A Dog’s Nutrition Chart, Feeding & Diet Guide

How much should I feed my dog? Does the food I’m providing meet my dog’s nutritional needs? As our knowledge of the relationship between diet and health continues to advance and as the range of foods available for dogs con- tinues to expand, it’s more important than ever to base feeding choices on good information.

The information in this pamphlet is based on Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, a technical report issued by the National Research Council as part of its Animal Nutrition Series. The Food and Drug Administration relies on information in the report to regulate and ensure the safety of pet foods. Other reports in the series address the nutritional needs of horses, dairy cattle, beef cattle, nonhuman primates, swine, and small ruminants. Scientists who study the nutritional needs of animals use the Animal Nutrition Series to guide future research. The series is also used by animal owners, caretakers, and veterinarians to develop specialized diets for individual animals.

Dogs need several different kinds of nutrients to survive: amino acids from proteins, fatty acids and carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. The tables in this pamphlet provide recommended daily allowances for dietary nutrients based on the minimum amount required to maintain good health in normal dogs. Your dog’s unique

nutritional requirements will depend on its size, its breed, and its stage in life, among other factors. A better understanding of how dogs use the various nutri- ents in food and how much of them they need can help you choose a healthier diet for your pet.


Dogs cannot survive without protein in their diets. Dietary protein contains 10 specific amino acids that dogs cannot make on their own. Known as essen- tial amino acids, they provide the building blocks for many important bio- logically active compounds and proteins. In addition, they donate the carbon chains needed to make glucose for energy. High-quality pro-

teins have a good balance of all of the essential amino acids.Studies show that dogs can tell when their food lacks a single amino acid and will avoid such a meal.

Dogs are known to selectively choose foods that are high in protein. Whether this is simply a matter of taste or a com- plex response to their biological needs for all 10 essential amino acids is not known. However, dogs can survive on a vegetarian diet as long as it contains sufficient protein and is supplemented with vitamin D.


Dietary fats, mainly derived from animal fats and the seed oils of various plants, provide the most concentrated source of energy in the diet. They supply essential fatty acids that cannot be synthesized in the body and serve as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins. Fatty acids play a role in cell structure and function. Food fats tend to enhance

the taste and texture of the dog’s food as well.

Essential fatty acids are necessary to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy. Puppies fed ultralow-fat diets develop dry, coarse hair and skin lesions that become increasingly vulnerable to infections. Deficiencies in the so-called “omega-3” family of essential fatty acids may be associated

with vision problems and impaired learning ability. Another family of essential fatty acids called “omega-6” has been shown to have important physiologic effects in the body.



(Weighing 12 lb, 33 lb at maturity)


(Weighing 33 lb)


(Weighing 33 lb with 6 puppies)

Crude Protein 56 g 25 g 69 g /158 g
Total Fat 21 g 14 g 29 g/ 67 g


Scientific research has shown that an adult dog’s daily diet can contain up to 50% carbohydrates by weight, including 2.5– 4.5% from fiber. A minimum of approximately 5.5% of the diet should come from fats and 10% from protein.


Dogs need a certain amount of energy to sustain the normal activities of their daily lives. Growth, pregnancy, lactation, and exercise all increase these normal energy requirements. Generally measured in terms of calories, energy comes from three major dietary components: carbohydrates, protein, and fats.

Omnivorous animals get some of their energy from carbohydrates, which include sugars, starches, and dietary fibers. The major sources of carbohydrates in com- mercial dog foods are cereals, legumes, and other plant foodstuffs. So-called absorbable carbohydrates, including glucose and fructose, can be directly absorbed and do not need to be digested by enzymes. Digestible carbohydrates are read- ily broken down by intestinal tract enzymes. Fermentable carbohydrates include certain starches and dietary fibers that pass undigested through the small intes- tine to the colon, where they are fermented by microbes into short-chain fatty acids and gases. Some studies suggest that fermentable fibers may aid in the regulation of blood glucose concentrations and enhance immune function. Nonfermentable fibers, such as cellulose and wheat bran, contribute little in terms of energy or nutrition and are primarily used to decrease caloric intake of the overweight animal.



(Kilocalories per day*)


10 lb


30 lb


50 lb


70 lb


90 lb


PUPPIES (10 lb puppy growing to 33 lb at maturity)



INACTIVE DOGS—dogs with little stimu- lus or opportunity to exercise.  










ADULT ACTIVE DOGS—dogs with strong stimulus and ample opportunity to exer- cise, such as dogs in households with more than one dog, in the country or with a large yard. 404 922 1,353 1,740 2,100
PREGNANT DOGS— from 4 weeks after mating until delivery.  










Young Adult Active Dogs 436 993 1,451 1,876 2,264
Older Active Dogs 327 745 1,093 1,407 1,700

*1 Calorie =1 kilocalorie =1,000 calories. The term Calorie that is used on food nutrition labels is really a “food calorie” sometimes called a “large calorie.” It is equivalent to 1,000 calories (or 1 kilocalorie) as calories are defined scientifically (the amount of energy needed to warm 1 gram of water 1°C). In Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, energy needs are expressed in terms of kilocalories, which are equivalent to Calories in this document.


(Calories per Day for a 33 lb and 50 lb Nursing Dog)


Number of Puppies

Weeks into Lactation
1 2 3 (peak) 4
33 lb 50 lb 33 lb 50 lb 33 lb 50 lb 33 lb 50 lb
2 1,645 2,328 1,789 2,546 1,897 2,709 1,969 2,818
4 2,185 3,146 2,473 3,581 2,689 3,909 2,833 4,127
6 2,455 3,555 2,815 4,100 3,084 4,509 3,265 4,782
8 2,725 3,964 3,157 4,618 3,481 5,109 3,697 5,437

Severe illness or trauma may increase a dog’s energy needs. Whenever your dog becomes ill, please consult with your veterinarian or dog nutritionist for your dog’s changed nutritional needs.


The growing puppy starts out needing about twice as many calories per pound of body weight as an adult dog of the same breed.Owners should start feeding puppies food at approximately 4 weeks

after birth, because mother’s milk is no longer sufficient. Food is best offered to puppies in multiple, well-spaced meals.


Because of decreased physical activity and slowed metabolism, older dogs need 20% fewer total calories than do middle-aged adult dogs. As dogs age, they tend to become overweight. It may take obese dogs longer for their blood glucose concentrations to return to normal. This disrupted carbohydrate metabolism can lead to diabetes.


New mothers generally suckle their puppies for at least 6 weeks. The mother’s need for

calories increase with the number of puppies and the week of lactation, up to 4 weeks. Giant breeds

(like Great Danes) have proportionately smaller diges- tive tracts and may not be able to eat enough to sustain

themselves during lactation. Owners of such dogs may need to start feeding puppies supplemental food at an early age.


Vitamins are organic compounds that take part in a wide range of metabolic activities. Dogs require vitamins in their food, albeit at low concentrations. First noticed in dogs some 75 years ago, vitamin deficiencies can cause a variety of health prob- lems. Clinical signs of vitamin A deficiency, one of the first deficiencies studied in dogs, include motor and vision impairment, skin lesions, respiratory ail- ments, and increased susceptibility to infections. Dogs fed diets lacking vitamin E show signs of skele- tal muscle breakdown, reproductive failure, and retinal

degeneration.    Thiamin deficiency can lead to brain lesions and other neurological abnormalities if the depri- vation is sudden and to heart damage and death if it is chronic. Some vitamins, such as vitamin D, are not only essential in small doses, but also toxic in excess amounts.



Vitamin A


Vision; growth; immune function; fetal develop- ment; cellular differentia- tion; transmembrane protein transfer


379 µg


Anorexia; body weight loss; ataxia; conjunctivitis; corneal disorders; skin lesions; respiratory ailments; increased susceptibility to infection

Imbalance in bone remodeling processes; artery and vein degeneration; dehydration; central nervous system depression; joint pain


Vitamin D


Maintenance of mineral status; phosphorous balance


3.4 µg


Rickets; lethargy; loss of muscle tone; bone swelling and bending

Anorexia; weakness; diarrhea; vomiting; cal- cification of soft tissue; excessive mineraliza- tion of long bones; dehydration; dry and brit- tle hair; muscle atrophy


Vitamin E


Defense against oxidative damage


8 mg


Degeneration of skeletal muscle; reproduc- tive failure; retinal degeneration




Vitamin K


Activation of clotting fac- tors, bone proteins, and other proteins


0.41 mg


No reports of naturally occurring deficiencies in normal dogs


Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)


Energy and carbohydrate metabolism; activation of ion channels in neural tissue


0.56 mg


Failure to grow, weight loss and neurological abnormalities in pup- pies; damage to the nervous sys- tem and to the heart in adult dogs




Enzyme functions


1.3 mg


Anorexia; weight loss; muscular weakness; flaking dermatitis; eye lesions


Vitamin B6


Glucose generation; red blood cell function; niacin synthesis; nervous system function; immune response; hormone regulation; gene activation


0.4 mg


Anorexia and weight loss in pup- pies; convulsions, muscle twitch- ing, and anemia in adult dogs Impairment of motor control and balance; muscle weakness




Enzyme functions


4 mg


Anorexia; weight loss; inflamma- tion of the lips, cheeks, and throat; profuse salivation; bloody diarrhea Bloody feces; convulsions


Pantothenic Acid


Energy metabolism


4 mg


Erratic food intake; sudden pros- tration or coma; rapid respiratory and heart rates; convulsions; gastrointestinal symptoms; reduced antibody production


Vitamin B12


Enzyme functions


9 µg


Appetite loss; lack of white blood cells; anemia; bone marrow changes


Folic Acid


Amino acid and nucleotide metabolism; mitochondrial protein synthesis


68 µg


Weight loss; decline in hemoglobin concentration




Phospholipid cell membrane component


425 mg


Loss of body weight; fatty liver

*Daily needs for an adult dog weighing 33 pounds, consuming 1,000 Calories per day. g = grams; mg = milligrams; µg = micrograms


Twelve minerals in the table are known to be essential nutrients for dogs. Calcium and phosphorus are crucial to strong bones and teeth. Dogs need magnesium, potas- sium, and sodium for nerve impulse transmission, mus- cle contraction, and cell signaling. Many minerals that are present only in minute amounts in the body, including selenium, copper, and molybdenum, act as helpers in a wide variety of enzymatic reactions.

Dogs can get too much or too little of a specific mineral in their diets. A deficiency of dietary calcium, for instance, causes a condition known as secondary hyperparathyroidism. Recognized clinically for many years in dogs fed meals consist- ing mainly of meat, this disease results in major bone loss, skeletal

abnormalities, and pathological fractures. An excess of calcium, on the other hand, may also cause skeletal abnormalities, especially in

growing large-breed puppies.







Formation of bones and teeth; blood coagulation; nerve impulse transmis- sion; muscle contraction; cell signaling


1 g


Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism; significant decreases in bone mineral content, which can result in major skeletal abnormalities Different types of skeletal aberrations, espe- cially in growing puppies of large breeds




Skeletal structure; DNA and RNA structure; energy metabolism; locomotion; acid-base balance


0.75 g


Reduced weight gain; poor appetite; bowing and swelling of forelimbs

in puppies




Enzyme functions; muscle and nerve-cell membrane stability; hormone secretion and function; mineral struc- ture of bones and teeth


150 mg


Reduction in weight gain, irritability, and convulsions in puppies; hyperextension of carpal joints and hind-leg paralysis later in life





Acid-base balance; regulation of osmotic pressure; nerve impulse generation and transmission


200 mg


Restlessness; increased heart rate, water intake, and hemoglobin concentration; dry and tacky mucous membranes




Acid-base balance; nerve- impulse transmission; enzymatic reactions; transport functions


1 g


Poor growth in puppies; paralysis of neck muscles and rear legs and general weakness later in life




Acid-base balance; transfer of extracellular fluids across cell membranes


300 mg


Reduced weight gain and weakness in puppies




Synthesis of blood components; energy metabolism


7.5 mg


Poor growth; pale mucous mem- branes; lethargy; weakness; diarrhea At acute levels, dangerous oxida- tive reactions that lead to gastroin- testinal and other tissue damage




Connective tissue formation; iron metabolism; blood cell formation; melanin pigment formation; myelin formation; defense against oxidative damage


1.5 mg


Loss of hair pigmentation in puppies; anemia




Enzyme reactions; cell replica- tion; protein and carbohydrate metabolism; skin function; wound healing


15 mg


Poor weight gain; vomiting; skin lesions




Enzyme functions; bone develop- ment; neurological function


1.2 mg


No studies of deficiency in dogs




Defense against oxidative damage; immune response


90 µg


Anorexia; depression; breathing discomfort; coma; muscular degeneration




Thyroid hormone synthesis; cell differentiation; growth and development of puppies; regulation of metabolic rate


220 µg


Enlargement of thyroid glands; dry, sparse hair coat; weight gain Excessive tearing, salivation, and nasal discharge; dandruff


*Daily needs for an adult dog weighing 33 pounds, consuming 1,000 Calories per day. g = grams; mg = milligrams; µg = micrograms


Your dog is not getting enough to eat if you can easily see its ribs, vertebrae, and pelvic bones, feel no fat on the bones, and possibly notice some loss of muscle mass. If chronically underfed, adult dogs may experience impaired ability to nurse young and perform work, and increased susceptibility to bac- terial infections and parasites; puppies may be stunted in their growth; adult dogs may develop osteoporosis.

Your dog is at an ideal weight if you can easily feel its ribs. The waist should be easily observed behind the ribs when viewed from above. An abdominal tuck is evident when viewed from the side.

Your dog is overweight if you cannot feel its ribs, see fat deposits over its back and the base of its tail, discern no waist behind the ribs when viewed from above, and see no abdominal tuck in profile. Obesity occurs in one out of four dogs in western societies. Its incidence increases with age and is more common in neutered animals. Health risks include dia- betes and osteoarthritis.


Q: Does my dog need to eat meat?

A: Because dogs are descended from omnivores, they are not strict meat eaters. They are remarkably adapt- able to a wide range of ingredients, texture, and form in terms of what they will eat. Though many dogs may prefer animal-based protein, they can thrive on a vege- tarian diet. Regardless of whether the protein comes from plant or animal sources, normal adult dogs should get at least 10% of their total calories from protein. Older dogs appear to require somewhat more protein to maintain their protein reserves, perhaps as much as 50% more.

Q: How much fiber is good for my dog?

A:  Fiber in the diet is probably good for overall gastrointestinal health and may help some dogs keep their weight down. The typical diet of normal adult dogs contains between 2.5 and 4.5% fiber. However,

the fiber content of some “diet” dog foods may be higher. This may allow the dog to feel full without consuming too many calories for effective weight control. Diets high in fiber also may help in the management of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), and may improve large intestine function.

On the other hand, too much fiber in the diet can decrease the digestibility of other important nutrients and result in loose stools, frequent defecation, and reduced palatability of the dog food. Wheat bran and barley products are high in fiber. Conversely, dog food ingredients high in starch, including rice and dried potatoes, have less fiber.

Q: How often should I feed my dog?

A: Dogs eat larger, less frequent meals than do cats. It is fine to feed an adult dog one or two times per day. Puppies, however, need two to three daily meals.

Q: How can I help my overweight dog trim down?

A: The most obvious answer is to feed your dog smaller amounts on the same feeding schedule. Some dog owners offer less tasty food or allow less time to eat. Another option is to feed your dog one of the low-calorie dog foods on the market. It’s also important to remember to keep your dog from sampling the dog-next-door’s food and to refrain from giving your dog table scraps.

Q: How do heat and exercise affect the amount of water my dog needs?

A: Fresh water should be available to your dog at all times to reduce the risk of becoming overheated. A dog’s need for water increases in keeping with the amount of energy he expends during exercise, and this need may more than double in warm conditions. Ideally, you should actively offer your dog water during exercise.

Exposure to certain flavors and textures of food early in life can shape strong preferences later on.


Commercial dog foods come in a variety of forms. The most common types are dry, semimoist, and canned. The moisture content of these foods ranges from 6 to 10 % for dry, 15 to 30% for semimoist, and 75% for canned. Most canned food has relatively more fat and protein and fewer carbohydrates than

does dry and semi-moist food, and generally contains much higher lev- els of animal products.

Pet food labels must list the percentage of protein, fat, fiber, and water in the food. When reading labels, it is important to remember that what may appear to be a big difference in the amount of a nutri- ent—for example, 8% protein in a canned dog food vs.

27% protein in a dry dog food—reflects the fact that there is more water in the canned food.


Some other substances that might be found in pet foods, which are not required nutrients, are described below:

Chondroprotective agents are used by the body to make cartilage and joint tissues. Although, use of chondropro- tective agents may be indicated for selected clinical conditions, widespread inclusion in the diets of healthy popula- tions may not be warranted at this time.

Antioxidants work to prevent oxidative damage to nutrients and other compounds in the body and inhibit or quench the formation of

free radicals. At this time, data are lacking to make specific recommendations beyond those for the essential vitamins and minerals that are compo-nents of antioxidants.

Herbs and botanicals are used in pet foods either to provide flavor or, more often, to have a medicinal effect on the body. This is especially true in the case of extracts, where

the classical nutritive components of the plant may be separated from the extract in the process. Because the intended functions are more pharmacologic ver- sus nutritional in nature, discussion of potential benefit is beyond the scope of this publication.

Flavors and extracts derived from animal tis- sues such as poultry or fish are considered “natural” flavors. A wide variety of flavors can be derived from other animal and plant mate- rials, including dairy products, eggs, herbs, and spices. Acceptable processing methods include roasting, extraction, and fermentation. Except for artificial smoke and bacon flavors, synthetic substances are rarely used in most dog and cat foods.

Colors are synthetic compounds used to replace or accentuate the inherent color of the food. Only certified colors approved for use in human foods are allowed in pet foods. Iron oxide is a synthetic but noncertified color that can be used

at levels not to exceed 0.25% of the pet food product to give dog and cat food a red, meaty appearance.

Titanium dioxide is another common color additive in human and pet foods because it can induce a “brightness”

in foods by complementing other color additives. Its use is limited to 1% of the food by weight.


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