One of the most frequent questions dog owners ask is how much dog food they should feed their dog. Or, put another way, how many calories should their dog have per day? This is always a hard question to answer because my 60-pound dog that is 14-years-old is different from your 25-pound dog that’s two-years-old. It also makes a difference if dogs are spayed/neutered, if they are active or sedentary, and what their overall health is like.
Fortunately, there are several good ways to estimate how many calories your dog should have in a day.
What are calories?
A calorie is a unit of energy in a serving of food. Technically, a calorie constitutes the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. It’s the way we measure the energy the body needs.
How many calories do dogs need?
The amount of calories a dog needs depends on a number of factors such as size, activity level, age, health, and whether your dog is spayed or neutered.
In general, dogs need anywhere from 20 to 30 calories per pound of body weigh each day. Why the range? Because pound for pound, small dogs use up more energy, even when they are resting, than giant dogs. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the biggest dogs need the fewest calories per pound.
If you have a Pomeranian, he will probably need close to 30 calories per pound of body weight per day (depending on other factors). On the other hand, if you have a Great Dane, he may need closer to 20 calories per pound of body weight per day (depending on other factors). Medium-sized dogs usually need around 25 calories per pound of body weight per day (again, depending on other factors).
Using this method, if your Pomeranian weighs 10 pounds, he would need approximately 300 calories per day. A Great Dane weighing 120 pounds might need 2400 calories per day. And, a medium-sized dog weighing 50 pounds would need about 1250 calories per day.
These are only general guidelines. Make sure that you know your dog’s exact weight. If your dog needs to lose or gain weight you will need to adjust the amount of calories you feed. You can be more precise with some other methods of calculating your dog’s calorie needs.
You should always pay attention to your dog’s physical appearance as well. If your eyes and hands tell you that your dog is too thin or too plump, adjust the amount you are feeding appropriately.
If you want to figure calories for your dog yourself so they will be as precise as possible, these calculations are used by animal nutritionists.
First, you need to know your dog’s current weight. It’s best if you don’t guess.
Take your dog’s weight in pounds and divide by 2.2. This gives you the weight in kilograms (kg).
Then calculate your dog’s Resting Energy Rate (RER). The formula looks like this:
RER in kcal/day = 30 x (body weight in kilograms) + 70
So, if your dog weighs 44 pounds (a convenient figure for this equation), the weight in kilograms would equal 20 kg. The formula would look like this: RER in kcal/day = 30 x 20kg + 70 = 670
The RER in kcal/day would be 670 calories per day for your dog https://www.dvm360.com/view/calculate-perfect-portions-pets, This is the basic figure for the dog. This is not the amount of calories you should feed your dog without checking other conditions (below).
The reason why this formula is so useful is because it can be slightly modified https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/companion/our-services/nutrition-support-service/basic-calorie-calculator to be accurate for puppies, neutered animals, maintenance diets, weight loss, and working diets.
If your dog with the 670 calories per day RER is a neutered adult, multiply the result by 1.6. You would need to feed your dog 1072 calories. If the dog is an intact adult, multiply by 1.8. You would need to feed your dog 1206 calories per day. If the dog needs to lose weight, multiply by 1. That gives you 670 calories per day.
|Neutered adult||=1.6 x RER|
|Intact adult||=1.8 x RER|
|Inactive/obese prone||=1.2-1.4 x RER|
|Weight loss||=1.0 x RER for ideal weight|
|Weight gain||=1.2-1.8 x RER for ideal weight|
|Active, working dogs||=2.0-5.0 x RER|
|Puppy 0-4 months||=3.0 x RER|
|Puppy 4 months to adult||= 2.0 x RER|
These calorie figures are much more accurate than the ballpark figures usually given for dogs but they can still be as much as 50 percent off from your individual dog’s needs. Every dog is different. You can start with these calorie recommendations and see if your dog is holding the desired weight.
Another way to determine how many calories, or how much food to give your dog is to check the feeding guidelines on the bag or can of dog food. Some companies are better at providing accurate feeding recommendations than others but this can be a good place to start if you don’t want to go through all of the math formulas.
You can usually find good information on dog food labels such as the calories in a cup or can of food. It will often be in this format: Calorie Content: 3557 kcal ME/kg; 353 kcal ME/ cup
Deciphered, this means that one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of this dog food contains 3,557 calories (kilocalories of metabolizable [usable] energy); one standard measuring cup of the food has 353 calories. Canned food sometimes provides information based on the amount of food in a certain size can. This can get tricky if you are comparing cans of different brands and they provide calories based on cans of different sizes such as 5.5 ounces and 13.5 ounces. (Pet lovers have to do a lot of math in our heads.)
If you have trouble finding this information on the label, check the company’s web site. It is usually on the same page with the feeding guidelines or the ingredients.
Along with these other methods of calculating calories per day for your dog, you can also find some good calorie tables online. For example, there are several good calorie tables on the Pet Obesity Prevention web site https://petobesityprevention.org/pet-caloric-needs. Most of the focus on the site is on encouraging pet weight loss but they do provide calorie information for dogs on maintenance diets.
Dogs that are spayed/neutered experience hormonal changes. Many of them become less active unless you encourage them to stay active. They often gain weight. These dogs may need a reduction in calories or a change in food. However, it’s dangerous to make blanket statements about large reductions in food for these dogs. Watch your dog’s weight and try to keep your spayed/neutered dog active.
The same is true for older dogs. Blanket statements can be dangerous. Many older dogs gain weight after the prime of life. You may need to cut back on their calories a little. Encouraging exercise is also a good idea as your dog ages. However, for very old and elderly dogs, it’s not a good idea to severely reduce a dog’s calories. An old dog that experiences even a slight illness can lose weight rapidly and it’s hard for them to regain the weight. As your old dog ages, look for foods that keep him at a good weight and don’t worry if he’s a little plump.
Finally, if you are switching dog foods, remember that different foods have different calories per ounce and per cup. Dry dog foods can range in calories anywhere from about 250 calories per cup to nearly 600 calories per cup. Canned foods can also vary. It’s easy to think that three cups of kibble is the same regardless of brand or recipe but they can be very different. Always check the calories of the dog food you are feeding so you know how many calories you are giving your dog.
There are several good ways to figure out how many calories your dog needs per day. Remember to consider your dog’s size, age, activity level, and other factors when figuring calories. No matter which method you choose, every dog is an individual. No method for figuring calories is 100 percent perfect. You will need to observe your dog to make sure that he is staying at a healthy weight. Adjust your dog’s calories as needed. If you are in doubt about your dog’s weight, condition, or calories, ask your veterinarian.