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NUTRITION STEP 2: CALORIES - HOW LITTLE IS TOO LITTLE?

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

The daily amount of food you feed your pet dog or pet cat will be the most indispensable factor that will determine if they will grow up healthy and continue to stay healthy, for as long as possible.


Basically, we are witnessing a lot of confusion.


We often see newly bought or adopted puppies or kittens that are brought to our clinic with very poor body condition scores and poor muscle developments, and are tremendously frustrated when the new owner-custodian(s) reiterated that they were taught by the pet shops or previous

owner to feed



“2 Chinese soup

spoon of dry food

2 times a day”.






We also see many adult pet dogs that are emaciated because owner-custodians are rigidly providing a fixed amount of food to their pets daily, solely based on the recommended feeding chart printed on the back of the food package, without taking into consideration the individual’s daily metabolic requirement, activity level and growth/maintenance and repair cycles.


We have observed the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of feeding charts and nutritional data for so many years, causing so much baffling nutrition concepts amongst the owner-custodians.


We are also gobsmacked by the on-going erroneous propagandas being wilfully broadcasted online about food related therapies for diseased pets.


For this article, we are going to decipher the amount of food to feed our pet cat and pet dog per day based on the kilocalories available in a specific can or a cup of food.


In general, the law in most countries that make and sell pet food will require that the manufacturers list the following key information on their pet food labels:

ITEMS

EXPLANATION

NAME

​Brand name

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

​Species name food is intended for (e.g. Cat Food, Dog Food), Complete, Complementary, AAFCO adequacy statement.

COMPOSITION

Ingredients list arranged in descending order by weight.

GURANTEED ANALYSIS

​Information about nutrient levels in percentage

ADDITIVE (S)

Example: Vitamin E

BEST BEFORE DATE

dd/mm/yy

MANUFACTERER

Name and contact information.

​FEEDING INSTRUCTION

With calculated Metabolizable Energy (ME) /Energy Density (ED) in kilocalorie per can or kg of food

PRODUCT WEIGHT

​Per can or per pack or per kg/pounds


But the only valuable information on the finely printed list of words is the Metabolizable Energy (ME) or Energy Density value on the feeding instructions.


ME is the usable calorie or energy in a can or a cup of pet food available to be utilized by the pet’s cells and tissue for general function, growth, or repair.


Other knowledge that will help to establish the amount of food to feed per day includes:



#

CHECK LIST

TO DO

1

Body Condition Score (BCS): 1-9

Check the pet’s body

2

Muscle Condition Score (MCS): Mild/Moderate/Severe Muscle Loss or Good/ Normal / Poor Muscle Development

​Check the pet’s body

3

Resting Energy Requirement (RER)

Calculate base on body weight

4

Life stage/ Life style Factors

How old? Do what?

5

Daily Energy Requirement (DER)

Calories needed per day

6

Metabolizable Energy (ME) or Energy Density

​Calories in a can or a kg of food

To determine if the pet cat or dog is with a good body condition score and has well developed muscle, we must inspect the subcutaneous fat layer and muscle distribution on the body.


When palpating the spinal cord, pelvic bone, and ribs with an index finger there should not be a prominent protrusion with no muscle or subcutaneous covering to protect these vital bone structures.


Please refer CATS and DOGS for a more detail explanation of Body Condition Score (BCS) and Muscle Condition/ Developmental Score (MCS).




CASE STUDY


Assuming, we are studying a 14kg neutered dog that has a BCS 4 and MCS indicates a Mild Muscle Loss, and we would like the body weight to become 15.5kg with a higher and better BCS (5) and MCS (normal muscle development) level.


We, fundamentally, need to feed the 14kg dog enough energy/calorie for the body to perform the basic and essential body functions like digestion, respiration, blood circulation, and cognitive functions.


This is commonly known as Resting Energy Requirement (RER).


The equation used by the pet nutrition industry (as well as veterinarians) to reach RER (kilocalories needed per day) is 70 (bwt in kg)¾ or (Bwt in kg x 30)+70.


For example:

The RER of the 14kg dog = (14x30) +70= 490 kilocalories per day.


This amount of food intake will keep the 14kg dog, that is not moving or not doing any other activity, (barely) alive and not reach the desired body weight with a good distribution of muscle mass and subcutaneous layer.


To make sure that the 14kg dog thrive, you will need to multiple the RER obtained with one of the life stage/ lifestyle factors provided below.




LIFE STAGE/ LIFESTYLE FACTORS:

GROWTH

CATS

DOGS

<4 months old

RER x 2.5

RER x 3

>4 months old

RER x 2.5

RER x 2

ADULT

Neutered/ Spayed

RER x 1.2

RER x 1.6

Intact

RER x 1.4

RER x 1.8

Prone to obesity

RER x 1

RER x 1.4

Weight loss

RER x 0.8

RER x 1

Weight gain

RER x 1.5

RER x 1.2 - 1.8

WORKING

Light

NA

RER x 2

Heavy

NA

RER x 5

SENIOR*

7 - 10 years old

RER x 1

RER x 1.4

>10 years old

RER x 1.2

RER x 1.2

* Calories provided for senior pets should derive more from animal-based protein, instead of carbohydrate or fat/oil.


In this example discussed, the estimated DER for the14 kg dog to thrive and gain weight will be the calculated RER multiply with the weight gain factor ranging from 1.2 to 1.8 based on the severity of the BCS and MCS.

Let us multiply with the midpoint of about 1.5:

DER = [(14x30) + 70]x1.5 =490 x 1.5 (midpoint)= 735 Kilocalories per day


Now, examine the food you have decided to feed.

Let us use a canned food with a ME of 475 kilocalorie per can as an example.


Number of can food per day = DER / ME = 735/475 = 1.55 can per day ~ 1.5 can per day


Therefore, to increase the weight of the 14 kg dog to 15.5kg, we should start off by feeding 1.5 can of the chosen canned food daily to meet the estimated DER for weight gain.


The emphasis must be placed on the fact that this equation will only provide us with an “estimated DER value.” This will be considered the starting point only. The imaginery14 kg dog should be weighed every 2 weeks to monitor for weight gain and adjust must made accordingly.


If the weight gain Is too slow, the DER should be recalculated:

DER = [(14x30) + 70]x1.5 =490 x 1.8 (highest)= 882 Kilocalories per day

Number of can food per day = DER / ME = 882/475 = 1.8 can per day

The food fed per day to the dog thus can range between 1.5 to 1.8 (rounding off to 2 cans) cans of food until the body weight reaches 15.5kg.


Assuming, the 14 kg dog reaches 15.5 kg after 3 months, we will then calculate a maintenance feeding protocol to keep the weight at 15.5kg with the correct muscle and subcutaneous layer distribution by adjusting the DER in the chosen food as follows:


DER = [(15.5x30) + 70] x 1.6 = 856 kilocalories per day

Number of can food per day = DER / ME = 735/475 = 1.8 can per day


The muscle and subcutaneous layer distribution can be further fine-tuned by altering the protein percentage in the food offered, but we will not discuss about protein intake and adjustment in this article.




LIFE STAGE/ LIFESTYLE LOGIC


If your pet is below 1 year old, please expect that they should have a good layer of blubber – no baby animals should be lean or resembles a supermodel.


It is extremely important that growing animals have adequate nutrition for growth and development of all vital organ systems, daily basic metabolic expenditure, and a slight excess for just in case situations.

Please refer to the recommended life stage/ lifestyle factor (2-3, not for giant breeds like Great Danes) needed to achieve a correct DER for proper growth and development.


If your pet is more than 1 year old, please check that the pet has developed or is developing and maintaining a good and strong muscle layer protecting all the vital bone structures.


Most commercial pet food will always state on their generic feeding chart that recommended feeding amount is meant for an “average adult dogs with normal activity levels.”


Please do not assume that the apparent “normal activity levels” is the same for every animal.


A neutered Ragdoll cat will not have the same metabolic rate or activity expenditure as a neutered Bengal cat.


You should determine and adjust the calorie requirement based on the pets BCS and MCS and numerical weight changes, at least monthly.


If your pet is more than 7 years old, please check if sarcopenia has started, you will then need to reduce the calorie intake and increase the protein intake to maintain the muscle mass, tissue and ligament elasticity that helps hold up the bone structures.


Author Contributions

Dr. Denise Ng BSC BVMS

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

Funding

The author received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors for the preparation of this review article.

Attribution:

1. AAFCO: Consumers; Understanding Pet Food: Calories. www.aafco.org/consumers/understanding-pet-food/calories/. Accessed 27 Oct 2023.

2. AAFCO: Animal Feed Labeling Guideline 2020. www.aafco.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Feed-Labeling-Guide-with-new-Cover.pdf. Accessed 10 Oct 2023.

3. AAFCO: How to understand a dog or cat food label. www.aafco.org/consumers/understanding-pet-food/reading-labels/#adequacy.

Accessed 10 3 Nov 2023

5. Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (Nutrition). (28 Dec 2020). What Is Guaranteed about the Guaranteed Analysis? Accessed 29 Oct 2023.

6. Deborah E. Linder, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Nutrition). (11 Nov 2016). What are these numbers? Nutrition Math 101 Accessed 29 Oct 2023.

7. David Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN. Pet food labels: Cracking the code (Proceedings). www.dvm360.com/view/pet-food labels-cracking-code-proceedings. Accessed 30 OCt 2023

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