The amount of calories an adult dog requires is dependent on multiple factors. Pet parents adopt the responsibility of ensuring their dog’s home prepared fresh food diet provides sufficient calories to support biological function, daily activity, and lean body mass.
Identifying a dog’s calorie requirement is an important step when creating a balanced home prepared diet. There are multiple variables that contribute to calculating calories:
Throughout this article, there will be multiple terms and acronyms used when explaining the process of calculating calories for adult dogs. Below is a consolidated list of those terms and their definitions:
Calorie Calculation Variables
The issue with the standard multipliers is that they do not take into account all of the different variables that influence a dog’s daily calorie requirements. These multipliers must be adjusted to the individual dog’s needs in order to avoid under or over feeding. Multiple factors that often affect a dog’s calorie requirements are body condition score, daily activity, breed size, life stage, reproductive status, climate, medical conditions, and individual metabolism.
|Performance or Work
*Energy need multipliers are for dogs 12-18 months and older.
There are standard formulas for calculating an estimated daily calorie intake for adult dogs. However, every dog is an individual and there are multiple factors that often change a dog’s calorie requirements. The standard formulas do not take into account all of the individual factors that contribute to calorie needs. Therefore, which means it is up to the pet parent to determine their dog’s customized calorie intake.
Body Condition Score
Determining a dog’s current Body Condition Score (BCS) based on a physical assessment is the most accurate way when identifying if a dog is underweight, ideal weight, overweight, or obese. The BCS establishes if the calorie requirements should be increased, decreased, or remain the same.
For dogs who are truly emaciated, an increase in food intake must be approached very slowly under the guidance of a veterinarian in order to avoid the dangers of “refeeding syndrome.”
Due to the macronutrient change between dry dog food and fresh food, some dogs may require a higher calorie intake on fresh food.
Some dogs may require a daily calorie intake that is lower than their calculated RER in order to lose weight or maintain their ideal weight. This can potentially result in various nutrient deficiencies due to the extremely limited amount of food. In these cases it is recommended to have the diet formulated by a professional nutritionist to ensure that the diet is more concentrated in nutrients.
The amount of physical exercise a dog does in a day is one of the main contributing factors to calorie requirements. The more active a dog is, the more fuel is required to provide the body with sufficient energy to sustain biological function and maintain ideal body weight.
|0-30 minutes of daily activity
|30 minutes – 1 hour of daily activity
|1-2 hours of daily activity
|2-3 hours of daily activity
|Working & Performance
|3+ hours of daily activity
Not all physical activity is equal. Activity duration and intensity play a role in the type of physical exercise dogs receive daily. For example, a 30 minute leash walk is not as intense as a 30 minute jog even if the duration of the activity remains the same.Therefore, the activity level will be low-moderate if a dog typically has low intensity exercise; and the activity level will be high-moderate if a dog typically has high intensity exercise.
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Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to obesity and may require a lower calorie intake than the average. These breeds include Beagles, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Bulldogs, Pugs, Dachshunds, French Bulldogs and more.
Arctic breeds such as the Husky or Malamute have been observed to subsist on lower than average calories despite the high levels of activity they were bred for. They are well known for being “picky” eaters which may stem in part from being unknowingly overfed.
The age and life stage of a dog also affects calorie intake. Pregnant and lactating females will often need an increase in caloric intake throughout gestation and lactation. Young animals often have higher metabolisms, more lean body mass, and higher activity levels than older dogs. Therefore, young dogs may require higher calories and their calorie needs may reduce with age. Older dogs may have a reduced Resting Energy Requirement (RER) due to higher body fat and less lean body mass. Studies indicate that dogs over 7 years old require 10-20% less caloric energy than dogs that are 3-7 years old.
It is well known that spaying and neutering can often result in weight gain and obesity due to a combination of factors. In neutered dogs, obesity occurs twice as often as in intact dogs.
Reproductive hormones are tied into many other bodily functions besides breeding. The normal feedback of estrogen and testosterone on the pituitary and hypothalamus is prevented by the removal of the gonads. This causes the luteinizing hormone (LH) to be continuously elevated, at over 30 times the amounts found in intact dogs. While the main role of LH lies with reproduction, LH receptors are also present throughout the body in other normal tissues.
Increased appetite along with decreased physical activity and metabolic rate are the main mechanisms by which spaying and neutering can induce obesity. It is thought that LH and its effects on the body may be a contributing factor as well as the reduction of estrogen (an appetite suppressant) and testosterone. A decrease in physical activity and calories burned can occur in male dogs due to reduced roaming behavior when testosterone is removed.
The climate a dog lives in will increase or decrease their calorie requirements. The thermoneutral zone is the temperature range where a dog reaches their minimum metabolic rate. This is the temperature range where they are not expending energy keeping warm or cooling off. The thermoneutral zone is higher for short haired dogs and lower for long haired dogs, with Alaskan sled dogs being potentially even lower. Dogs who spend significant time outside in cold weather will expend energy in maintaining their core body temperature. This results in a higher daily calorie requirement. How much calorie needs increase will depend on the breed, coat length and density, wind chill, humidity, and degree of acclimatization.
Certain medical conditions, injuries, and medications can affect a dog’s appetite and calorie requirements. Injuries or medical conditions that require a decrease in activity warrant a decrease in calorie intake. However, some conditions and medications can increase appetite and metabolism, requiring a calorie increase to maintain ideal weight.
Above all, a dog’s individual metabolism is the deciding factor on calorie intake. Despite what any of the above factors or the standard formulas indicate, an individual may have a higher or lower metabolism than expected. The only way to account for this is by observing the dog’s body condition in comparison to their calorie intake.
Calculating calories for a dog should be based on all factors that contribute to energy needs. Therefore, based on the factors discussed above and professional experience, the multipliers can be modified for a general guideline that may be more accurate for most adult dogs:
|Performance or Work
*Energy need multipliers are for dogs 12-18 months and older.
Current Calorie Intake
The easiest way to calculate daily calorie requirements is to simply consider the dog’s current diet. Commercial dry, canned, or raw foods should provide a calorie content on the label per cup, can, ounce, or kilogram. This information can be used to calculate the dog’s current calorie intake. Once the current intake is known, the next step is determining whether the calories should be increased or decreased by observing the dog’s body condition.
Calculating how many calories a dog should consume is based on multiple variables. Identifying the dog’s BCS is the starting point to determining if the dog’s current calorie intake is appropriate or needs to be adjusted. Activity level, breed size, life stage, reproductive status, climate, medical conditions, and individual metabolism are all variables to consider when calculating calorie requirements.
It is important to consider the effect these variables have and adjust the standard calculation guidelines for the individual dog’s needs. However, considering the dog’s current calorie intake in relation to their body condition can be the simplest way to determine ideal calorie requirements.