Updated: Sep 11
Do you know what your dog's ideal weight should be? Maintaining your dog's ideal weight is perhaps the most important thing you can do for their longterm health and quality of life. Studies show dogs who maintain their ideal weight can live two to three years longer and also have a much later (two to three years) onset of osteoarthritis than their overweight counterparts. Two to three additional high-quality years with our pups is a gift worth putting some work (and math) into!
The first step in figuring out your dog's ideal weight is determining their current Body Condition Score (BCS). This is a discussion your veterinarian would love to have with you. Telling someone their dog is overweight isn't a comfortable discussion to have. I guarantee if you initiate the conversation they will be thrilled to be your partner in this, especially if you suspect your dog is overweight. Any significant weight loss should be done under the careful supervision of your vet. If you suspect your dog is underweight, this is definitely something to discuss with your veterinarian, to rule out any underlying health issues.
A BCS of 4 to 5 is the ideal goal. If your dog is already there congratulations, whatever you're doing is working! However, I would still recommend going through the math; knowing your dog's daily caloric goal is good knowledge to have as you may change foods or a new training regimen may result in an uptick in treats.
Now for the math.
We're going to do some calculations to get an estimate of how many calories your dog should consume in a day. It is just a starting ballpark figure. Monitoring your dog's BCS and adjusting their food accordingly is a much better way to tailor their diet to their specific needs, but this is a great way to get started.
First, you'll need to know your dog's weight in kilograms, so take their weight in pounds and divide by 2.2. I'm going to use my dog, Gerald, as an example.
Gerald weighs 48.6 pounds, so 48.6 lbs / 2.2 lbs/kg = 22.09 kg.
Now we're going to figure out how many calories Gerald needs to just exist. This is called his Resting Energy Requirement (RER). There are two formulas for this, one for small to large dogs, and another for giant dogs.
If your dog is less than 45 kg (99 pounds), the formula is: 30 x (body weight in kg) + 70.
If your dog is over 45 kg, the formula is: 70 x (body weight in kg)^.75
Gerald is under 45 kg, so his RER is 30 x (22.09 kg) + 70 = 757 calories a day. That means his body expends 757 calories a day keeping his heart beating, his body temperature regulated, his food digested, his muscles and bones in good repair, etc ...
For a dog that weighs 50 kg, the math is slightly more complicated, needing to dust off exponents from our high school math days ... 70 times Body weight in kg raised to the .75th power. So their RER is 70 x (50 kg)^.75 = 70 x 18.80 = 1316 calories a day.
Whew! Now we need to know the Daily Energy Requirement. This is based on activity level, stage of life, etc ... This is the amount of calories your dog should be consuming each day. REMEMBER: If your dog is over or under weight, discuss your plan with your veterinarian!
Neutered Adult: 1.6 x RER
Intact Adult: 1.8 x RER
For weight loss: 1.0 x RER
Maintenance (obesity prone): 1.4 x RER
Puppy (0 - 4 months): 3.0 x RER
Puppy (4 months - adult): 2.0 x RER
Honestly, Gerald is rather inactive, loves food, and would be huge if I didn't closely monitor his food. I use 1.4 x RER for him. That makes his DER: 1.4 x 757 calories/day = 1059.8 calories/day. You'd think we're done, but we're not.
We use positive training methods in our house, which means I am a treat dispensing machine, so I have to set aside calories for treats. For Gerald, I budget 150 calories for treats and about 900 calories from his regular food. The next step is to find out how much of the food you feed you need to give your dog to hit their daily caloric intake goal.
To figure this out, you'll need to read the label for your dog food. You don't want their feeding recommendation, you want to know the caloric content of the food, most particularly the calories/cup. It will probably say kcal/cup, but ignore that; they don't mean kilocalories, that would be 382,000 calories per cup for this Fromm's Classic Adult Formula (our food of choice). Gerald would explode!
My target for Gerald is 900 calories a day from his food. His food has 382 calories/cup, so I divide 900 calories by 382 calories/cup and get 2 1/3 cups of food a day. In watching Gerald's weight, I found that is slightly too much food (I may occasionally go over our 150 calorie treat budget), so we have settled on 2 cups a day to maintain his current BCS of about 4.5.
Jasper weighs a whopping 14.4 pounds and he gets 2/3 cup of food a day plus treats. He is a dachshund mix, so I keep his weight low because of his longer back. Carrying excess weight can be hard on his vertebral discs.
I don't know Fritz's exact weight, he is not fond of the scale. I guessed his weight to be 80 pounds to get a starting point, and just observed his BCS to fine tune. I've found he does well on 3 3/4 cups of food a day plus treats. I keep Fritz's weight low because of his unusually long legs. Also, before he came to rescue at 6 months of age, he was kept in a cage that didn't allow him to fully stand (we think) and he was severely malnourished. I worry about him having long-term orthopedic issues cropping up as he ages, given his challenging start to life. Not carrying extra weight is the kindest thing we can do for the longevity of his hips and knees.
Finally, the most important tip I can give you is: MEASURE! I use kitchen quality measuring cups every single time I feed my dogs. This is too important to eyeball. If you free-feed your dogs, you should still measure. You need to know precisely how much your dog eats in a day, so you and your veterinarian can work together to get in the zone. This is not the time to be guessing.
I know it seems like a lot. There are websites with calculators that can do the math for you, but I sincerely believe it is good to take the time to do it yourself. Understanding the underlying theory is a powerful tool. If you're like me, you are probably a little softhearted when it comes to your pups, and it is all too easy to give in to their pleading eyes and toss them a pizza crust. But if you've made it this far, I know you hold your dog's best interest in that soft heart of yours, and I cannot express this strongly enough: maintaining a proper weight for your dog is the BEST gift you can give them.
I dedicate this post to this adorable pup, Johnny. We met at a festival this weekend and he is the sweetest dog. His owner knew Johnny was overweight. They were doing their best for Johnny, their love for each other was obvious, they just needed some tools. Joanne Lang and Johnny's owner had a great talk while I gave Johnny a well-deserved massage. Joanne provided them with some easy steps to take to start moving this awesome pup toward a healthier state of being. It can seem overwhelming at first, but just take the first step. You don't have to solve it all at once. Love to you, Johnny!