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How to Determine Your Dog's Caloric Needs

Featuring Russ Kelley, M.S., Eukanuba and Royal Canin Pet Health and Nutrition Center

Sporting dog owners are pretty good at selecting puppies. They’re strong in developing training and conditioning programs, just as they are able to properly evaluate performance. However, estimating your dog’s energy requirements is a little more difficult. And that's exactly why selecting the right food for a dog is so important. Here are three points to consider.

Chris Akin sends his yellow Lab on a retrieve

How hard is your dog really working?

How hard a dog is worked is a matter of perception. The answer is subjective and depends upon the owner’s view of the training schedule. For example, a pro trainer’s view of hard work can be very different from that of a recreational hunter. All-Age dogs competing at the highest levels are probably worked much harder than dogs that hunt only on Saturday mornings. You can accurately determine how hard your dog is working by evaluating the duration of the work, the number of days per week, and the number of months per year. Those numbers will provide some hard facts for you to review.

Determine the dog's daily caloric needs

Looking at feeding instructions on a bag is one way to determine how much to feed. A body condition cross reference gives an overall view of the weight. But most scientists use a formula to determine a dog’s basic caloric needs. It’s a simple two-step process. First, divide a dog’s body weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert it to kilograms. To determine the dog’s Resting Energy Requirement (RER) multiply 70 times the dog’s body weight in kilograms and raise it by .75.

Here's an example:

A 45-pound dog’s weight is divided by 2.2, which means he weighs 20 kilograms.

  • 70 times 20 raised to .75 is 662 kilocalories.
  • So your dog would need to consume 662 kilocalories per day for basic bodily functions.

Determine the dog’s daily and working caloric needs.

If your 45-pound dog is performing light work, multiply that daily caloric need by 2. For moderate work, multiple the daily caloric need by 3. For heavy work, multiple the daily caloric need by up to 6. Here’s how it looks:

  • 662 times 2 = 1,324 calories/day
  • 662 times 3 = 1,986 calories/day
  • 662 times 6 = 3,972 calories/day

Food for Thought

The majority of owners only consider protein and fat when they select a diet for their dogs. That approach would be great if protein and fat were the only nutrients a dog needs. However, a dog’s diet supplies around 50 different nutrients. The amount of each nutrient that the body consumes and utilizes is important for a dog’s overall health and performance. The most visible nutrient class for the owner to evaluate is energy. When we feed too much energy, our dogs gain weight. When we undersupply, our dogs lose weight. We can use appearance to speculate on some of the other nutrients. Skin and coat appearance are great indicators of a general assessment of a dog’s diet. The appearance of their skin and coat alone can indicate if the dog is deficient in select amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, or minerals. All these nutrients influence skin and coat health, so a deficiency in one, or suboptimal intake of several, may result in the same unhealthy appearance.

Many owners feed high-performance diets designed for extremely active dogs because it’s what their buddy feeds his dogs. But if the owner’s dog isn’t getting the same intensity of work that his buddy’s dogs receive, problems may arise. One common problem is nutritional deficiency. When you’re feeding a high-performance diet to a dog that isn’t worked much, smaller portions are fed so the dog maintains an ideal weight. The nutritional deficiency comes because that formula was designed to be fed in 4 cups per day to meet the dog’s nutrient requirements. If the owner is only feeding 2 cups, many nutrients may not be provided at adequate levels.

In contrast, if the owner selects a diet that is designed for the typical pet, he may need to feed 8 to 10 cups of food to meet his dog’s energy requirement. In this case, certain nutrients may be oversupplied. The table below can help further illustrate these possibilities.

Energy density/kg 4,500 4,000 3,750 3,500
Energy density/cup 500 425 375 325
Energy requirement kcal/day 2,500 2,500 2,500 2,500
Cups required to meet energy requirement 4.8 5.6 6.3 7.7
Weight of required food (grams) 595 639 688 808
Calcium intake (mg)/day* 7,738 8,305 8,938 10,500
Vitamin E intake (IU)/day** 119 128 138 162
*Diets formulated to contain 1.3% calcium (13,000 mg/kg)
**Diets formulated to contain 200 IU Vitamin E per kg

Proper feeding is important so that your dog is getting the correct amounts of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Adjusting your dog’s diet when he’s working or has some downtime is important so he’ll be fit and ready to train and perform during the season.

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