Count Those Calories
Do you know your dog's magic number?
Dog World article by Mary Straus, published in Dog World Magazine, February 2011.
We’re accustomed to thinking about calories when it comes to our own diets, and nutrition labels make it relatively easy to get a good idea of how many we’re consuming. But do you know how many calories your dog needs? Or how many you’re feeding?
As many as half the dogs in the U.S. are overweight, although their owners often don’t realize it. Many people equate food with love, but extra pounds can shorten and decrease the quality of your dog’s life.
Diseases associated with being overweight include arthritis, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, pancreatitis, heart disease, disc disease, ruptured cruciate ligaments and even certain forms of cancer. Extra weight is hard on the joints, worsening certain conditions, such as hip and elbow dysplasia. Weight loss is one of the best ways to help a dog with arthritis.
Estimating caloric needs
Caloric needs vary based on your individual dog’s metabolism, activity level, age, neuter status and environment. “Calculated energy needs can vary widely from an individual pet's true needs,” says veterinary nutritionist Sally Perea, D.V.M., M.S., Dipl. ACVN. “These values should always be looked at as a starting place, knowing that adjustments will likely be required.”
Compared to adult dogs, puppies need far more calories for their weight. Half-grown pups eat almost as much as they will when adults. Dogs generally need fewer calories as they age.
Caloric needs should be based on your dog’s ideal weight, rather than its actual weight. Note that small dogs eat more for their size than large dogs do; you can’t multiply the caloric needs of a 10-pound dog by 5 to determine the calories required for a dog that weighs 50 pounds.
|Ideal Weight||Neutered Adult||Intact Adult||Inactive/Obese Prone/Seniors||Weight Loss||Puppy to age 4 months||Puppy 4 mos to adult size|
Reading dog food labels
Look for calorie information near the Guaranteed Analysis on the label of your dog's food. Calories (listed in kcals) might be listed per pound or per kilogram (kg). Calories are sometimes listed per cup in the case of dry foods. Instead of using just any cup, be sure to use a measuring cup when calculating calories per cup.
To determine the calories in the amount you feed, weigh the food with a kitchen or postal scale. A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, so to convert kcal/kilogram to kcal/pound, divide the amount by 2.2. To convert kcal/kilogram to kcal/ounce, divide by 35. For example, dry food that provides 3,500 kcal/kilogram has 1,590 kcal/pound and 100 kcal/ounce.
Many dog foods and treats do not indicate calories on their labels. To find this information, try looking on the manufacturer’s website. You can also call or e=mail the company to ask about the calories in their products.
Sample guide to calories:
- Plain rawhide chew: 80 calories per ounce
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter: 95 calories
- Raw chicken parts, including bone:
- Raw neck (skinless): 35-55 kcal/oz, 45-110 per 1.25-2 oz neck
- Raw neck (with skin): 55-75 kcal/oz, 110-150 per 2-3 oz neck
- Raw wing: 70 kcal/oz, 140-210 per 2-3 oz wing
- 1 large egg: 70 calories
- Freeze-dried liver: 100-135 kcal/oz, or about 10 calories per treat
- Cheese: Cheddar 110 kcal/oz; Mozzarella (string) 70-80 kcal/oz
It all adds up
Let’s look at the calories a 50-pound dog might take in during the day. Following the instructions on the bag, you feed 3 cups of food a day, and the food contains 450 kcal/cup for a total of 1,350 kcal.
- Breakfast: 775 calories
- 1½ cups dry food (675)
- 1 large scrambled egg (70)
- Toast crust (30)
- Training treats: 275 calories
- 1 stick of string cheese, cut into pieces (75)
- 5 freeze-dried beef liver cubes (50)
- 1 hot dog, cut into pieces (150)
- Kong stuffed with peanut butter: 100 calories
- Dinner: 805 calories
- 1½ cups dry food (675)
- ¼ can canned food (100)
- 1 ounce leftover lasagna (30)
- Bedtime biscuit (large): 100 calories
Total: 2,055 calories.
This is twice as much as the average inactive dog needs; no wonder so many dogs are overweight! To reduce calories to a more reasonable level, change the bedtime biscuit to a small one (-80), use much smaller and lower-fat training treats (-200), stuff the Kong with low-fat yogurt rather than peanut butter (-40), and reduce food to 2 cups a day (-450). This lowers the calories to 1,285, a much healthier total.
The Pet Obesity Prevention website lists information on the number of calories per cup in a variety of dry foods and the calories per can in wet foods. It also lists the calories in various treats.
You can contact me if you have any comments, but I regret to say that I can no longer respond to questions about individual dogs. See my Contact page for more information. My name is Mary Straus and you can email me at either or