Feeding Commercial Food Properly

The Importance of Feeding Guidelines in Commercial Foods
Savannah Welna, Cert. ACN

This doesn’t seem like this is any issue at first, but when it comes to feeding dogs commercial foods, many may be feeding incorrectly by mistake. On the packaging of complete and balanced foods, whether it be raw or kibble, are the feeding guidelines. Generally, these guidelines are a range:

Instinct Raw Frozen Medallions

I have been formulating a lot more for multi-dog households lately. I give clients specific instructions how much food from a batch of food a dog can eat and still be within optimal range of nutrient intake. If a dog ends up needing to eat less, we reformulate the batch to be lower calorie, more nutrient dense. For example, Luca can optimally eat 1-1.5 lb of our homemade batch. Any lower and we are compromising nutrient intake. In the event this occurs, I will reformulate the recipes.

Relevance to Commercial Feeding

When we feed below (or well above) feeding guidelines, we are changing the amount of nutrients being fed. It is less common these days that dog owners end up feeding significantly above the feeding guidelines. This might happen during times of high activity or lactation. For these instances, we should feed a nutrient and calorie dense food to limit the risk of excess and reduce potential bulk limiting issues.

More commonly, people are feeding below the feeding guidelines. This means some may be feeding too little of nutrients. I think this may have been one of many factors surrounding the recent DCM issues (SOURCE). To be clear, of course reducing food will reduce nutrient intake. The issue lies with long-term feeding below the guideline’s for the pet’s ideal weight. This is a benefit of a homemade diet for weight loss. We are able to deliver optimal nutrients and control the calories.

Typically, pet owners will select a food and feed according to guidelines for their pet’s ideal weight. Either unwanted weight gain occurs or desired weight loss does not occur. The owner reduces the food below minimum guidelines for their pet’s ideal weight.

Rather than explain in words how this works, I think a visual would help. Here we have a brand of food (unnamed), being fed to a 65 lb dog with low energy requirements. When we feed below manufacturer guidelines, there is a shortage of amino acids. This is true of all nutrients in the food. Do note that most foods will use AAFCO or FEDIAF and the visual below uses NRC. The same principle applies. We can see here that there is certainly a range that can be fed:

Copyright Feed Thy Dog 2019

The owner has a fixed control over the way nutrients and calories are delivered in a commercial diet:


Reduce food, reduce calories


Reduce food, reduce nutrients

This isn’t bad- that is reducing food to reduce energy intake. What is bad is reducing food below minimum levels of the goal weight– as this means the food is no longer formulated to meet nutrient needs. Sub-optimal nutrient intake can also make weight loss that much harder.

On a somewhat unrelated note- this can be an issue when feeding dog’s based off of a percentage of body weight without looking at nutrients. For example, many may be feeding ratio diets without looking at nutrients in the recipe. If their pet gains weight, they continue to reduce food. This reduces calories, but it also reduced the nutrients. A common example would be selecting 80/20 ground beef because it is affordable. However, this is higher fat (and often is not providing ample nutrients anyway). The owner notices weight gain and innocently reduces the percentage of food fed while also unknowingly further reducing nutrients below the target weight.

The bottom line is that when you are using a commercial product, it is best to feed the commercial food that has appropriate caloric density. If your pet is gaining weight on a particular food, only reduce within feeding guidelines. (There are other things to consider here- underlying medical conditions, ingredients, and macronutrients to name a few).  If you find yourself feeding below guidelines for your pet’s goal weight, feed a lower calorie food- don’t feed less of the higher calorie food. Better yet- provide ample exercise and mental stimulation in conjunction to an appropriately formulated food. If you find yourself unable to feed enough of a food to your dog, select a more calorie dense food.