of grams your dog needs per day.

For example: 

A 20 lb dog requires 1 and 1/2 cups of ABC dog food per day. 

The manufacturer states that 1 cup of ABC dog food weighs 92g 

    1. Multiply the required number of cups per day by the number of grams per cup

=  1.5 cups X 92 g = 138 g of ABC dog food per day

    1. Divide this by the number of meals per day. This dog is fed 2 meals per day.
      = 138g / 2 meals

So this dog needs 69 grams of ABC dog food for each meal. 

2. Using your dog’s required daily calorie intake.

Your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist is the best person to calculate your dog’s calorie requirements and will take into account their individual variations and needs. You will need to know how many calories there are per gram of your pet’s current food, which should be available on the label or manufacturer’s website.

For example:

A 20 lb dog in ideal body condition with a required calorie intake of 514 kilocalories per day, according to their veterinarian.

The manufacturer states that DOGGY Dog Food contains 3616 kilocalories per kilogram equal to 3.6 kilocalories per gram.

    1. Divide the required calorie intake per day (514) by the number of calories per gram (3.6)

= 514 kCal/3.6 kCal per gram = This dog needs 143 grams of DOGGY Dog Food per day.

    1. Divide this by the number of meals per day. This dog gets 2 meals per day.
      = 143 g / 2 meals = this dog needs 71 grams of DOGGY Dog Food per meal. 

If the math makes your head spin, don’t be afraid to ask your veterinary clinic for assistance – they will be only too happy to help you!

The importance of portion size


Nutrition contributes significantly to the health of our dogs and getting the portion size right plays a huge part in maintaining a healthy bodyweight. With over 50% of pets in the United States currently overweight, making sure you’re feeding your dog the right amount has never been so important.

Dogs that are overweight or obese are prone to many health conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, difficulty breathing (especially flat-faced brachycephalic breeds like pugs), and hormonal disorders.

Obesity also has a major impact on your dog’s quality of life and is known to shorten their life expectancy. Sticking to the correct portion size and accurately weighing out your pet’s food can help them maintain a healthy bodyweight for life!

READ NEXT: When to switch puppies to 2 meals a day

Can I still give my dog treats?

It’s not wrong to treat your dogs – it’s an important part of your bond. However, remember that treats (including table scraps!) can add up significantly to our dog’s daily calorie intake. What might seem like a few little snacks here and there could be blowing out our carefully constructed diet!

Make sure that treats make up no more than 10% of your pet’s total daily calorie intake, and adjust the amount of dry food that they get accordingly. If you’re worried about the number of treats you’re feeding your dog, keep a daily food diary and show it to your vet.


Obesity is extremely common in pets and comes with major health complications. Understanding how much to feed your dog is crucial to helping them maintain a healthy bodyweight for life. Accurately measuring out portions using kitchen scales is the best way to achieve a consistent feeding plan and minimizes the risk of overfeeding.