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Advice: Counting Your Dog's Calories
How many calories does a dog need?
Homemade Dog Food - Slow Cooker - Counting Calories

Keeping dogs healthy is important to us so we’ve created new calorie requirement estimator and food counter apps. We are hoping that these web-apps will come in handy for you to try your hand in cooking for your dogs. You can make all the meals for your dogs, or simply add home cooked meals as a supplement to the manufactured food.

The first thing to do is to confirm or calculate how many kilocalories your dog requires to be fed on a daily basis (Daily Energy Requirement or DER). The total calorie requirement should be divided by the number of meals (usually 2) fed to your dog daily. All treats and snacks also need to be accounted for and their calories should be subtracted from the total that will be provided in their meals. It is always recommended that before making changes to a dog’s current diet you discuss this plan with your veterinarian. Do keep in mind that there are a number of different approaches that are used to calculate a dog’s caloric needs so while our app calculates your dog’s DER, there are other formulas with slightly different results (we have included a chart that uses another popular measurement, the Maintenance Energy Requirement, that you can also follow.)

Screenshot of Bark's DER Calculator

Do keep in mind that these calculations are really only estimates. Also, it is important to note that every dog is truly an individual, and their current weight, activity level, age, intact or neuter, physiological condition and other factors must also be considered. No matter what formula you use, the best way to judge a feeding plan’s efficacy is by simply keeping track of any weight loss or gain, and adjusting accordingly. And again, it is good to consult with your vet before making any changes to a dog’s diet.

Ingredient Calculations:

When calculating the calories for ingredients, there are a variety of sources that can be used. I decided to do compute calculations in ounces to make it simpler for myself, and others to use. The ingredients we have included in our chart are the most common ones found in home cooked meals. If there are ingredients missing you can use any of the online calorie sources that we have noted under the chart to add those to your list.

A digital kitchen scale is definitely the easiest when to know how much any ingredient weighs—you need to measure the actual weight, not the volume (such standard measuring cups measure).

When using the slow cooker approach to making dog meals, you will also need to factor in the weight of the water you use in cooking the meals. So if you use 6 cups of water, or 48 ounces, that weight will need to be added to the total weight of the ingredients, to get an accurate calculation how many calories there are in one ounce of the food. Most slow cooker meals are around 20 to 35 calories per ounce.

Supplementation:

As Dr. Greg Martinez has noted in his slow cooker recipe, you will need to provide supplementation to most diets (especially those that do not incorporate any manufactured food). Common supplements include calcium (or bone meal) about 1 tsp per pound of food, Vitamin E (2 IU per pound of dog daily), and either sardines in water (one-quarter to one tin twice weekly) or one to three 1,200 mg fish oil capsules daily (Dose is based on 10 to 30 mg/pound of DHA and EPA).

In my investigations into home cooking for your pet I have used a variety of excellent sources that you might also like to consult. Here is a sampling of the books, websites, and services:

Starting with Dr. Richard Pitcairn’s classic Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats. His was one of the first guides to home cooking and the ingredient charts are extremely helpful, especially detailing the amount of water to use per dry ingredient, and the cooked yields.

Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets by Patricia Schenck, DVM, PhD contains many different diet plans, and the special medical conditions that they cover.

Monica Segal offers nutritional consultations and menu planning, that can also include supplementing a kibble based diet. She is the author of 9Kitchen and Your Dog’s Diet. monicasegal.com

Rebecca Remillard, DVM, Veterinary Nutritional Consultations. She as been providing consultations for 20 years. She provides customized recipes for healthy pets, and nutritional consultations for pets with medical conditions. She works directly with pet guardians and with their vets. petdiets.com

Sean Delaney’s Balance It is also a veterinarian nutritional consulting service. His site offers many interesting recipes and diet plans. Balanceit.com, go to the “free balanceit ez tab” to build your own recipes and to understand their nutrient composition. balanceit.com

Mary Straus’ website dogaware.com is a good resource for sample diets (both raw and cooked) and supplements for home prepared meals, as well as general health related topics. dogaware.com

For recipes books:

Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats by Beth Taylor and Karen Shaw Becker, DVM has an emphasis on ancestral diets, but a lot of valuable information. drkarenbecker.com

Dinner Pawsible by Cathy Alinovi, DVM and Susan Thixton. Has over 60 recipes that will inspire you and entice your pets. drcathyvet.com

Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet by Greg Martinez, DVM will get you started on the slow cooking approach to cooking for your pets. Be sure to watch his youtube channel too, so you can get some great cooking pointers.

Rick Woodford has provided an invaluable service with both his Feed Your Best Friend Better and his new Chow recipe books. His recipes can be used to supplement a kibble or canned food diet or provide healthy menu choices on their own. dogfooddude.com

Other Sources and Textbooks:

Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices (Dogwise) by Linda Case

Applied Veterinary Clinical Nutrition Edited by Andrea J. Fascetti and Sean J. Delaney

Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition by Michael Hand, DVM, Craig Thatcher, DVM, Rebecca Remillard, DVM and Philip Roudebush, DVM.

Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats National Research Council.

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Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

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