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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?

Weight control

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.

Estimated caloric needs based on weight, activity level and age
Ideal Weight Neutered Adult Intact Adult Inactive/Obese Prone/Seniors Weight Loss Puppy to age 4 months Puppy 4 mos to adult size
5 pounds 220 245 165-190 135 415 275
10 330 370 245-285 205 610 410
20 545 615 410-480 340 1030 685
25 655 740 490-575 410 1230 820
30 765 860 570-670 475 1435 955
40 985 1100 735-860 615 1845 1230
50 1200 1350 900-1050 750 2250 1500
60 1420 1600 1065-1240 885 2660 1775
70 1640 1845 1230-1435 1025 3075 2050
75 1750 1960 1300-1530 1090 -- 2180
80 1855 2090 1390-1625 1160 -- 2320
90 2075 2330 1555-1815 1295 -- 2590
100 2290 2580 1720-2000 1430 -- 2860

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:

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.

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.

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