Unless you’re a diehard baker or food scientist, you probably haven’t given your kitchen measuring cups and spoons much thought. The same likely holds true for the measuring cup or scoop that you’re using to dish up your pet’s food. After all, a cup is a cup is a cup, right?
Turns out, that’s not always the case.
Not for those in your kitchen. Not for those used when feeding your dog or cat.
To complicate matters, it turns out that pet owners aren’t very accurate when measuring dry dog food. At least that’s what University of Guelph researchers found. And based on their findings, consistent measurement errors could lead to undernourishment, weight gain or obesity in pets.
Study puts dog owners’ measuring skills to the test
The study, published in the journal Veterinary Record, asked 100 dog owners to use one of three common tools to measure out kibble: a standard 2-cup scoop with graduated markings, sold at a local pet store; a 2-cup liquid measuring cup typically used for baking and cooking; and a 1-cup plastic dry-ingredient measuring cup.
Each study participant was then asked to measure out three amounts of dry dog food — ¼ cup, ½ cup and 1 cup — using their assigned measuring cup or scoop. The volume of kibble measured by each dog owner was weighed on an electronic gram scale and compared to the correct weight.
The results revealed substantial inaccuracies in kibble measurements, ranging from 48 percent too little to 152 percent too much dog food. However, inaccuracy varied with the measuring tool used and the amount being measured. Dog owners using the 2-cup liquid measuring cup were most likely to inaccurately measure all three portions. Study participants were most accurate when they used a 1-cup dry-ingredient measuring cup to serve 1 cup of kibble.
“We found it particularly concerning to see how often participants over-measured the assigned portions, particularly given that there is an ongoing problem with obesity,” said lead author Jason Coe, DVM, PhD, in a University of Guelph news release. “Dog owners can easily overfeed their animals if they don’t measure out portions correctly, putting their animals at risk of several obesity-related diseases.”
What’s a pet owner to do?
A measuring cup or scoop is the most obvious way to measure out dry dog or cat food. But if measuring cups are imperfect tools, what should a concerned dog or cat owner do?
One approach for improving accuracy is to use a dry-food (or ingredient) measuring cup that’s matched to the amount of kibble needed. Consider buying a set of quality dry measuring cups specifically for your pet’s food. Before you buy, check out some of the online reviews, like the ones here and here.
When measuring kibble, try to be consistent with your measurement technique each time. Consider scooping kibble from the package, shaking or tapping the measuring cup gently and leveling the amount of kibble so that it’s level with the rim of the cup. (No mounds of kibble above the cup’s rim!)
Another approach for improving accuracy is to decrease the number of times you measure kibble during the day. Simply measure out the full amount of food your dog needs for the day and place it in a storage container or plastic food storage bag. Then, when it comes time to feed your dog, you can “eyeball” how you divide the food for each meal. If you feed two meals daily, then split the daily amount roughly in half. If you prefer to feed three meals daily, then split the daily amount into thirds.
Finally, according to Coe and other veterinary nutritionists, the gold standard is to use a kitchen food scale to weigh the amount of kibble you’re feeding your pet. Some pet food manufacturers now include the weights (in grams) of serving sizes as part of the feeding guide on their dry pet food packages. Some companies report how much an 8-ounce measuring cup of a particular food weighs in grams or ounces so you can do the math (dry-ingredient measuring cups measure by volume, not weight). If you really want to start weighing your pet’s kibble but the feeding guide only includes volume measurements, contact the pet food manufacturer’s customer service team for information. You can reach Diamond’s customer service team by calling 1-800-442-0402. The weight of 1 cup of food will most likely vary from one formula to the next, so you’ll want to know which brand and formula you’re feeding when asking for information.
The bottom line
Feeding the correct amount of food is as important to your pet’s nutrition and overall health as choosing the “right” food. A pet’s nutrient requirements aren’t just met by the nutrient levels in a food. The amount of food offered and eaten, including treats, help satisfy a pet’s nutritional needs. If you have questions about what and how much to feed your pet, please talk with your veterinarian.
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