The answer to this question is not as simple as you would think. The feeding instructions on commercial dog food containers for adult dogs actually promote overfeeding. Veterinary scientists do not agree on the formulas for calculating the daily caloric needs for adult dogs. A dog’s lifestyle significantly influences its caloric needs. No wonder more than ½ of all pets are overweight. This post should help with a better understanding of feeding your adult dog.
Primary Feeding Rules
- Always feed to maintain a Body Condition Score or BCS of 4-5/9. By closely watching your dog’s BCS you can make feeding changes often and prevent major weight gain or loss. Use feeding instructions or calculations as a starting point that must be modified for your individual pet’s metabolism. This may also mean feeding less in the winter when exercise is less available and feeding more in the spring and summer when activity levels are high.
- All feeding instructions or calculations are based on ideal weight, not present weight if it is less or more than ideal. Dogs with a BCS of 1-3/9 are less than ideal and need more food. Dogs that are 6/9 are 10% overweight, 7/9 20% overweight, 8/9 30% overweight and 9/9 40% overweight.
- When you change food brands, you must change meal amounts. Commercial foods vary as much as 200 calories per cup of dry and 100 calories per can of wet food.
Commercial Dog Food Feeding Instructions
The feeding instructions charts on dog food containers are intended for the “most demanding stages of life.” That means the instructions are intended for sexually intact active or working dogs or pregnant or lactating dogs. The calorie needs of these categories far exceed the caloric needs of your neutered couch potato.
When using feeding charts on the bags of dog food, always feed at the lower end of the recommendations. If you own a breed of dog known to have weight problems, use feeding instructions for 5-15lbs. less. The amount of food can always be increased if the BCS falls below 4/9. The feeding instructions on bags are always for the entire day, not each meal and based on a true measuring cup not a drinking cup.
Calculating Daily Calories for Dogs
Calculating your dog’s daily caloric needs and then translating that to numbers of cups, cans or ounces is the most accurate way of feeding. It is a starting point that is much closer to your dog’s actual needs and is more accurate when making changes.
Unfortunately, scientist do not all agree and there are 3 formulas for calculating daily calories for the normal neutered, inactive dog (most household dogs). They also are based on ideal weight.
Formulas 1 and 2 require a scientific calculator in order to properly calculate the exponent. The calorie counts for these two formulas are close but not the same. The third formula is the easiest but it underestimates calories for dogs under 6lbs. and significantly overestimates calories for dogs over 60lbs. I have had great success using the NRC formula.
Translating Calculated Calories to Food Amounts
Pet food makers are not required to disclose the calories per cup or can on pet food labels, so they don’t. It may or may not be available on their websites so sometimes you have to call them. Occasionally companies will only disclose the kilocalories (calories) per kilogram of food. This makes calculating food quantities a little more mathematically challenging.
- How many cups or cans to feed:
Simply divide the total daily calories buy the calories per cup or can.
Example: Dog needs 1000 calories and each cup contains 385 calories. 1000/385 = 2.6 cups or 2 and 2/3 cups per day. Ideally, dogs should be fed twice a day so each meal would be 1 and 1/3 cups (2.6/2 = 1.3).
- How many cups or cans to feed when you only know calories per kilogram:
– First you must weigh a cup of dry food or can of wet food on a kitchen scale and find the number of grams per cup or can
– A kilogram is 1000 grams so divide the number of kcal (calories) per kg by 1000. This gives you the number of calories per gram
– Multiply the calories per gram times the gram weight of the cup or can. This is the calories per cup or can
– Now you can divide the total daily calories by the calories per cup or can
Example: Food contains 3965 kcal/kg and a cup weighs 84 grams. Our dog needs 1000 calories per day.
3965/1000 = 3.96 calories per gram of food. 84 x 3.96 = 332.6 or 333 calories per cup.
1000/333 = 3 cups per day or 1½ cups per meal.
This is the most accurate way to feed dogs. It is the only way if you choose to feed a combination of canned and dry. And again, remember if you change brands of foods, canned or dry, you must recalculate. Sometimes even changing the formulas of the same brands requires recalculation. There are no standard calorie counts among dog foods.
~Dr Ken Tudor
The Dog Dietitian
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