If you’re like me, you’re not always sure how much to feed your pet. Overfeeding can cause obesity, which is linked to diabetes, arthritis, orthopedic problems and an overall decrease in quality of life. But food is also love, and it’s a great way to feel involved and in control of the health and well-being of your pet. If you were to ask your dog or cat, most will tell you that they are always starving! So, what is the right amount to feed?
Many of Dr. Angie’s clients are unsure how to calculate the correct amount of calories that their dog or cat should be getting in a day. Commercial pet foods often overstate the recommended amount, do not account for additional treats you may be feeding, and do not take your pet’s current body condition score into consideration.
Figuring Out Your Pet’s Condition Score
Knowing how to properly assess your pet’s body condition score (BCS) is the first place to start when identifying how many calories they need in a day. This hands-on assessment is taken at every veterinary visit, but pet parents can and should do it at home too. Measuring your pet’s BCS will give you an understanding of how healthy their overall weight is.
A BCS is set to a 9 point scale (1-9). Measuring at 1 would be considered emaciated and measuring at 9 would be obese. The ideal score would be a 4-5. Using the visual aid of a scoring chart, while also doing a hands-on assessment of your pet will give you the best idea of your pet’s BCS. For your pet to score a 4-5 BCS, you should be able to feel their ribs when petting along their side, but not readily see them. Your pet should have an hourglass figure with a waistline and there should not be an obvious layer of fat (sign of being overweight), as well as no bony processes felt particularly at the shoulders, hips, spine and rib (sign of being underweight). It is okay to feel these bones, however you should not be able to visualize them with the naked eye.
Body condition images credit: https://petobesityprevention.org/pet-weight-check
If your pet is overweight or underweight, start by working with your veterinarian to identify what their “ideal weight” is, and begin feeding your cat or dog based off of this weight. If your pet’s BCS is a 4-5, then feed based off of their current weight. Other aspects to keep in mind include your pet’s daily amount of exercise and whether they are spayed or neutered (spaying and neutering our animals slows down their metabolism). Indoor cats are rarely scored at an ideal BCS, because they are less active.
Calculating Your Pet’s Daily Caloric Needs
Once you have figured out your pet’s BCS, and what weight you should be referencing, you can calculate the exact amount of daily calories that your dog needs using this calculator, and how many your cat needs using this calculator. The total calorie count includes all meals that your pet eats and any additional treats.
Check your dog or cat’s pet food and treats to see how many kcals (aka calories) are in each cup/can/serving. Divide the amount of calories your pet can have in a day by the kcal (calories) amount in each serving, and this will give you the total amount to feed. If you’re like me and you put all of your pet food in a bin and throw away the bag, you can find the nutritional information (including kcal/cup) on Chewy.com. Just type in your pet’s specific food, and you will see pictures of the bag, that includes the nutritional information.
Here is how I’ve calculated the daily caloric needs for my own animals:
Muttley is a 55 pound mix breed with a BCS of 5/9. Based off of his weight, BCS, and neuter status, he should receive approximately 1,092 calories/day.
He is eating:
- Zignature Duck Limited Ingredient (dry dog food): 427 calories/cup.
- Stella and Chewy’s Carnivore Crunch Grass Fed Beef Freeze Dried Raw Dog Treats (sprinkled into his dry kibble): 3 calories/treat.
- Beef trachea as a treat mid-day: 137 calories/trachea.
In order to not overfeed Muttley, and to meet his daily caloric needs, he receives:
- 1 cup of his dry kibble TWICE daily. To calculate this, multiple 427 calories by 2. (427 calories x 2 = 854 calories).
- 1 trachea mid-day (137 calories).
- Approximately 34 freeze dried treats. To calculate this, multiply 3 calories by 34. (3 calories x 34 = 102 calories). I do a rough count in the palm of my hand, and instead do about 16-17 nuggets mixed in his kibble for breakfast and dinner.
854 calories (dry kibble) +137 calories (trachea) +102 calories (treats) = 1093 calories total per day.
# 2. Zoey
Zoey is a 12 pound calico cat with a BCS of 7/9. Based off of her weight, BCS, and spay status, she should receive approximately 181 calories/day.
She is eating:
- Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Chicken Frick ‘A Zee Chicken Recipe Au Jus Grain-Free Canned Cat Food (243 calories/10 oz can).
- Fromm Surf and Turf (dry cat food): 425 calories/cup.
In order to not overfeed Zoey (and this was a major eye opener for me!), and to meet her daily caloric needs, she receives:
- ¼ can of wet food TWICE daily. To calculate this, divide 243 calories by 4 to understand that ¼ can is 60 calories. Zoey is fed twice daily, so I then multiply 60 by 2 to account for both meals. (243 calories ÷ 4 = 60 calories, 60 calories x 2 = 120 calories). This leaves room for 60 more calories in her diet for the day.
- 2 tablespoons ONCE daily of dry kibble (she is fed this in the evening). Since 1 cup of her dry kibble is 425 calories, I calculated that ⅛ cup would equal 60 calories. To do this, I divided 425 calories by 8. (425 calories/1 cup ÷ by 8 = 60 calories/2 tablespoons).
120 calories (wet food) + 60 calories (dry kibble) = 180 calories/calories total per day.
Remember that every animal is different and pet food formulations are not perfect, so it’s important to check your pet’s body condition score monthly to determine whether adjustments should be made to the amount that you are feeding.
Have fun feeding your sweet pets! Still have a question on how to calculate the daily calories that your pet needs? I’d love to hear from you, simply leave a comment below!