"How much should my dog eat?" is a question I hear pretty regularly. Everyone knows on the back of every bag of kibble, can food or raw package there are the notorious feeding guidelines. Pretty simple and straight forward right? Not as simple as you might think. The guidelines are established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which is basically the group that collects all the research to decide what nutrients your dog or cat requires. Most guidelines are pretty efficient and take up only a small rectangle on the back of the bag to leave room for the ingredient panel and the great big paragraph that tells you why that certain food is the best food ever. One of the problems I notice on these guidelines is the rather large weight range that is covered. There is a pretty big difference between a 10lb dog and a 22lb dog but they are lumped in the same range with feeding of 1/2 cup to 1 cup. If your dog is somewhere in between you are left guessing what amount is best and this also assumes that every dog at that weight range is at an ideal weight. That's a pretty big assumption considering over half the dogs in homes are overweight and the numbers for obesity are increasing at an alarming rate.
Many of us, well, all of us end up feeding treats as well. We also mix in can foods, a little bit of our own dinner or feed different foods at different meals (i.e. kibble one meal, raw one meal, can one meal, etc.). This makes everything a little bit harder to determine how much we are actually feeding overall. Luckily, due to consumer demand and our growing obesity epidemic, it has become pretty common practice to list the number of calories per cup. Ideally we would be using the other number calories per kg but for our own sanity and to prevent more math than necessary we are going to use the calories per cup. It may also be listed as calories per can for wet food or raw foods are generally calories per ounce. Step one is to determine how many calories your dog needs. The minimum amount of calories needed for daily functions is determined using the Resting Energy Requirement (RER). You will use your dog's ideal body weight in kilograms for this equation. If you don't know your dogs weight in kilograms you can find by taking your dogs weight in pounds divided by 2.2. This will give you your dogs weight in kg. The equations you need are listed below:
Weight in kg = ideal weight / 2.2
RER = 70 x (ideal weight in kg)0.75
For example, my dog, Delilah, is 30lbs. Her weight in kg is 13.6kg. She is at a good weight right now so I will use that for her ideal weight. This calculation does require a scientific calculator but most computers have a calculator that can handle the power function. So I take 13.6 to the power of 0.75 then multiply by 70. Her RER is 496. This means Delilah requires a bare minimum of 496 calories per day. The next step is to determine your dog's activity level. If you have a senior pup prone to weight gain, is overweight, has arthritis or bad joints or there's small children around "dropping" lots of goodies for your pup to pick up then this might suffice. I generally recommend feeding close to this range if you are not factoring in your dogs treats. If you a very particular, eagle eye pet parent that takes every last bit into account then your total calorie count will most likely be higher. Once you have the base number of calories you need you can multiply it by one of the co-factors established by the American Veterinary Association that most closely relates to your dog's activity level. Please be honest with yourself about activity level. A 20 minute walk around the neighborhood, a handful of zoomies through the house or a few ball tosses in the backyard does not qualify as an active dog. You always want to start low and work your way up. I think most of us have experience how much easier it is to gain weight than lose it.
Find the co-efficient that best relates to your dog below and multiply the previously calculated RER by this number. This gives you the total allotted calories for your dog for the entire day, treats included. My dog is a beagle mix so I factor her based on obese prone (beagles love food) and also consider that she gets quite a few treats through training. So my 30lb senior beagle mix gets just under 700 calories per day.
Table 1. Known life stages and corresponding factors used to estimate daily energy needs for dogs. (Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center)
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
The last step in this calculation is to determine the calorie content of the food you are feeding. Take your dog's total daily calorie requirement and divide it by the calories per cup listed on the dog food label. This is how many cups you should be feeding your dog. In order to make sure your pup is getting the right amount is make sure you have measuring device specific to your dog. Don't use a full cup to measure the half cup that your dog gets at each meal, use a half cup. This will help prevent accidental overfeeding and makes it easier for all household members to follow the rules to keep Fido healthy. If you feed raw or freeze-dried you may have calculate calories by multiplying your dog's calorie requirement by the calories per ounce listed on the bag. If you do homemade dog food, cooked or raw, you can determine the calories by plugging in your recipe to the USDA Nutrition Database or My Food Record online. If you are doing raw or homemade you may have to break out the food scale the first few times you feed your dog to determine how much of the food to feed.
This should give a basic outline to help you determine how to your dog the right amount. Making sure your dog stays lean and within ideal weight will give you more time with your and help prevent premature aging. There is a lot of good research out their now about how obesity contributes to a wide variety of ailments including arthritis, diabetes, digestive complaints and cancer. I'll be speaking more on the importance of healthy weight for dogs later, particularly for our senior pets. Thanks for sticking this out to the end. I do apologize for all the math but remember, your canine companion is worth it.
Brooks et. al. (2014). 2014 AAHA Weight Management Guidelines for Cats and Dogs. J. of American Animal Hospital Association.
Lane, Catherine. (2014). Energy 101. Retrieved from www.thepossiblecanine.com.
Segal, Monica. (2009). K9 Kitchen, 2nd Ed.
Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center. Basic Calorie Counter.
My life has gone to the dogs. I've worked in shelters, dog daycares, veterinary offices and local pet food retailers. I've seen all aspects of the pet world and I've got a theme that keeps popping up. Let's get back to basics, keep it simple. In my mind, it all starts with good food and using what nature has to offer.