How many calories do dogs need per day?

August 17, 2021

Dogs need calories for energy but too many can cause obesity. Find out where calories come from and how to balance them

There’s always a lot of talk about calories. Are they good or are they bad? Where do they come from? Let’s take a look at calories and the best way to balance them in your dog's diet.

What are calories?

Calories are a measurement of how much energy is in food and is usually portrayed as kcal/kg on pet food labels. Animals need calories for energy to support basic cellular, body functions. As with all things, there needs to be balance. Too many calories may contribute to weight gain and obesity, while too few calories can cause animals to become tired and lethargic.

Where do calories come from?

Calories in food come from any nutrient that provides a source of energy. Primarily these are fat, carbohydrates and protein. For example, in our Salmon & Oatmeal Monch Bar, the greatest contributors of calories come from ingredients like salmon, oatmeal, and coconut oil. 

Different nutrient sources can also carry different caloric densities. For example, even though chicken and beef are both protein ingredients, beef has a much higher fat content than chicken and therefore will have a higher caloric density.

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How are calories calculated in pet food?

There are 2 ways caloric density (or metabolizable energy) can be determined. The first method is through a laboratory analysis and the second is by using a calculculation which takes into account the nutrient content of the diet. 

Since the primary caloric contributors are protein, fat and carbohydrates, these nutrients are used to calculate the caloric density of the diet. Carbohydrates are not measured directly, but can be estimated by calculating the “nitrogen-free extract” in the diet. This is done by subtracting all other nutrients by 100%:

Nitrogen-Free Extract = 100 – (crude protein + crude fat + crude fiber + moisture + ash)

Next, total caloric density is calculated by multiplying each nutrient by it’s modified Atwater value. Protein and carbohydrate are assigned a value of 3.5. Fat is much more calorie dense, and has a value of 8.5. The following is the caloric calculation that is used for the whole diet:

=((3.5Xcrude protein %)+(8.5Xcrude fat %)+(3.5Xnitrogen-free extract%))X10

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How many calories should my dog be eating?

Caloric requirements greatly vary from dog to dog. The most influential factors are size, age, activity level and body condition. First, a dog’s resting energy requirements (RER) must be determined. The following is the calculation for RER:

RER=70(Body weight in kg)^0.75

From here, corrections are made based on different factors like activity level, age and body condition to determine the maintenance energy requirements (MER). Below is a list of MER corrections factors:

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How do I know how much food to feed my dog based on calories?

Once you know the calorie requirements of your dog, take a look and see how much calories are in your dog's food. Calorie content can be located on the guaranteed analysis table on your pet food label or info card.

From here, you will need to calculate how much food your dog needs in grams, based on your dog’s MER and the calorie content of their diet. This is done by dividing your dog’s MER by the dry matter calories in their food and multiplying by 1000 (g/day=(MER/calories)*1000).

How do I balance calories with treats?

Treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s caloric intake per day. Using the calculations outlined above and the calories listed on the guaranteed analysis of your dog's food and determine what 10% daily calories would be from the treats.

When dogs are receiving too many calories per day, it is often because they are over feeding with treats and do not account for those extra calories. Unfortunately, this can result in dogs becoming overweight and unhealthy.

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