How to accurately measure your pet's food

As pet parents, we feed our animals every day. Some of us have multiple pets of different species, who all require different amounts of food. Most of our pets are fed twice or three times per day. So, we do a lot of measuring. But how accurate are your measurements when you scoop out one meal’s worth of kibble for your pet? You might be surprised to find that the way you portion out your pet’s food could be inaccurate, and you could be delivering too few or (more often) too many calories to your pet!

What is a cup?

First, you have to consider your measuring device. What are you using to scoop your pet’s food? Most pet food bags suggest a standard 8oz measuring cup. . . but not all of them are created equally! Do you use a kitchen measuring cup, a scoop from the pet store, or something else entirely? Some pet parents use random containers like coffee cans or plastic drinking cups, while others use their hands or their pet’s dish to scoop food from the bag.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to get accurate measurements with any of these methods. Even the 8oz measuring cups can get kibble measurements wrong, since they are made to measure water, not solids – and certainly not kibbles, which come in many different shapes and sizes.

When a cup is not a cup

Not every “cup” of pet food is the same. Across different brands, a cup of pet food differs based on its weight in grams and its caloric value. Since kibbles vary in size, shape, and weight, it is extremely difficult to accurately measure an exact cup of food, even when using a standardized measuring cup. Scientific studies show that pet owners and even veterinary staff are pretty bad at scooping the correct amount of pet food using just a measuring cup!

As if scooping a cup wasn’t difficult enough, most pets don’t need exactly one cup of food. For instance, most cats need about ½ cup of food per day, while a dog might need 2½ cups. Additionally, when you calculate your pet’s daily calorie needs and then convert to cups, you can get some weird numbers: ⅕ of a cup, ⅛ of a cup, ⅙ of a cup. . . . These are often not even labeled on regular measuring cups and can be a real hassle to get precise. Many pet parents just round up or down, or worse: “eyeball” it!

The biggest consequence of imprecisely measuring your pet’s food is underfeeding or overfeeding. Feeding too few calories to your pet can cause weight loss and malnutrition. Feeding too many calories can cause weight gain and malnutrition, which eventually leads to obesity and other health problems. Being as accurate as possible when scooping your pet’s food will help ensure you are delivering the right amount of calories to your pet on a daily basis.

The most accurate way. . . is to weigh

Weighing your pet’s food in grams is the most accurate way to get the exact same amount of kibble each time. Kitchen scales can be found online or at grocery stores for around $10 and up. Make sure it measures in grams; some scales have oz, mL, and other units as well.

Reliable pet food companies understand the importance of weighing pet food, so they will have the weight of 1 cup of food listed on the bag. For example, the bag might say, “1 standard 8oz measuring cup holds 100g of dog food.” Many pet food companies do not list this information on the bag, and you will have to call them to find it. If you can’t find this important piece of information anywhere, it’s best to avoid that pet food company (see How to pick a pet food, part 1 for more info on reliable pet food companies).

To figure out how many calories your pet needs to eat on a daily basis, go to How to calculate your pet’s calorie needs. This article will walk you through calculating calories, converting to grams, and dividing into meals.

Then, just place the dish on your gram scale, tare it, and pour in food until you reach the correct amount in grams. It might be helpful to have a rough estimate of how many cups you will need, so you can get to the correct amount more quickly.

It’s that easy! No more eyeballing, no more shaking food out of the cup until you think you have enough – just weigh it and go!

What about canned food?

Just like with kibble, getting exactly ⅕ or ⅛ of a can of food is pretty impossible.

Canned food usually lists the number of kcals per can, and on the front, it lists the net weight of the food in grams. As long as you have all this information, you can easily calculate how many kcals are in one gram of food.

To get kcals per gram, divide kcals per can by grams per can.

Then, divide your pet’s total required daily kcals by kcals per gram.

Lastly, divide into meals.