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Guest authored by Bangaluru-based canine nutritionist, Manssi SK Saha
This blog is meant to give you a clear understanding of the caloric needs of your dog and the calculations to derive the information.
If you wish to have a quick review of the calculations - jump ahead to the conclusion.
Manufacturers print recommended feeding instructions on their packs with a note in the bottom saying that this could vary from one dog to another.
Factors to keep in mind:
Based on this, how much you feed your dog would depend on if you are feeding your dog dry food like pedigree? In which case it is calorie-dense food as it is dehydrated and the quantity to be fed will be much lower as it is devoid of moisture. Canned food is wet and has an appropriate amount of moisture in it and the quantity will be considerably more than dry food. And with Freshly cooked or Raw diets, the quantity is based on your dog's current body condition score, age and current body weight.
This is a frequently asked question and perhaps correctly so. There aren't any clear answers available anywhere that helps you determine how much to feed your dog depending on the type of food you are feeding. Let's look at all of them one by one and learn how to calculate the quantity of food and how to make adjustments.
Let’s get some calculations out of the way, so we know how many calories your dog may require on a daily basis before we get to the different types of food.
To calculate a dog’s calorie requirements, you first need to find his resting energy requirement. This is the energy the dog requires on a daily basis just to keep the system functioning - to breath, for the heart to pump, to use his eyes and so on.
The calculation for this is 30 x bodyweight in kilograms plus 70 equals Resting Energy Requirement (RER).
For example, Barfi weighs 12 kilos. So here is how his calculation looks:
30 x 12 = 360
360 + 70 = 430 calories. (RER)
Once you have the RER we need to take into account how active the dog is (see chart below) and multiply the RER by the appropriate factor. This will provide you with the caloric requirement of your dog on a daily basis. As with human’s, please keep in mind that each dog is different and small adjustments need to be made to fit each dog perfectly. These are “Ballpark” figures and are not carved in stone.
Also, these will change at different stages for the same dog.
Most dog food packs will come with feeding instructions on the packet.
Typically this is how it will look:
Figure 1 has a typical variance of 12-15% in the recommended feeding quantities. And it is expected that you will figure out the right quantity to be fed to your dog.
Figure 2 has a 24% variance between the minimum quantity recommended and the highest quantity recommended. Here you are expected to calculate and take into consideration the activity level of your dog and feed accordingly.
Let's continue with Barfi’s example:
He weighs 12 kg.
And his RER is 430 cal.
His activity level is: Moderate = 430 x 1.5 = 645 cal per day.
His body condition is Ideal (No need to gain or lose weight)
So let us take the above charts and try to figure out what quantity is recommended for Barfi.
10kg maintenance is recommended as 137gm and 15kg is 185gm - so let's take the average = 161gm.
The Label says that each Kilo of this food is 2800 calories; hence if I were to feed 161gm per day, I will be feeding 450 calories per day. However, as we have seen, Barfi requires 645 calories per day.
Let's look at the label on the bottom. Their chart recommends that for a 12 kilo dog with more than 1 hour of active time, I should be feeding Barfi 185gm of the food per day. But this food is higher in calories. It is 3843 calories per kilo. So here is what the calculation will look like:
3843 / 1000 = 3.843 ( Calories per gram)
Recommended feed = 185gm = 185 x 3.843 = 711 calories.
So, if I followed this chart I will be Overfeeding him by 66 calories per day which will take him about a month to start gaining weight very gradually. In one year, he would have gained about 4-5 kilos of excess weight and would be in the obese category. For a small Indie dog, that's very bad news for his joints.
Factors to keep in mind:
The absolute first thing to check on your tinned or canned food is whether the manufacturer is saying that it is a complete and balanced meal or a complimentary meal. What this means is; a complete canned food will not require you to add anything to it, and can be fed as it is. Whereas a complementary food will recommend that you add either dry food or rice and vegetables to the food before feeding it. The costs of these foods differ greatly. And so the feeding instructions. So, you might end up either overfeeding or underfeeding your dog, if you do not take notice of the type of canned food you have purchased.
This can of Hills science clearly states that this is a complementary food. And that you are expected to add either their dry food to it, or add some rice and veggies if you prefer.
This can of Pedigree, clearly gives both alternatives. You can feed this on its own as a complete meal, or mix with dry food. Here the recommendation is most likely for cost purposes. If you look at the feeding instructions, the variance is 50%. ½ to full can per 10 lbs of body weight (5Kg roughly)
So let's look at Barfi’s example again.
Barfi at 12 kg will need anywhere between 1.25 cans to 2.5 cans per day. The food is 326 cals per can.
According to this, I would be feeding him either 407 cals (1.25 cans per day) or 815 cals (2.5 cans per day)
Freeze-dried food is usually of higher quality ingredients as the raw materials have been rapidly frozen to preserve them. The process of freezing and drying the foods, remove the moisture from them, helping them retain nutrients, taste and its original integrity to up to 97%
This makes freeze-dried foods very nutritional and an excellent choice for when travelling, on holidays, or having a lightweight food that does not require refrigeration. This food is meant to be rehydrated with hot water and it will increase in volume, regaining the food's almost original form.
If you look at the table here as an example, it gives different guidelines for chicken meals and beef/ Lamb meals as the calorie density of these meats is different. Since this type of food can be used as a re-hydrated meal on its own and as a topper on your rice and veggies fresh food, it gives you both the guidelines.
However, right at the bottom where it's important to read, they mention that
“You are expected to try it out and adjust the amount you feed to suit your dog.” They also go on to saying that their recommended values might be up to 50% +/- than what your dog requires. Once again, you are expected to calculate your dog’s Caloric needs and adjust the food quantity accordingly.
This particular brand of food comes in at 4986 cals per kilo.
Barfi = 12 kg
Recommended food = 96 gms (As full meal)
=4986 / 1000 x 96gms = 479 cals.
So in this particular case, I would be underfeeding him by about 25% daily.
If feeding Fresh food or Raw food, the amount of food is usually based on a percentage of the body weight and that particular life stage. Again this would vary based on each dog, activity levels and must be personalized to suit each individual dog or puppy. These guidelines are NOT set in stone and it can be adjusted based on what your dog needs. However, it is important to make sure that your LOVE is not getting translated into overfeeding your dog. Because it is this kind of LOVE that causes the most amount of damage to health.
As seen above in various examples, blindly following instructions could lead to underfeeding or overfeeding your dog, and either of them is not good in the long run for the dog’s health and well-being.
If you wish to compare the nutrient content of the food then what needs to be looked at is the calorie density and the moisture content of the food.
Let’s look at an example:
You may wish to compare protein value between two food types, and often the label can be misleading:
We would expect raw food to be higher in protein than dry food, which indeed it is. The reason these labels’ values are so different is due to moisture and calorie density differences. To make a correct comparison we need to compare the foods on a calorie basis, not a percentage or dry matter basis. Calorie content of foods can vary significantly. A dry food may be up to 322 Kcal per 100g whereas a raw is more typically 116 kcal per 100g.
To calculate protein value, or any nutrient value, on a calorie basis we need to calculate how much nutrient is in 1000 kcal of food. Let’s take the above dry and raw foods as examples:
Let’s compare the raw diet. Firstly, take the percentage of nutrients (protein) and divide it by the number of calories in 100g of food.
Although on the label it looked as if dry food had more protein, in fact, raw/fresh food has nearly double that of dry cereal-based food. Not to mention that fresh food is simply more available to the body to process and use than highly processed dehydrated protein is.
You will find the nutritional analysis on the pet food label as it is a legal requirement. The kcal content is not required on a label but can easily be found on the manufacturer’s website or by simply calling them.
I understand that this can be overwhelming, and confusing when starting. However, if you have 4 basic pieces of information about your dog and a calculator, you can follow the steps in this blog and derive the amount of food your dog needs to be eating.
You will need:
Just make sure that you choose the best type of food for your dog, to support their life stage, development and health. After all, the food that we eat and feed our family members is meant to be nurturing the body and providing it with all the elements to stay strong and healthy throughout life.
I have detailed a variety of foods in this blog for the understanding of labels, manufacturing practices and to explain caloric densities of the different foods available. Having said that, it is my firm belief that feeding any kind of processed food is extremely damaging to your dog’s health in the long run. Fresh food - cooked or raw, this the most bioavailable form of food for anybody.
This gives you control over everything that goes into your dog’s body that will either make or break their health and wellness. Good food is like long term health insurance. It will pay off years later when you avoid kidney disease, liver failure, early onset of arthritis, obesity and even cancer!
This also means that the onus of doing the research and consulting the right professionals, like a professional Pet Nutritionists for dietary advice is up to you. Yes, it takes effort, and yes it takes time - But anything worth it, like building long term health, takes time and effort.
That’s so accurate!