Why General Feeding Guidelines Don’t Match Your Dog or Cat’s Needs

Talking About Individualized Feeding Guidelines with Kendra Jenson

Healthy Dogs |  March 25, 2019

Overlake store manager Kendra Jensen knows from experience that the manufacturer’s feeding guidelines don’t always meet a dog or cat’s needs. As a three-year Muddy, Kendra has talked about the importance of individualized feeding guidelines with hundreds of customers.

She also uses an individualized feeding plan for her own dog, Kylo. Due to some unique health challenges, Kylo must take daily medication that also causes weight gain. It would be easy for Kylo to gain excess weight that could stress his joints, but Kendra carefully watches his diet and builds exercise into his daily routine so he stays lean.

We visited Kendra at the Overlake Mud Bay to discuss manufacturer’s feeding guidelines, and how they might differ from what your own dog or cat needs to stay healthy.

MB: How do you help someone who visits the Overlake Mud Bay and asks, “How much should I feed my dog or cat?”

KJ: I first ask what specific food they want to feed to their dog or cat and help them decide if they aren’t certain.  Once we have the food that works for that owner’s lifestyle and their dog or cat’s specific needs, it will only take a few minutes to help owners figure out exactly how much they should feed.

When we start talking about feeding guidelines, we can pull up our new feeding calculator and input all the information we need to get a customized recommendation. I may ask questions like: What’s the age of your pet? What’s the body weight? What is your dog or cat’s activity level? What is the body condition score of your pet? Is your dog or cat intact or altered?

MB: I think a lot of people just expect to follow the feeding recommendations on the bag, can or pouch they purchase at the store. For people who don’t know what manufacturer’s feeding guidelines are, can you explain them?

KJ: Feeding recommendations are how much a food manufacturer thinks a dog or cat of a certain size should eat. There are a few guidelines that manufacturers may follow. They sometimes consider if the pet is spayed, neutered, or intact. Other times, they may specify an amount for young animals under two years old, and then have a maintenance feeding recommendation for older dogs or cats. But different food manufacturers don’t use the same guidelines to decide how many calories they designate. Sometimes, the calorie recommendations may vary within a single brand.

Also, the guidelines on the package don’t consider body condition, exercise level, or other important factors that can affect how much you should feed. Because the recommendations on the package doesn’t take those factors into account, the package guidelines can be significantly different than what you should actually feed your dog or cat.

MB: I think a lot of people just expect to follow the feeding recommendations on the bag, can or pouch they purchase at the store. For people who don’t know what manufacturer’s feeding guidelines are, can you explain them?

KJ: Feeding recommendations are how much a food manufacturer thinks a dog or cat of a certain size should eat. There are a few guidelines that manufacturers may follow. They sometimes consider if the pet is spayed, neutered, or intact. Other times, they may specify an amount for young animals under two years old, and then have a maintenance feeding recommendation for older dogs or cats. But different food manufacturers don’t use the same guidelines to decide how many calories they designate. Sometimes, the calorie recommendations may vary within a single brand.

Also, the guidelines on the package don’t consider body condition, exercise level, or other important factors that can affect how much you should feed. Because the recommendations on the package doesn’t take those factors into account, the package guidelines can be significantly different than what you should actually feed your dog or cat.

MB: Many people don’t realize that the feeding recommendations on their bag of food may exceed their pets’ needs. Are there any common factors that affect how much people should feed dogs or cats?

KJ: The number of calories your dog or cat needs depends on activity level, age, body condition score and weight. We also need to know if the dog or cat is altered or intact because removing reproductive organs also lowers the number of calories an animal needs.

It’s important to know that there can be other outliers. For example, medications can make a dog or cat lose or gain weight. Some dogs or cats are going to have slightly different caloric requirements. You can’t group all dogs or cats together, even if they weigh the same amount.

For example, my mom’s dog is the same weight as my dog Kylo. My mom’s dog is a very sweet, lazy dog, and she eats almost double the food Kylo eats because of her own body’s metabolism.

Meanwhile, Kylo is super active. He’s a dog that goes on daily walks. He has puzzle toys, and he plays lots of fetch at home. But he still eats a lot less than my Mom’s dog due to their different body makeups, metabolisms and medications.

MB: Most people will switch their dogs’ or cats’ foods at least a few times during their pets’ lives. How are feeding recommendations impacted when customers have animals that transition between foods?

KJ: I think it’s important that people reevaluate how much they’re feeding every time they switch foods. Pet owners can run into trouble if they don’t evaluate how much to feed after every food switch. It’s easy to think if I’m feeding two cups of this brand, I should feed two cups of this other brand.

Sometimes there’s a big feeding change when you switch foods, especially if you’re switching from kibble to a more protein dense food form like raw. Then you might need to feed a smaller amount. That’s why we encourage pet owners to have a long transition time between foods.

For example, if you’re switching from canned food to raw food, you’ll start off with three-quarters canned food and one-quarter raw food. And you might notice that raw food sometimes has a smaller volume than canned food for the same number of calories. But if you spend at least 14 days transitioning between the two foods, your dog or cat will become accustomed to the smaller volume of food. When transitioning, you can also take 21 to 30 days to switch between foods. Taking at least three weeks to transition gives you an even longer time to help your dog or cat adjust to any changes.

Cat gazing at a panting black and white dog

Overlake store manager Kendra Jensen is a three-year Muddy who’s the proud owner of a hedgehog named Hodgins and an adventurous dog named Kylo. To talk about feeding guidelines, healthy weight or pet foods in general, you can visit her at the Overlake Mud Bay.

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