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Are you worried that you may have accidentally overfed your puppy, or that they ate too much kibble? Or perhaps you are concerned that your puppy ate too much human food. How bad is it if you do overfeed your puppy? Well, let’s answer that question now…
The consequences of a puppy eating too much food depends on the frequency with which it happens. A one-off event, for example, will require you to watch them closely for symptoms of Bloat.
The main symptoms that go hand in hand with eating too much in one sitting are regurgitating food and diarrhea. Both can lead to dehydration that can be fatal if not dealt with quickly.
The severity of an overeating puppy can range from one unfortunate vomit spot on your new rug, to a serious and life-threatening condition like GDV (Gastric Dilation and Volvulus) also known as Bloat.
If your puppy is eating too much on a daily basis, it can also lead to severe health consequences down the road.
A puppy’s growing bones are vulnerable to wear and tear of extra weight. Overweight or obese puppies are also more prone to develop chronic diseases later in life.
If your puppy eats too much all at once, they will probably regurgitate their food. This is a good indicator of a puppy overeating.
The difference between vomiting and regurgitating is that regurgitation is the act of simply bringing up undigested food from the stomach. It happens quickly, with little fuss, as though the puppy is just expelling the extra food.
On the other hand, vomiting is more related to nausea and illness. Whatever is vomited is more already digested to some degree, and there will likely be a lot of active heaving and clenching stomach muscles.
So if regurgitating occurs often after meals, the servings are likely too big.
Chronic vomiting on the other hand may be a sign of a more serious problem and you should take your puppy to see their vet.
Overfeeding your puppy can cause diarrhea
Overfeeding your puppy can also lead to diarrhea. If overeating continues for only a couple of days, your pup’s digestive system will recover. However, if you overfeed your pup for an extended period, diarrhea become chronic.
Don’t forget that there are many reasons that your puppy could have diarrhea. Severe diarrhea can hint at serious, life-threatening health problems. It is always best to consult your vet, no matter the cause.
What if my puppy ate too much and is now bloated?
If your puppy ate too much it’s best to keep an eye on them until they have a normal bowel movement or they regurgitate some of the food.
They may have a swollen stomach, but so long as they are not showing any signs of pain or discomfort, it should be nothing more than a warning to be careful that you limit the food your puppy has available to them in the future.
During this time, it’s important to look for signs of distress. Occasionally, gas can build up in the intestines and become trapped. That trapped air can cause the intestines to twist in dogs, leading to gastric dilatation-volvulus or bloat.
It is not difficult to spot. If your puppy has GDV, they will be in pain. They will struggle to vomit and defecate and will likely whine or cry while finding a comfortable position in which to lie down. In these cases, they need to be rushed to a vet immediately.
Bloat is a very serious condition requiring immediate medical attention. Even when treated, GDV has a relatively high fatality rate of between 10% and 26.8%.
Symptoms of overfeeding your puppy regularly
The primary symptoms of overfeeding a puppy over a duration of time are:
Low food motivation during training
Food left in the bowel after mealtimes or increased fussiness over food
How to tell if you are regularly overfeeding your puppy
It can be challenging to determine whether a puppy is overweight or just large for their age. Each puppy is unique, and it would be contradictory to your puppy’s well-being to cut down on their food if they are just bigger than average.
The easiest way to tell whether you are overfeeding your puppy is by their body shape. When one tries to determine whether a puppy is overweight, we generally weigh them.
The problem with this approach is dogs have so many different shapes and sizes, and puppies grow at such different rates, it’s impossible to tell from their weight alone if they are overweight.
Your eyes are far superior tools with which to determine that your pup needs to lose a few pounds. As unscientific as it may sound, our judgment will be more accurate than the weight/height/age metric.
If your puppy has a round tummy instead of a clear waist, or if you can’t feel their ribs with your fingertips, this is the first indication that your puppy is being overfed.
You should also use our puppy feeding calculator, which determines the amount of food required using their Resting Energy Requirement, as per their body weight. This will give you a reasonably accurate amount of food to feed your puppy.
However, we do suggest that if your puppy is gaining too much weight, then you should take them to their veterinarian to best determine a dietary plan that is suited to your puppy specifically.
The body condition score
If your puppy’s body shape makes you think they might be overweight, your next step will be the body condition score.
The BCS measurement can take into account different body types. That is important because you can’t judge your pup’s weight compared to an entirely different breed.
There are two different scales that you can use. The first is the 1-5 scale, and the second is the 1-9 scale. Most vets prefer the latter, but both function in the same way.
Ensure that your scoring reflects the appropriate body shape if your pup is still under four months old. At that age, your puppy will have a round belly. However, as they grow, the belly should change shape.
A score of 5/5 means your dog is obese, while 5/9 would be an ideal weight. You have to ensure that you measure for the right animal to interpret the scale. You can find a guide on measuring BCS here.
In general, after four months, you want a lean puppy, as this will put the least strain on their growing bones. Of course, hips and ribs that visibly jut out are a sign of an undernourished dog. However, a lean puppy will:
Have a visible curve toward their spine from behind their ribcage.
A belly that is even with the ribcage or forms a straight line is a sign of being overweight.
Has a visible waist when looked at from above.
While you should not be able to see more than one or two ribs at most, you should be able to feel them if you gently prod the ribcage.
Ribs will be more visible on some breeds than others. For instance, most sighthounds like Greyhounds or Whippets should have very pronounced ribcages.
On the other hand, the English Bullterrier is naturally an extremely muscular dog, and it’s rare to be able to see a rib on them. Knowing the ideal body shape for your breed is paramount to making sure you don’t have an overweight dog.
Bowel movements for an overfed dog
Your puppy’s bowel movements are an important indicator of whether you are overfeeding them. Better still, their bowel movements can indicate that you are overfeeding your puppy before they begin to gain weight.
Soft stools after feeding suggest that your puppy is eating too much. If your puppy has normal stools in the morning before eating, followed by soft stools after eating their food or having a snack, then they may be eating too much.
During their early developmental phase, puppies are at peak energy. It is the phase in which they will play and bounce around the most in their lives.
Their curiosity only exacerbates that energy. The world is, after all, a completely new place. So if your puppy seems a bit sluggish, it could indicate that they are eating too much.
You will notice more sluggish behavior after a meal, or usually a nap. However, the lethargy shouldn’t last very long. A healthy pup will quickly return to their original energy levels when they wake up.
Can overfeeding a puppy cause loose stools?
Overfeeding your puppy will almost certainly lead to loose stools and is one of the most common symptoms that your pup is eating too much. Unfortunately, some believe that the only symptom of overfeeding is weight gain.
That idea is not exactly true. An overfed puppy can remain at a normal weight, all while suffering the rest of the damage overfeeding can do. If your pup has loose stools, you can cut down on their food before they start gaining a lot of weight.
Can overfeeding a puppy cause death?
There are several ways in which overfeeding your puppy can lead to fatal consequences. These include dehydration by vomiting and diarrhea, gastric impaction, and a condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus or bloat, which we already covered.
There are also long-term effects of overfeeding puppies.
For instance, all puppies, but particularly large and giant breeds, have very specific needs for calcium and phosphorus in the correct ratio and amount so that their musculoskeletal system can develop properly.
In recent studies, most commercial dog foods oversupply these minerals, which can impact bone and joint development, as well as other functions like the renal system due to too much copper or phosphorus in the diet.
In theory, feeding the recommended amount to your puppy should keep them safe from ingesting too many minerals over a long period. However, overfeeding means that they:
May suffer more later from arthritis and other inflammatory bones disorders due to being overweight while they are growing.
May be more prone to diseases such as diabetes.
May lead to other chronic issues related to eating above the recommended daily allowance of certain minerals. Long-term oversupply of phosphorus and copper, for instance, can lead to liver and kidney problems.
Can underfeeding a puppy cause diarrhea?
Underfeeding a puppy can cause loose stools, especially right after mealtime. As your puppy scoffs down their next meal out of hunger, they can quickly overwhelm their digestive system.
Malnourished puppies will also likely have a less than optimal gut microflora balance, so it’s best to add a good brand of probiotics into their diet to help them cope with meals and better absorb nutrients.
Eating too much too fast can induce regurgitating and diarrhea in any puppy. But if they are vomiting chronically as well as diarrhea, they will need to see the vet as soon as possible to rule out an underlying health issue.
A puppy that has been underfed and has low body weight should also see a vet so that a plan can be developed to help meet their nutritional needs and reach their optimal weight safely.
Overfeeding your puppy might not sound all too serious at first. However, when those literal big puppy dog eyes stare up at you for a second snack, it takes inhuman amounts of willpower to deny them.
Unfortunately, overfeeding has consequences beyond weight gain. It can lead to soft stool, diarrhea, vomiting, and lethargy. It can also cause a more serious, life-threatening condition called gastric dilatation-volvulus or bloat, as well as severe health problems as they get older.
Tamsin has worked extensively in dog behavior problems and in rescue. She has worked with trainers who specialize in Shutzhund and protection training. Nowadays, her focus is on canine nutrition.
Tamsin is pictured here with her much loved boy, Hudson. She is a true dog lover with a wealth of knowledge on dogs, and we're grateful to have her on the HoundGames team.