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Nutrition Nuggets
Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Counting Calories for Cats (and Dogs)

December 14, 2012 / (2) comments

I ran across a potentially useful tool for dietary planning a few days ago that I want to share with you. It’s called the SuperTracker Food-a-Pedia and it’s put together by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of their MyPlate campaign aimed at helping Americans make better nutrition choices. As you’d expect, the website is designed with human health in mind, but owners can certainly use some of its features when it comes to planning their pets’ meals.

I see two areas where SuperTracker could come in handy.

1. If you feed your cat (or dog) home prepared meals, either as their primary source of nutrition or as an occasional delicacy.

Weight gain can be a big problem when animals eat home prepared meals because these foods tend to be more calorie dense than are similar commercial diets, and owners often don’t adjust the amount they offer accordingly. SuperTracker can be used to determine the caloric-density of a home-prepared meal. For example, the following recipe would be appropriate to prepare an occasional treat for cats and kittens (but not as a complete diet; it is missing much in the way of vitamins and minerals):

1/3 pound boneless chicken breast with skin (raw weight), baked1 large egg, hard-boiled
1/2 ounce canned clams, drained and chopped
1/2 cup cooked white, regular rice
4 teaspoons canola oil

Place all ingredients in a food processor, blend, and add water until desired consistency.

By using SuperTracker, we can determine that this recipe provides a total of 420 calories (55 from the chicken, 77 from the egg, 26 from the clams, 102 from the rice, and 160 from the canola oil). If your cat is a typical, neutered, 10 pound adult, he or she should probably be taking in around 260 calories per day for weight maintenance (see the table below).

cat food, cat nutrition, cat calories, doet for cat

Let’s say you feed your cat twice a day and like to treat her to a special Sunday morning breakfast with the aforementioned meal. You therefore want the food to provide 130 calories, which is roughly one-third of what you prepared (taking into account a little waste). Freeze the rest in two equally divided portions, thaw them when you want them, and you don’t have to cook a special meal for your cat for the next two weeks.

2. If you use human foods as treats.

This is probably more relevant for dogs than for cats, but I frequently recommend that owners switch from calorie-dense prepared treats to things like mini carrots or frozen green beans when trying to help dogs lose weight. We’d still like to know how many calories these items are bringing to the table, so to speak, and SuperTracker can answer that question. One baby carrot contains 4 calories, and ten, 4 inch long raw string beans have 17 calories.

SuperTracker also has a tool for calculating the calories burnt through lots of different physical activities. The numbers wouldn’t be relevant for pets, but it’s still interesting to scroll through what’s available.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Forewer / via Shutterstock

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Comments  2

Leave Comment
  • Complicated
    12/14/2012 07:12am

    Every article I read about optimal nutrition for critters, the more complicated it becomes!

    For instance, using the recipe above, if the owner added vitamin and mineral supplements, calories should be added to the total accordingly.

  • Yick
    01/03/2013 04:13am

    Two things:

    One, restricting caloric intake without regard to diet composition is a completely useless exercise. Cats are obligate carnivores who are built to preferentially use animal protein and fat for their energy and carbs are almost invariably converted into sugar and stored as body fat. So your first step - and quite often the only necessary step - is to stop feeding carbohydrates to an animal that was never meant to eat them. Only once you've removed such inappropriate and unhealthy ingredients should you even begin to think about calorie counting.

    Second, I hope no one uses that "recipe" you've listed to feed their cats. If that's your example of a "healthy home-prepared meal," I can see why you think so poorly of the practice. White rice doesn't belong in a carnivore's diet period, but, even worse, it's been shown to reduce blood taurine levels when fed to cats. And canola oil? *facepalm*




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.

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