Despite being of the same species, most dogs have different diet requirements that vary from breed to breed. As a concerned dog owner, you want to make sure your dog is getting the right number of calories—not too many, not too few. That’s where our handy calculator comes in! Use this tool to determine the proper number of calories your dog will require on a daily basis.
Why Do I Need to Calculate My Dog’s Calorie Needs?
Every package of dog food has a recommended feeding amount listed on it. It’s based on adult weight, although some foods list recommendations for puppies and seniors as well. The problem with these recommendations is that they don’t account for your dog’s current health status, or whether your dog is fixed or not, or how active your dog is on a given day. Those recommendations are suggestions based on the average dog in each group, but just like with humans, every dog is different and what works for one dog may not work for another. Calculating your dog’s calorie needs will help you ensure your dog is getting the right amount of food every day.
RELATED READ: Can You Judge Dog Food Solely by Its First Ingredient?
Calculating Calorie Intake for Your Dog
To calculate your dog’s calorie needs, there are two important things you need to do first. One is to get an accurate, up to date weight on your dog. Using an outdated weight or a weight you’re ballparking isn’t going to give you an accurate measurement. The other thing you need to consult with your dog’s veterinarian to determine your dog’s ideal or target weight. If your dog is a healthy weight, then that’s the ideal weight you’ll use in the equation.
In this equation, you are determining your dog’s resting energy requirement, or RER. This is the energy your dog burns in a normal day with no additional activity. This measurement covers baseline metabolism and things like walking to and from food and water, quick potty trips, and other routine activities. Don’t worry about adding in additional activities, like walks or sports, just yet.
RER in kcal/day = (ideal or target weight in kg ^ 0.75) x 70 OR 30 x (body weight in kg) +70
To determine your dog’s weight in kilograms, divide its weight in pounds by 2.2. So, a 10-pound dog weighs 4.5 kg and a 50-pound dog weighs 22.7 kg.
Additional Factors That May Alter Your Calculation
Spayed/Neutered Adult Dog:
Once a dog is spayed or neutered, hormone levels drop significantly, taking metabolism with them. It is also more difficult for a dog that is fixed to build muscle, and muscle is a driving factor in metabolism.
- To determine the calorie needs of a fixed dog, use this equation: RER x 1.6
Intact Adult Dog:
Dogs that have not been spayed or neutered retain the hormones and muscle-building ability that fixed dogs have lost, which means they have a higher metabolism, thus needing more food.
- To determine their calorie needs, use this equation: RER x1.8
Dogs with a low-activity lifestyle or those that are predisposed to obesity due to health or genetics require fewer calories than most other adult dogs.
- Use one of these equations: RER x 1.2, RER x 1.3, RER x 1.4. You can choose the equation based on your dog’s level of sedentariness.
If your veterinarian has determined your dog is overweight, you will use the RER you already determined as their calorie needs. Run this number by your veterinarian to verify they are in agreement.
- Related Read: Best Wet Dog Foods for Weight Loss
Many people are used to seeing overweight dogs, so knowing what a healthy weight should look like can be difficult. Have your vet determine if your dog is underweight and have them sign off on a weight gain plan before you start this.
- To determine weight gain calorie needs, use this equation: RER x 1.2 up to RER x 1.8. This is dependent on your dog’s activity level and how underweight they are.
If you’ve got a dog that participates in sports like flyball and weight pull, or a working dog like a police or cadaver dog, your dog needs more calories than the average pet.
- Use this equation: RER x 2 up to RER x 5. This is dependent on the level of activity your dog is participating in and may vary from day to day.
Puppies 0–4 Months:
Puppies in this age range are growing extremely quickly and need plenty of high-quality nutrition and calories to help them out.
- Use the following equation for puppies in this age group: RER x 3
Puppies 4–12 Months:
Puppies in this age group are still growing rapidly and most dogs continue to grow for 18-24 months.
- Use the following equation for puppies in this age group: RER x 2. Note that if your puppy is a giant breed, it may have different nutritional needs, so verify the calories you calculate with your vet before implementing it.
You can find the calculator and more information here.
The exact amount of calories an individual animal needs to maintain a healthy weight is variable and influenced by many factors including genetics, age, breed, and activity level. This tool is meant to be used only as a guideline for healthy individuals and does not substitute veterinary advice
What Counts Toward My Dog’s Daily Calorie Intake?
In short, anything and everything your dog eats needs to be counted toward its calorie intake. Meals aren’t the only thing that can put weight on your dog. Treats, table scraps, and the bowl of cat food your dog sneaks every now and then can potentially put weight on your dog. Everything should be fed in moderation and do your best to keep your dog from stealing food from other pets. Each dog should have its own food bowl so you can keep track of how much each dog is consuming in a day. Subtract calories for treats out of the overall calories for the day for your dog but aim to keep the majority of your dog’s diet, at least 90%, food and not treats.
How Often Should I Feed My Dog?
Ideally, you should be feeding your dog in 2–3 split meals per day. Feeding once per day may leave your dog extra hungry between meals and may lead to begging or overeating. If your dog will not self-regulate its own feeding schedule, then you should not offer free feeding, especially with multiple pets in the home. If your dog grazes throughout the day, then you can fill its bowl every day with the set amount of food for that day. Measuring your dog’s food will help you verify exactly how much your dog is eating in any given day.
Suggested Calorie Intake for Dogs By Weight
Meeting a dog’s calorie needs can be extremely varied, even for dogs that are the same weight. There are so many factors that play into how many calories your dog needs in a day, so calculating the totals and talking with your vet is very important. Here’s a look at a few dogs that are the same weight but have different specific needs.
The Dangers of Obesity/Malnutrition in Dogs
Obesity in dogs can lead to major changes in lifestyle and abilities. It can lead to arthritis and increase the risk of things like tendon tears and slipped vertebral discs. Obese dogs cannot be as active as healthy weight dogs, even if they want to. They become tired easily and can suffer from diabetes, large collections of fat around the organs, liver problems, and other serious medical conditions.
Malnourished dogs can be overweight or underweight. Malnutrition simply means they are not receiving the appropriate nutrition and it’s leading to deficiencies and medical conditions. Underweight dogs that are malnourished can suffer permanent organ damage, skin problems, hair loss, pressure sores, and lethargy. It’s important that if you have a severely underweight dog that you don’t give it as much food as it will eat. Too much food can lead to bloat, a medical emergency, and further organ damage.
RELATED READ: Diet for Overweight Dogs: Weight loss & Management
If you’re unsure if your dog is at a healthy weight or not, ask your veterinarian. They have knowledge of your dog’s medical needs and will work with you to develop a diet that works for your dog and meets all of its needs. Using these calculations is a great starting point but be ready to make adjustments if needed. Make dietary changes slowly and monitor closely for weight loss or gain.
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