There are many reasons almost 60% of pets are overweight. We spoil them with treats. Our busy lifestyles interfere with regular exercise. But we are not the only reason. The way pet food is formulated has even a greater impact on the weight of our pets.
How Feeding Instructions Encourage Overeating
The standards for feeding dog food are established for active, sexually intact dogs. They are based on the National Research Council (NRC) recommendations. All pet food formulation and feeding instructions are based on a 33lb. active, intact dog receiving 1,000 calories per day. Our normal, less active, sexually neutered pets don’t need that many daily calories. In fact, by the NRC’s own formula, our 51lb. couch potato only needs 1,000 calories per day.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets the standards for all pet foods marketed in the US. Their feeding standards are the same as those established by the NRC for active dogs. In other words, all dog food must be formulated and fed so 1,000 calories meets the needs of the 33lb. dog. Those instructions mean our 51lb. normal dog gets about 150 more calories per day than needed. Over the course of a year this is 54,750 extra calories.
It is estimated that each pound of body weight requires about 3,500 calories. So 54,750 extra calories could add about 16 pounds to our 51 pound dog in one year! In order to keep our dogs fit we have to feed less than recommended by the feeding instructions. But that may lead to nutrient deficiencies.
How Dog Food is Made
AAFCO standards require that every 1,000 calories of dog food contain certain amounts of amino acids, essential fats, vitamins and minerals. The quantity of these ingredients must meet the needs of the 33lb. active dog. Our 51lb. less active dog requires only 1,000 calories yet about 25-30% more of amino acids, fats, vitamins and minerals. Feeding less than instructed on the label would mean our dog would have a nutrient deficient diet. She could be fit but not healthy. What she needs is a food that is fortified to meet her nutrient needs in only 1,000 calories.
Despite package labeling touting “For less active dogs”, there are no formulation standards that these foods meet nutritional needs of a larger dog eating fewer calories. There are also no requirements to disclose the exact amount of all 42 essential nutrients. It makes it impossible to verify the adequacy of these foods.
So where does that leave us. If we follow the feeding instructions to make sure our 51 pounder gets all his essentials, he will get fat. If we feed less and keep him thin, he will be malnourished. Neither alternative is acceptable.
Homemade Diets Have More Flexibility
Homemade diets can be formulated to meet both the calorie and essential nutrient needs of dogs. However, most homemade recipe sources are also nutritionally inadequate and most follow the same formulation and feeding guidelines of the NRC and AAFCO. Seek sources that are transparent and can show the extra fortification for fewer calories.
~Dr Ken Tudor
THE DOG DIETITIAN