Updated - Oct 6th, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM.
Does your puppy seem to eat like a teenage human – i.e., a bottomless pit? Are you finding it hard to resist their sweet puppy dog eyes? You’re not alone. But before you open another bag of puppy treats, or scoop just a little more kibble into their bowl, you’ll want to read this.
It turns out that you can feed a puppy too much. Growing puppies need to hit that sweet spot for calories: enough to support their growth, learning, and development, but not so much that they gain weight too quickly. How much to feed a puppy depends on their breed type and weight, for starters. We’ll cover it all in more detail below.
How much should I feed my puppy?
Your new puppy is a bundle of joy and energy. That’s why they live for play sessions and chew toys, not to mention romps all over your bed/couch/yard. It’s also partly why puppies sleep so much – they expend energy quickly and need to replenish their stores so they can get the zoomies all over again.
All of that growth and development is also why puppies need more calories than adult dogs. Be sure to buy food that’s formulated for puppies (or for dogs at all life stages) rather than just for adult dogs. If you have a large breed puppy, choose large breed puppy food to support normal growth and development of the skeletal system. This ensures your puppy will get the right balance of nutrients – as well as the right caloric density.
So, you’ve chosen the right food. Now, how much do you give your pup? Generally, the feeding instructions on the label of your pet food will provide good guidance. Your vet is another great resource. But to truly understand how your puppy’s calorie needs are determined, you’ll need to know their weight – and their resting energy requirement.
How many calories does a puppy need?
Your puppy needs calories for the same reasons you do. Calories provide energy that allows their body to function. Breathing, digesting, and snoozing all require calories, as do essential body functions that regulate heart and brain activity. The total amount of calories required to keep your puppy alive and well are known as their “resting energy requirements,” or RER.
The RER for any dog – including a puppy – is determined by their weight. So tiny Yorkies need fewer calories than gentle giants like Bernese Mountain Dogs.
Ohio State University’s Veterinary Medical Center provides a handy table for calculating a dog’s RER by weight. (Pro tip: you’ll have to pinch and zoom to see the charts.) Using their standard formula, we can see that a 30-pound adult dog needs 500 calories for their resting energy requirements. (That’s about how much my older dog Scout weighs.)
Now, as you can imagine, the RER is only the starting place for your dog’s caloric needs. You need to add in other factors to figure out how much food they should really get each day. These factors include their activity level and whether they’re intact or have been spayed/neutered.
In my dog’s case, she’s a normal, healthy adult dog, and she’s spayed. However, she’s definitely not what I’d call an “active, working dog,” as per the OSU chart. That’s why I’d only multiply her RER by 1.6 to get her recommended daily total: 800 calories a day. (She’s hoping that leftover pizza crusts are included in this total.)
Young puppies are even busier than working adult dogs. After all, they’re growing, running, chewing, playing fetch, and learning about the world around them. All of this requires additional energy. So, after finding your puppy’s RER, multiply the total calories by 3 if they’re below 4 months. After 4 months and until adulthood, multiply by 2.
Whew. Does this have your head spinning? We’ve rounded up some common puppy weights and recommended calories here so you don’t have to do the math.
Puppy Calorie Chart: 0 – 4 months
|Weight in Pounds||Calories/Day|
Puppy Calorie Chart: 4 months – 1 year
|Weight in Pounds||Calories/Day|
If you check out the feeding recommendations on your puppy food package, you’ll likely find the amounts are written in cups rather than calories. Those guidelines are safe to follow, as they calculate your puppy’s caloric needs in the same way the above charts do.
However, you can also check the label and determine the calories they need on your own with a bit of math.
How often should I feed my puppy?
Now that you know how many calories your puppy needs in a day, you just want to be sure they’re getting them at intervals throughout their waking hours. In other words, you don’t want to give them one or two huge meals. Puppies need frequent fuel to keep up with their mischief – and, well, their developing bones, joints, brains, hearts, and paws.
You can create a puppy feeding schedule that works for you and your dog. One easy routine? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Feeding your puppy three times a day is both predictable and easy to remember. Small and toy breeds under eight weeks of age are at risk of hypoglycemia if they don’t eat often enough, and should not go more than three waking hours without eating.
Just be sure to give your puppy dinner at least two hours before bedtime. That gives them time to digest and go to the bathroom before bed so they can sleep more comfortably.
What type of puppy food is best?
As we cover in our Ultimate Guide to the Best Puppy Food, all quality dog foods share certain characteristics. Look for quality ingredients and a seal of approval from AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials).
Signs of quality pet food formulas are found right on the bag. They include a named protein as the first ingredient – not byproducts, corn, wheat, or soy. You can experiment to find out whether your pup prefers chicken, fish, or something more exotic like buffalo.
The bottom line
Your puppy is growing so fast! Before you know it, they’ll have grown into those oversized paws. In the meantime, you’re doing a great job by making sure you’re feeding your pup a nutritious, balanced diet.