How Much and What Should Dogs Eat

A Dog’s Ideal Diet

Wolves love to prey on other animals, like deer, goats, sheep, etc. They will scavenge, eating plants when prey is scarce, but don’t prefer to. Most scientists agree that dogs, or almost all dog breeds, descended from wolves. Like wolves, they are mainly carnivores. 

Even wild or stray dogs will scavenge when they have to (stray dogs probably have to a lot), but dogs prefer animal meat to anything else. Their sharp teeth were designed to grab, hold, rip and tear at meat. Their bodies were designed to thrive off of animal protein, meat and fats, Not plants or carbohydrates.

The majority of popular dog food brands on the market today are mainly plant based, or created mostly from plant ingredients. Manufacturers do this not with the health of the animal in mind, but in an attempt to create a cheap product and still meet minimal nutritional requirements. It’s much cheaper to grow your own ingredients than raise and feed them.


Dogs are Meat Eaters

Remember, dogs are carnivores, and their bodies do better with proteins found in animal meat, as opposed to plant based proteins. Not all proteins are the same, and this does make a huge difference. This is why we don’t want to simply stop at a basic chart listing off calories.


Amino Acids: Why Dogs are Meant to Eat Meat

All proteins are built from a mixture or combination of smaller compounds called amino acids. The amino acid mixture that builds the proteins found in animal meat is different from the amino acid mixture found in plant proteins. A dog who eats mostly plant based food might find it hard to get the right mixture, in the right amount, of amino acids he needs.


How Much Should Dogs Eat 

You should also ask yourself what type of calories you are feeding your pet. There is far more to dog nutrition than the simple question: How many calories does a dog need? Understand you could meet this amount by mostly feeding your dog fat, or mostly carbs (like the ‘poor quality’ example below). Proper nutrition is about the type of calories more than the amount.


Wet food

The most canned foods’ caloric value is about 25-30 calories per 1 ounce  (~88-105 calories per 100 g), unless indicated otherwise on the package.

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Dry food

Dry food is much more calorific than canned food. Assuming that its contents is 90-120 calories per 1 ounce (~320-430 calories per 100 g), the daily volumes based on the dog’s weight are as follows:

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Calorie Needs for an Average Healthy Adult Dog in Ideal Body Condition (WSAVA)

Remember, these are only loose and basic guidelines. You should be more concerned with the type of protein, how many fats and carbs are in your dog’s diet. These amounts can also vary based on the dogs:

  • Age
  • Current weight
  • Activity level
  • Breed (to a lesser degree)


Wet vs. Dry Dog Food

The largest benefit of wet over dry dog food, however, is the added water percentage. There are actually several differences.

Dry Dog Food

  • Often more affordable
  • Lasts longer exposed to open air
  • More calorically dense (about 10% water)

Wet Dog Food

  • Less calorically dense (about 75% water)
  • Often more preferable to dog
  • Often fewer carbohydrates, fewer grains
  • Easier for dogs suffering from dental pain


Dental problems are often a simple fact of aging, and wet food is usually easier on old dogs. On the other hand, the simple, mechanical act of chewing helps break up plaque before it can harden and form tartar. This is one reason why it is good for your dog to chew on solid (not cooked or poultry) bones.


Are Carbohydrates Good or Bad?

Unlike us humans, who use carbs and sugars as our main source of energy, dogs simply don’t need them. A dog will do fine with an adequate amount of the correct proteins, fats, and other nutrients.

‘Grain Free’ is a pretty popular topic in pet food circles these days. Grains and carbs aren’t necessarily good or bad, and you don’t need to avoid them entirely. 

Cats and dogs can synthesize their own blood glucose from amino acids. Carbohydrate, therefore is not an essential macronutrient. (WALTHAM). 


Carbs and Weight Gain

The avg. domestic dog diet today consists from anywhere around/between 30-70% carbs, mostly because manufactured dog food brands often produce so many cheaply made plant based foods. The average wild wolf diet consists of about 15%. You can understand why weight and obesity is such an enormous problem in today’s pets.

Though dogs don’t need to eat plant foods, they certainly can find nutrition in grains, fruits, and vegetables! The key is both moderation and knowing what you are actually feeding your pet. A good dog food will contain all these in addition to various meats or other sources of animal protein. 

If your dog is suffering from weight issues, along with discussing the problem with your veterinarian, take a careful look at your pet’s diet. Take a look at the example of a high quality, premium dog food brand, and the ingredients offered, further down in this article. Compare that example to the other listed, a very cheaply made, low quality food.


Low Quality Dog Food Brand Example

Below are listed the top ten ingredients found in this dog food, distributed by one of the most popular brands in the world (by quite a lot, which is pretty ironic). 


Top Ten Ingredients: 

Whole grain corn 

Chicken by-product meal 

Corn gluten meal

Beef fat naturally preserved with mixed-tocopherols 

Soybean meal

Whole grain wheat 



Ground rice

Natural flavor

Mono and dicalcium phosphate


Ingredients on a nutritional label are listed based on content, the first ingredient used the most. You don’t see a meat source here until you hit the seventh ingredient! Chicken ‘by-product’ meal isn’t actually meat from chickens. Most of this dog food is made from corn, beef fat, and wheat.

High Quality Dog Food Brand Example

Below are the top ten ingredients listed from a higher quality dog food brand. Though this example does offer various vegetables lower down the list of ingredients, they don’t make the top ten. This is an example of a proper store bought dog food.

Top Ten Ingredients:

Deboned chicken 

Deboned turkey 

Atlantic flounder 

Whole eggs 

Whole Atlantic mackerel

Chicken liver

Turkey liver

Chicken heart

Turkey heart

Whole Atlantic herring


The list goes on, offering more protein sources. This product doesn’t just provide one or two sources of animal protein, but about 15. They start with chicken and turkey, but also provide 4 different types of fish, egg, and various types of highly nutritious organ meats.



Burke, Anna. (2019, July 8). How to Choose the Best Dog Food. Retrieved from

Committee on Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. (2006). Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs. Retrieved from

Millburn, Naomi. Dry Dog Food Calorie Count. Retrieved from 

Prof. Grandjean,  Dominique. Dr. Merrill,  Ralph. Dr. Buckley, Catherine. Dr. Morrism, Penny. Mr. Charlton, Chris. Dr. Stevenson, Abigail. WALTHAM® Pocket Book of Essential Nutrition for Cats and Dogs. Retrieved from

WSAVA Global Nutrition Comtee. (2013). Calorie Needs for an Average Healthy Adult Dog in Ideal Body Condition. Retrieved from

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