What You Should Know About Pet Food Calories

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Find food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a dog food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a cat food that fits your pet’s needs

It’s not uncommon for us to count the calories in our own food, but have you ever looked at the calories in dog food? What about the calories in cat food? Understanding what and how much your pet eats is important for making sure they're getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Dog's head placed on dinner table staring at human's food.

How Many Calories Does a Dog or Cat Need?

Calorie needs depend on lots of different factors, so they can vary considerably between pets. Basic resting calorie needs, or the minimum calories your pet needs to support their basic bodily functions, are calculated per kilogram of body weight. Other factors, such as activity levels, age, pregnancy, and whether or not your pet is overweight, are then factored in to calculate the total overall calorie needs. For example, if your dog is extremely active and goes on runs with you every day, they will need more calories in their food to make up for the energy they exert while exercising.

However, it's important to not make assumptions about the calories your pet should eat in a day. To know what range is right for your pet, speak with your veterinarian. They'll be able to take your pet's size, body and lifestyle into consideration before recommending how many calories your dog or cat should be consuming on a daily basis.

Counting the Calories in Your Pet's Food

Are you concerned about the amount of calories in dog food or the calories in cat food, but don't know how to figure out how much to feed your pet? A good starting point is to follow the manufacturer’s feeding guidelines on the label, adjusting for your pet as necessary. If the caloric content is not included on the label, you should be able to find this information on the manufacturer’s website, or by contacting them directly.

When you’re looking at the manufacturer’s feeding guidelines, remember to always feed for the weight your pet should be. Ask your vet if your pet is the ideal weight, if not, you may need to feed a slightly different amount or switch to a different food. Your vet can also help if you’re not sure how to interpret the calorie information for your pet’s food, or you’re not sure how much to feed your pet to meet their nutritional needs.

It's important to work with your vet when altering your pet's food, or deciding on a new food plan for a pet you've just brought into your home. Depending on whether you're feeding your pet wet or dry food, or a mixture of both, your vet should be able to tell you just how much of each should be consumed at each feeding.

Cat and German Shepherd eating out of separate food bowls in front of couch.

What Else Affects Calorie Intake?

If you've met with your vet, developed a food plan based on your pet's individual needs, and started to read pet food labels religiously, outside factors can still influence the amount of calories your pet ingests on a daily basis. Let's be honest: we all share treats with our pets, and even the healthiest treats add calories to your pet's diet. Ideally, calories from treats should not account for more than 10 percent of your pet's daily caloric intake.

Be honest with your vet when you're making a dietary plan. Let them know how many treats you usually give your pet throughout the day. In addition, share what type of treats you're giving your dog or cat. Packaged tidbits will have the serving size listed on the label, but table scraps will take a little more research to figure out how many calories you're sharing. Your vet may recommend reducing the number of treats, including table scraps, in order to keep your dog or cat at a healthy weight. Where possible, take some kibble out of the daily ration and use that as treats between meals.

We all know that fatty foods make us pile on the pounds and the same is true for pets. This is because fat packs in 2.5 times more calories per gram than either carbohydrates or proteins. However, it’s important to remember that all these food groups, along with vitamins and minerals, are essential for a healthy, balanced and complete diet. The proportions may vary for different pets and their lifestyles, but good quality pet foods will ensure that the balance is perfect for your pet.

When There Are Too Many (or Too Few) Calories

Similar to humans, calories are the method for measuring the amount of energy your pet is consuming through food. Through natural biological processes, your dog and cat break down the food that they eat and turn it into energy. Your pet then burns that energy throughout the day, not just through play and exercise, but for maintaining all the processes that keep them alive.

It’s important to understand how calorie consumption is affecting your pet's overall health. If your dog or cat is putting on weight, they may be taking in too many calories, or not getting enough exercise. The reverse is true for pets that are too thin.

If you've followed your vet's diet and exercise advice but your pet is not at an optimal weight, it may be time for another vet examination to determine if there is an underlying health condition. A number of conditions can affect a dog or cat's metabolism, causing them to burn too many or too few calories. At this point, your vet may recommend a therapeutic pet food formulated to work with your pet's specific health needs.

The food choices you make for your pets are what keep them healthy and happy. Following your veterinarian's recommendations for quantity and frequency will help keep your pets active for all the days of their lives.

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.


Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA and Dr. Emma Milne BVSc FRCVS

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