Food

How Many Calories Does my Dog Need?

 

Determining how many calories a dog burns each day is crucial for knowing how much to feed the dog.  Most people are not aware of how many calories their dog really needs, and the result is that many pet owners are over feeding, which can cause a multitude of health problems for the dog. Today we will present the basic formulas that are used to estimate calorie requirements for your dog and provide some specific examples as reference points.  These formulas and calculations are used as ‘generic’ estimates of required calories and are based on the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition (WCPN)  (http://www.waltham.com/) studies.

According to the Waltham Research, the daily calorie requirement for an inactive adult dog is equal to:

CR (kcal/day) = 90 x Bodyweight.75

Where CR = daily calorie requirement for a dog

Bodyweight = weight in kgs ~ weight in lbs/2.2

For example, if you had an inactive dog weighing 25 lbs., their CR would be equal to:

90 * (25/2.2).75 = 557 calories per day to maintain their 25 lbs.

In practice, this means that you should feed this dog 557 calories worth of food each day in order to maintain a 25 lb. weight because they will burn about 557 calories per day.

For the adventurous types, the table below from WCPN shows the CR formulas for other categories. Note that the more active is the dog, the higher the multiplication factor is and the higher the CR is accordingly.

Category Type of Activity Daily Calorie Requirement (CR)
Duration Intensity
Inactive/Senior <3 hr/day Low 90 * Wtkg .75
Typical <3 hr /day Mainly Low 110 * Wtkg .75
Active 1-3 hr/ day Mainly High 125 * Wtkg .75
Highly Active 3-6 hr/day High 175 * Wtkg .75

 

One of the problems with the Waltham approach is that they use some fairly wide ranges for activity duration for a given category of pet. For example, a typical dog is said to exercise for less than 3 hours per day.  However, the number of calories that a dog will burn will be much different if they exercise for 30 minutes, or 90 minutes (both of which are less than 3 hours).

Calories for Weight Loss

No matter how active your dog is, their weight has a major influence on their daily calorie requirement. The bigger they are, the more calories they require.  But what if you want to have your dog lose weight?   It’s actually pretty simple.  A safe way to figure out how many calories to feed your dog to get them to their desired weight is to use their desired weight in the calorie calculation and then use ¾ of this value until they reach their target weight.  An example will help.

Let’s say that in our prior example (25 lb. inactive dog), the dog was in fact, 5 lbs. overweight and that they really should be 20 lbs.  To get this dog safely to 20 lbs, we would calculate the CR for a 20 lb. dog which is equal to about 470 calories per day.  This will be the dog’s daily calorie requirement when they attain the target weight.  While the dog is in weight loss mode, feed ¾ (75%) of this amount, or about 350 calories.  The same approach applies if you are trying to increase your dog’s weight, in which case you would feed at 125% of their target weight calories until they attain their goal.

Quick Rules of Thumb

For those who don’t want to break out the calculators, you are in luck.  Below is a table that shows an estimate of the number of calories, per pound of body weight, dogs of different activity levels would need.

Approximate Calories Needed per Lb. of Body Weight
Small Dogs Medium Dogs Large Dogs
(< 20 lbs.) (20 – 50 lbs) (> 50 lbs.)
Inactive 25 20 17
Normal 32 24 21
Active 35 27 24

Other Considerations

There are many other factors that can also impact the number of calories that your dog will burn each day.  These include:

  • Dogs age (puppies burn a ton of calories!)

  • Pregnancy (so do soon-to-be-moms!)

  • Certain medical conditions

  • Surgeries

  • Trauma

Sorry for all of the math today, but there was really no way around it.  Let us know if you have any questions about it by posting in the comments or using our contact us form.  We have a lot more to say about calories including the relative calorie burns for different types of activities.

Reference: Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. (1999). Canine life stages/lifestyles. Waltham Course on Dog and Cat Nutrition [On-line]. You can find this paper here: http://www.bearscampnewfs.com/health/Waltham%20Center/Canine%20Life%20Stages-Lifestyles.pdf

 

Steve Pelletier
Steve Pelletier VP, Food

Steve is an advocate for healthy pet food offerings.