The amount of food you should feed your service dog depends on many different factors. In general, you should consider your dog’s breed, size, body composition, age (life stage), activity level and environment. Foods have different calories and nutrient densities so the volume of food needed can vary widely among various brands.
But it’s important to get it right. Feeding your dog appropriate quantities of food is essential to maintaining her ideal body weight, providing proper nutrition, and supplying enough energy to keep her happy, healthy, and capable of performing her duties. As a service dog, she’s more likely to get enough daily physical activity than a pet, but you can easily undermine that by overfeeding.
Overfeeding leads to obesity, the leading preventable disease in domestic animals in the US. As VCA Animal Hospitals notes, up to 30 percent of our general canine population is obese and almost half of adult dogs are overweight. Canine obesity shortens the lifespan and increases the risk of cancers, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, bladder stones, complications under anesthesia, and other health problems.
Underfeeding can be just as much of a problem. If your assistance dog isn’t eating enough, she can suffer from nutritional deficiencies that cause all sorts of complications. Plus, she’ll increasingly lack the energy to do the tasks you depend on her to do.
Determining Your Dog’s Ideal Weight
Knowing how much to feed your service dog depends on understanding where her weight should be. Of course, there’s no way to just cite a number. The standard approach is to go by the Purina Body Condition System, which you can review here. This is the same guidelines your veterinarian uses. Have a conversation with your vet to get a better idea of what your dog should weigh and how to best reach and maintain that weight.
Determining Your Dog’s Calorie Needs
Figuring out how much to feed your dog comes down to providing the appropriate number of calories each day. That assumes you’re using a high-quality food with a label that specifies the product has been formulated to meet the nutritional guidelines established by the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) for your dog’s life stage; if you aren’t, it’s time to switch foods so that you are.
Once you have an ideal body weight number from your vet, use the Dog Food Advisor’s calorie calculator to get an idea of how much you should be feeding your assistance dog.
However, the number of daily calories required for optimal health, energy, and weight depends on a variety of individual factors, so it’s not that simple. The calculator gives you a good baseline, but also ask your vet for advice. Your dog’s age, activity level, and general health all affect how many calories she needs.
Determining Calorie Content in Your Dog Food
There’s one small complication: unlike with human food, dog food labels aren’t required to identify the food’s calorie content. And most don’t. Contact the manufacturer (it is mandated that labels provide some means of communication with the manufacturer) and ask for the calorie count per serving, and find out exactly how they define one serving.
As most experts recommend feeding your dog twice per day—once in the morning and once in the evening—divide your dog’s total daily calorie needs in half to figure out how many to provide at each meal. Calculate how many servings of food provide that number of calories, and there you have the appropriate serving size for each meal.
Seek you veterinarian’s input as they are ready and willing to provide you with nutrition counseling based on your service dog’s specific needs.