Here we have another Ask A Dog Trainer question. This one is about food!
is my 5 month old German Shepherd and I am feeding her puppy kibbles,
grain free. I feed her twice a day now but did feed her 3 times a day
when she was younger. I noticed when I fed her the amount suggested on
the bag she doesn't eat it all and will have left overs over night. When
do I switch her to adult dog food? How much do I feed her? How often
should I feed, and is it best before or after her walk?
Deciding how much to feed your dog and when can be confusing for new dog owners. It's all complicated by the fact that each dog is different with different needs, and when you're dealing with puppies, you're dealing with growing dogs whose needs can vary from week to week. There are, however, some general guidelines you can follow.
1) Never follow the recommended feeding amount on the dog food bag. Dog food manufacturers want you to buy more food. The more food your dog eats, the more you'll have to buy. The problem is that most dogs don't need as much food as what's recommended, and you'll either end up with an overweight dog or a lot of left over food. Each dog has different needs and these needs can vary based on age, size, and activity level. For instance, both my dogs, Cody and Lollie, each weigh about 60 pounds. Lollie is a 3 1/2 year old boxer / bulldog mix who spends the majority of her day sleeping. Fifteen minutes of play in the morning, or a long walk, will wipe her out. She eats about 1 cup twice a day. Cody, on the other hand, is a 6 year old Labradoodle who is much more active. On any given morning he will run anywhere from 3 to 13 miles with me, and his food intake adjusts accordingly. On calmer days, he'll receive 1-1 1/2 cups twice a day, but on the more active days he can eat up to 4 cups twice a day. Both dogs receive treats fairly generously, but I'm always watching for weight gains or losses and will adjust their food accordingly.
2) The battle over when to switch to adult food has been long fought and there are many different opinions. Many different breeders will say that once a puppy is on solid food, she can eat whatever the mother is eating, whereas some say to wait until the puppy is officially an adult (about 2 years). The biggest concern with puppy food and adult food is the amount of protein and fat. Puppy food generally has more of each to assist your puppy with rapid growth and high energy. Generally, I recommend waiting until your dog is about a year old before switching to adult food, but I've known dogs who have had to switch earlier or later based on certain needs. If you think your dog has some abnormal nutritional needs (growing too fast, not putting on weight, not growing fast enough, tired more than usual, etc), consult your vet about it. The biggest thing here is knowing your dog's individual needs and meeting them.
3) As far as how often you should feed her, I recommend twice a day; once in the morning and once and night. Alternatively, you could feed 3-4 smaller meals throughout the day, but this is often unrealistic for working parents. I do NOT recommend feeding one large meal or free feeding. There are a lot of obedience reasons tied into this, but from a health stand point, I prefer to know how much my dogs are eating and when they're eating. This way, if they become sick, I can tell the vet what their diet has been recently.
4) Whether you should feed before your walk or after your walk really depends on your walk. If your walk is a 20-30 minute leisurely stroll, I recommend feeding about 20 minutes before your walk. This will allow your dog to digest some of her food and then evacuate her bowels on her walk, as opposed to trying to set up a separate time to do so. If by "walk," however, you mean "moderately paced run for 30+ minutes (which a young puppy should not be doing anyway)," feed your dog at least 30 min-1 hour after your run. The idea here is that you do not want your dog to have too much food on the belly as her temperature rises (like it does with strenuous exercise). If there's too much food on the belly, your dog runs the risk of becoming ill or even developing bloat. Instead, if you allow your dog a little time to cool off before eating, things will be much safer. Note, this also applies to giving your dog large amounts of water or water that is too cold.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into feeding your dog. As with most things, there is not one set of rules, as each dog is different in a variety of ways. By taking the time to learn about your dog's specific needs, you'll be able to determine the best way to feed.
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