After spending more time than is reasonable explaining WHY dogs are gaining weight in spite of all owner attempts at the reverse, I get tired...really tired. 

That’s why, lately, I’ve taken to suggesting my clients keep a diary of everything their fat dog eats in a week (and how much exercise they get) by way of explaining how vigilance and diligence is sometimes no match for intelligence. And, in this case, intelligence doesn’t necessarily translate into “smarts.” 

Gathering intelligence is my newest method of helping my clients with their pets’ weight concerns. The prescription? Track it all. Write it down honestly. Then we’ll figure out what you’re doing wrong––if anything. 

The first sticking point? It always comes down to measuring everything the dog eats and does. The kids might have fed X. I didn’t know the treats counted. (Seriously?) My mother-in-law sneaks her food under the table. 

The second sticking point? You mean she can only eat 400 calories a day?? How is that possible??

Oh, that’s easy. The average dog needs to take in a certain number of calories based on his weight, her need for weight loss, his neuter status, her activity level, and his propensity for weight gain. 

It’s simple math, really. Here’s the idea: 

Base calories/day (resting energy requirement) = 30 x (your dog’s weight in kg) + 70

Example: So if you have a 10 kg (22 pound) dog, he needs to eat 370 calories a day. 

But then it gets a little more complicated. That's because the “resting energy requirement” is only a measure of the amount of energy (in calories) he needs to keep his basic functions going comfortably. So if he’s a busy dog who runs around a lot in your big yard, he’ll need a lot more. And if he’s a neutered couch potato who’s seriously obese he may need no more than his basic bodily functions require to actually lose some weight.

Here's where your veterinarian comes in. Based on how much weight your dog needs to lose (which is based on her body condition score, something I’ll treat in a future post), and taking all of your dog’s health concerns in mind (along with her age, propensity to gain weight, exercise habits and spay/neuter status), your veterinarian may add some more calories to the mix. Here’s a general idea of how this gets factored in:

  • Weight loss needed, neutered/spayed = 1 x base calories
  • Weight loss needed, intact = 1.1x base calories

If she’s active, add another 0.2 to 0.4 to the multiplier. If she’s a couch potato, stick to the bare minimum number of calories designated by these calculations. 

Example: The 10 kg (22-pound) neutered, obese couch potato needs 370 calories. The active neutered version needs about 1.2 x 370 (444 calories). 

Easy, right? 

But now comes the obvious problem: Getting dog owners to actually begin counting calories on our patients’ behalf––which can be a nightmare, given that calories are not commonly listed on the side of your average bag of dog food. And that’s a shame. I see no reason for this not to happen. After all, we’d be hard-pressed to consider the same acceptable for ourselves.

Of course, you might argue that our culture is increasingly obese in spite of the labels on everything from jelly beans to frozen burritos. (But then, nutritional ratification of “foods” through labeling is probably part of the problem.) Nonetheless, pet owners need some tools to determine how caloric their pet foods are. 

How else to achieve an understanding of how much you’re contributing to your pet’s obesity problem than by knowing how many calories your dog needs...then counting  the number of calories in that Pupperoni you feed three times a day? Without this ability, many pet owners will doubtless feel unduly justified in plying their pets with the caloric equivalent of a Big Mac as a feelgood freebie any time of the day or night.

Yet calorie counts can be had. They’re on every major pet food and treat manufacturer’s website. Some manufacturers are even leaning towards leaner treats knowing you’re starting to count your pets calories. This includes the Pupperoni people, who now produce a “50 calorie Pupperoni” (which probably means the traditional Pupperoni probably amounts to a third of the base calories required for the 22-pound pet in my first example). 

So how about you? Calorie counts may not be necessary for all dog owners (indeed, I simply feed a visibly smaller amount for a couple of weeks if I see my dogs starting to get chunky). But if your pets are overweight and you can’t imagine why, you have no excuse not to get started on gathering some caloric intelligence