Are these dogs being fed enough?
January 28, 2010 4:27 PM   Subscribe

A 130-lb Mastiff on 3 cups of food a day? Seriously?

I'm house sitting for someone for a week, the main responsibility being the dogs. One is a 3 1/2 year-old mastiff, about 130 lbs, and the other is a 3 month-old Golden Retriever puppy. I've been instructed to feed them 2x a day: the big one gets a "scoop and a half" of dry food and the little one, half that. (A scoop is maybe a half-cup.)

I've never owned dogs, but that cannot be enough food. Every time I feed them extra, they eat like it's their last meal on earth. (FWIW, there are two cats here, and as a cat owner, I know that their diet sucks.) They're on me like white on rice anytime I'm in the kitchen or eating, and always giving me the saddest eyes. They seem to be in okay health, and I really don't want to nag the owner.

The owner is going through a lot of personal stuff and I'd like to come across as a help, not a pest. That said, her extraordinarily busy non-dog life is why she's not spending any time with them, so she may not realize what they're like when she's not here. Since she's all-organic, I suspect that she'd either feed them organic canned food or nothing, and can't afford organic.

However, I also suspect that I just know squat about dogs. Pet owners: is that enough food? Should I just spoil them while I'm here and not say anything? Or just respect her dietary wishes?
posted by blazingunicorn to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is either of the dogs too skinny?
posted by thirteenkiller at 4:29 PM on January 28, 2010

Every time I feed them extra, they eat like it's their last meal on earth.

The dogs I have known eat EVERYTHING like it's their last meal on Earth. Their food. Human food dropped on the floor. Something out of the bin that smelled good. Something out of the bin that smelled terrible. My friend's dog once ate the entire paper and cardboard wrapping from my takeaway that I'd accidentally left out.

Dogs are always hungry.

They're on me like white on rice anytime I'm in the kitchen or eating, and always giving me the saddest eyes.

See above.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:33 PM on January 28, 2010 [9 favorites]

A more helpful answer: what does it say on the food packaging? Usually it says like "Large dogs: 300g per day" or something.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:34 PM on January 28, 2010

Dogs are always hungry.

Totally! Unless the dogs look crazy skinny, do not worry.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:36 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

My dog, who gets plenty to eat, would tell you she was starving if she thought it might get her treats. In fact, she tells me that on a daily basis, and plays it up even more when she's around my parents or other people. She'll eat anything off the floor and will try most things once (including a Fruit Rollup, although she apparently decided she didn't care for that). That behavior alone doesn't mean much.
Do you know what brand of food she's using? You can google the name and "feeding guidelines" and see what the manufacturer recommends; for instance, 3 cups of my dog's food would be enough for a senior or overweight dog of 130 pounds, but it would be too little for an active or underweight dog, or of many other types of kibble. Also, measure the amount you're giving them, rather than estimating what a "scoop" equals -- this will give you a better grasp on the situation.
posted by katemonster at 4:36 PM on January 28, 2010

My parents have a 100 lb shepherd mix, and he gets a cup (of super high quality food) twice a day, which is really the appropriate amount of food for him (when he was at 3 cups a day he got pudgy). He is just as obsessed with food as you are describing -- pitiful when we eat, desperately trying to eat the cat's food, always acting like he's never, ever been fed.

This may not be true for the mastiff, but it doesn't sound totally out of whack. If he doesn't seem too skinny, don't fret. Don't overfeed him. I am constantly shocked at how little food the dog gets compared to the cats.
posted by jeather at 4:36 PM on January 28, 2010

Are you sure what you think is a half cup is a half cup? Have you actually measured the portion? Also the dog food bag has the recommended measurement according to weight.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 4:36 PM on January 28, 2010

I had 1 dog who able to have dry food available and not go nuts, though it took awhile. Another dog had been neglected by a previous owner and always went a bit crazy around food. Like humans, weight-appropriate dogs are healthier. If either dog is quite skinny, you may want to pursue more advice, but if they have some meat on their bones, they're probably fine.
posted by theora55 at 4:42 PM on January 28, 2010

The portion of food could very well be fine, what I'm concerned about is it sounds as if you're feeding both dogs the same kibble. It would not make sense for a three-month old puppy and a grown Mastiff to eat the same food so I hope I have simply misunderstood.
posted by kate blank at 4:43 PM on January 28, 2010

I doesn't sound quite right to me. Our 10 year old, 60lb labrador gets about 1&1/2 cups of dry food twice a day and she's not fat.

Spoil the little buggers but not with anything too fatty (like sausages) or you might have to up clean up diarrhea.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:46 PM on January 28, 2010

If it's high-quality food dogs and cats need less per serving to fulfill their dietary needs. If you can feel the ribs easily through the skin, but not see them super-easily, then the dogs are the proper weight for their body.

I've never owned dogs...

I appreciate the concern, but you sort of answered your own question here. Don't second-guess the owner. You'd know if these dogs were being underfed, they'd be super, super skinny and not energetic. Some dogs go nuts over their food, some don't.
posted by InsanePenguin at 4:48 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, a week of extra food wouldn't really do them much good if they were being underfed.
posted by InsanePenguin at 4:50 PM on January 28, 2010

You should follow the instructions you were given unless the dogs are emaciated.

I don't know what she's feeding them, but high-quality dog food can be very dense calorically/nutritionally. Biscotti changes things up every now and again, and takes care of the feeding, but IIRC our thirty-pound dog gets about a quarter cup twice a day.* The smaller one gets something like a 50-pound bag eight times a day, but that's because she's nursing.

Unless the dogs are emaciated, they're fine. Emaciated doesn't mean you can feel/see their ribs or feel their backbone, either. For most breeds anyway, that's normal at a healthy lean weight. I wouldn't swear to that with mastiff-derived breeds though.

You certainly can't gauge whether they're getting adequate nutrition by their behavior. Left to their own devices, many dogs would eat until they feel pain at nearly every opportunity.

If the dogs *are* emaciated, you should contact your local SPCA or other relevant animal protection agency.

*This is a benefit of high-quality dog food: you feed less of it. Also less comes out the other end of the pooch.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:58 PM on January 28, 2010

I own a 140 lb mastiff, he eats 4 cups of food a day. The dog you are feeding is fine, the owners know more about it than you. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS.
posted by Max Power at 5:17 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

It totally depends on the type of food. Cheaper foods have a lot of filler in the form of corn, beet pulp, wheat, soy, etc, and some foods have no grains at all. Growing dogs need more. Higher energy dogs need more. An older mastiff who isn't very active doesn't need to eat as much as you think. My 75+ lb dogs were gaining weight quite noticeably on 2.5 cups a day on a new brand of food until we cut back. It's very possible that 3 cups is enough.

As for acting hungry, I've known a 50lb dog who ate an estimated 8 lbs of food in one go when he got into the food when the owner was away. Most people overfeed their dogs and the average dog is quite a bit heavier than ideal. It's possible the mastiff is on a diet. You should be able to feel the ribs and see a waist when looking from above and a tuck in the belly when viewed from the side. If you can see vertebra or pelvic bones and he has no fat covering, he's too skinny, but otherwise if the dog is in good health, don't mess with it.
posted by hindmost at 5:18 PM on January 28, 2010

In the wild, canines eat like the legendary starved wolf whenever they can because they usually don't eat like that every day, or even every other day. So when they get the opportunity to eat, they stuff themselves if they can. That's a survival trait, as is a constant interest in and search for more food.

But it doesn't really make sense in domestication where food is plentiful and always available. If you let a canine eat as much as it wants to every day it's gonna get really fat because it's genetically programmed to eat too much.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:21 PM on January 28, 2010

Sorry to pipe up again, but a major concern with large breeds is overfeeding. Their bone structure can't handle too much excessive weight .

What type of mastiff is it? At 3 years and that weight it sounds like a bull mastiff. most of the mastiff breeds can easily grow to 160-200 pounds, anything over 175 is entering a danger zone as they age.

We supplement our dog's diet with protein ( veal hearts, chicken) and veggies, but it is important to NOT OVERFEED, otherwise you get big fat broken dogs.
posted by Max Power at 5:38 PM on January 28, 2010

Just follow the owner's directions; they sound fine.

And don't pay attention to what the food packaging says--all the vets I've used have said that those numbers are more than dogs should have.

Also, if you feed them more than they're used to, or if you feed them stuff they aren't used to (like extra treats or different food), you may very well end up with sick dogs.
posted by J-Train at 5:38 PM on January 28, 2010

If you got a half cup of dried meat, and a half cup of fat, and a half cup of hard rice every day, that would be more than enough for a 130lb person energy-wise, never mind a dog that spends half the day asleep. Your instincts are badly off.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:46 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Dog's are basically scavengers. Some will eat until they throw up.
posted by dobie at 5:52 PM on January 28, 2010

Yeah, a dog will never be full. Feed as indicated - a lean dog is a healthy dog.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:57 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think rationing makes dogs neurotic about food. My last two, we just kept the bowls full and they didn't overeat. It was always there, they didn't worry about it. We didn't get either of them second-hand though, and once a dog has been on the this-is-what-you-get-and-that-is all-until-same-time-tomorrow regimen, appetite control is ruined.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:02 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just adding to the echo chamber: dogs are opportunistic feeders as a survival trait carried over from their far-distant wild ancestors, most dogs ALWAYS act like they are starving and will eat whatever's available whenever it's available. Dogs who can self-regulate to an appropriate weight are few and far between. Most domestic dogs are overweight (I work at a vet clinic, I see this every day), and most people therefore do not actually know what an appropriate weight on a dog looks like, or how much food is appropriate. Dogs, like people, all require different amounts to stay at a healthy weight, I have a friend whose 60 pound dog eats less than her 30 pound dog to stay at the same lean body condition.

I think it's great that you're concerned, but what this dog is getting sounds just fine, and kudos to the owners for trying to keep their dog healthy.
posted by biscotti at 6:04 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

They're on me like white on rice anytime I'm in the kitchen or eating, and always giving me the saddest eyes.

Don't anthropomorphize them. They are not sad. Neither are they little human street urchins holding out hands for scraps of bread. The "sad eyes" have been boiled into their DNA from thousands and thousands of years of selective breeding. The dogs with the "sad eyes" finagled food and shelter from the humans, regardless of what they were actually thinking, and these are their descendants. Little actors on four legs in a rather elaborate performance.

If anything, the dogs are going to the sad eyes in an effort to train you.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:08 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Should I just spoil them while I'm here and not say anything? Or just respect her dietary wishes?
Don't make changes to the instructions you were given by the pet owner. These are not your pets. If you are so concerned, discuss it with your friend when it's appropriate. If you are really that worried about the dogs, then don't worry so much about hurting her feelings. That said, it should be relatively easy to bring this up. "Wow. The dogs really gobbled their food up the whole time I watched them for you. Is that normal? I don't know anything about dogs, but they just seemed so hungry! What does your vet say about feeding them? etc. etc."
posted by purpletangerine at 6:13 PM on January 28, 2010

I think rationing makes dogs neurotic about food. My last two, we just kept the bowls full and they didn't overeat. It was always there, they didn't worry about it. We didn't get either of them second-hand though, and once a dog has been on the this-is-what-you-get-and-that-is all-until-same-time-tomorrow regimen, appetite control is ruined.

This is an entirely subjective experience. Dogs vary just as much as people in their appetite control.
posted by purpletangerine at 6:15 PM on January 28, 2010

Thanks, everyone! This is one of those times when I'm glad to see that I'm the problem.
posted by blazingunicorn at 6:25 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I see the question's already been resolved, but I'm just stopping by to add another data point.

A good friend of mine has a rescue dog that had its hip broken years ago. The hip didn't heal correctly, and as a result the dog has a slight limp. My friend's vet specifically instructed her to keep the dog on the lean side and never to let her put on extra weight, because doing so could further weaken or injure the bad hip. Excess weight is never a good thing for a pet.
posted by pecanpies at 6:52 PM on January 28, 2010

Oh, you has a sweet potato dog!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:37 PM on January 28, 2010 [12 favorites]

Yeah, a dog will never be full.

And if a dog does manage to get full, it will be *miserable*. I accidentally overfed mine when she was temporarily on canned food, and at first I thought she'd hurt her legs from the way she was waddling around the room. (She was fine the next day.)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:26 PM on January 28, 2010

We have two dogs who are always hungry. My only advice on feeding is to monitor your dog's weight over time. If they appear too heavy, cut them back. If they appear too thin, feed them more. Use your dogfood's feeding guidelines as a starting point and go from there.

Very few dogfood manufacturers have truly "perfect" feeding guidelines on their bags. They always require adjustment.
posted by fremen at 8:56 PM on January 28, 2010

My dog is 80# and is fed just under 3 cups of a very nutrient-dense food/day during hunting season and 2.25 cups during the off-season. However, this is a dog who spends 24-36 hrs/week busting through matted tule reeds and charging through chest-deep ice-cold mud to retrieve ducks. Our vet calls him her only doggie patient who is exactly the proper weight/condition.

It's not good for large breed dogs like Mastiffs and Goldens to carry extra weight, it puts a lot of stress on their joints. For the Golden puppy in your care, it's especially important that she not be overfed as it will cause her to grow too quickly which can lead to incomplete skeletal development and lifelong joint problems.

Regarding the sad eyes: my previous dog (a mutt who died from old age, not gastronomic misadventure) was once fed most of the contents of several buffet-sized deli platters while attending a company picnic. A 35# dog, he consumed a little over 3/5ths of his weight in sliced cheese and salami under 15 minutes. When I retrieved him from the 7-year-old who was gleefully feeding him, he was *still begging for more* with the sad puppy eyes and all and I busted him gobbling down cake crumbs under the table not 5 minutes later. Lots of dogs will eat until they barf, then eat their barf (hey, now it's got gravy!). It's just a horrifying dog thing.
posted by jamaro at 9:05 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

I will echo everything said above. The answers you've gotten are 100% correct.

Another data point: I feed my 80 lbs Ridgeback one cup twice a day of a medium-density food designed for house dogs that are mostly inactive. Her 'Brother', a 50 lbs mutt that is my jogging and activity buddy, gets more food than she does plus training treats, and he's showing ribs... which is perfect. You want to be able to feel a dog's last couple of ribs. I wish I ate kibble, enjoyed it, and someone rationed it for me!

Thanks to people who fall for the sad eyes and "every meal is my last" -- Pet obesity is a giant problem.
posted by SpecialK at 10:46 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another data point: My sister's [late, lamented] golden once got hold of the bag of dog food. When she took him to the vet, the xray showed kibble [over]filling his stomach and half his esophagus. I imagine what stopped him finishing the bag was that the food was starting to spill over into his lungs, not that he was sated.
posted by chazlarson at 8:20 AM on January 29, 2010

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