Canine Diet and Nutrition Information Part 2
The Proper Care and Feeding Of Your Dog

How Much to Feed A Dog to Meet His Energy Needs

Continued From Previous Page

By Joe Bodewes, DVM

Understanding your dog's energy needs

Table 1. Activity levels and daily energy requirements


Daily Energy

Weight loss

1.0 x RER

Neutered adult normal activity

1.6 x RER

Intact adult normal activity

1.8 x RER

Light work

2.0 x RER

Moderate work

3.0 x RER

Heavy work

4-8 x RER

Pregnant dog (first 42 days)

1.8 x RER

Pregnant dog (last 21 days)

3.0 x RER

Lactating female

4-8 x RER

Puppy - weaning to 4 months

3.0 x RER

Puppy - 4 months to adult size

2.0 x RER

The first step in understanding your dog's canine diet requirements is realizing that there is no set formula for determining your dog's individual needs. For people, it is fairly simple to calculate your recommended daily caloric requirements based upon your weight because, as people, we are all relatively similar compared to dogs. As a person, if you want to know how many daily calories you should consume all you have to do is look on a chart and there it is, give or take a few percentages for activity level and age. But with dogs, there are huge differences between breeds, size, growth rates in puppies, activity levels, skin and coat thicknesses, and living conditions. For example, compare the canine diet needs of a young Malamute living outdoors and learning to pull a dog sled to that of an adult Pomeranian living in a heated apartment, and the pound for pound difference in caloric needs could be over tenfold. Those kind of differences rarely happen in humans and these differences are why it is so difficult to have a set answer for how much a dog should be fed.

Table 1 gives some guidelines that nutritionists use for calculating caloric needs and canine diet. This table is based upon a dog's Resting Energy Requirements or RER. The RER is the basic amount of energy that a dog would use in a day while remaining at rest. Any activity or variable other than rest will require an increase in energy (RER) and an increase in calories to meet the energy needs. Realize that these numbers are not a reflection of maintenance calories but of resting energy levels. For example, a normal adult dog with normal activity is already at 1.6 times the resting energy requirement.

While this table does not tell us how much we need to feed our dog, it does show the significant variability in canine diet requirements based upon his activity. Remember that this table does not take into account characteristics like breed differences, air temperature, and coat insulation, which can additionally alter an individual dog's energy requirement as much or more than any of the activities listed above.

How to feed your individual dog:

So where should you start? The first place to start is with the canine diet itself. 

Feeding a poor quality pet product is never a good idea because in addition to actually being more expensive because of the increased quantities needed to fulfill nutritional requirements, it also produces more waste. It is also more likely to create digestive or behavioral problems. So, to begin, choose a high quality pet food and look at the recommendations on the label to get your starting point. 

From there you need to have an accurate weight of the dog and a projected target weight, whether it is an adult on dog food or a growing puppy.

Look at the table above and get an idea of your dog's activity level. Remember to factor in the other environmental variables and any additional calories in the form of treats or table foods, and adjust the starting amount accordingly. Ask your veterinarian's opinion on what your dog's ideal weight should be and factor that into your feeding amount. Remember that most dogs are overfed and under exercised so, if in doubt, I usually tell people to feed a little less. After you have started feeding the amount that you have calculated that your dog needs, then you need to weigh your dog at least monthly to determine if the amount fed is appropriate. If necessary, increase or decrease the amount of food slightly until the dog stays at his ideal weight. A handy trick for weighing your dog on a bathroom scale is to weigh yourself while you hold the dog and then weigh yourself without the dog and subtract the difference.

Adjusting to change

As you can observe from the table above, the amount of food that you feed your dog will change throughout your dog's life. Most weight problems develop slowly and will often begin when a dog goes through the transition from a growing puppy to an adult. The adult dog's appetite is often greater than his need. Another time during a dog's life at which weight gain occurs is when an adult dog becomes a senior and his activity level decreases. By being aware of the need to adjust your dog's calories and performing periodic weight checks, you can avoid overfeeding during these problematic transition times.

Knowing how much pet product to feed your dog can be a confusing problem. Start out with a quality food, note the feeding recommendations on the bag, add or decrease the amount fed depending on your dog's activity level and housing environment, and then start his canine diet at that amount. From there, by carefully monitoring the dog's weight and making adjustments as needed, you can keep your dog at his perfect and healthiest possible weight.

End article


Hand; Thatcher; Remillard; Roudebush. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 4th Edition. Walsworth Publishing Company. Marceline , MO ; 2000.

Lewis L.; Morris, M.; Hand, M. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 3rd Edition. Mark Morris Associates. Topeka , KS ; 1987.

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