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It is Not WHAT We Feed Our Pets but HOW We Feed Them That is Making Them Fat

The combination of treats, "people scraps," and feeding by the "cup" are major causes of obesity in pets. All lead to feeding too many calories.




According to studies, 59 percent of owners feed their dogs "people scraps." (Not "table scraps." Who eats from a table?) Don’t get me wrong. I have no problems with feeding people food to pets. The problem is accounting for the calories in the treats and scraps. A piece of cheese, meat or cookie could add as many as 50 to 100 calories. For a small dog, that could be half of its total daily calorie requirement! Raw vegetables like broccoli, carrots and beans are virtually calorie free because the calories necessary to digest them cancel out the calories they contain. Cooked vegetables, fruits, berries, and melons have slightly more calories, but when limited for use as treats and rewards — or limited to 1/4 or 1/3 of a cup per day — add nice variety to the diet. These treats probably won’t work for cats. We will discuss cat treats another time.


The “CUP”


 measuring dog food, a cup of dog food, too much dog doof


Although pet food labels clearly state "8 oz. measuring cup," owners are inclined to translate the meaning of a "cup" differently. The three containers to the right of the green measuring cup were called "a cup" by various clients. The numbers on each container indicate the actual number of measured cups each can hold.


The tendency is to feed to the size of the food bowl, despite instructions. Bigger bowls look empty. Food bowls should be the smallest possible size without making eating difficult.


But even owners who follow label instructions often overfeed. Feeding instructions on pet food are based on weight. Few owners know the weight of their pets, and it is difficult to get an accurate weight using a bathroom scale, especially for large dogs. Every overestimation of one pound can result in overfeeding by 53 calories. Owners with an accurate knowledge of their pets’ weight can still overfeed due to the range of "cups" in the feeding instructions for each weight category. So what is the answer?


Count the calories, not the cups

  1. Most veterinarians do not charge for weighing pets and an accurate weight is a must before you can calculate your pet’s daily energy requirement (kcal/day). Once the weight is known, a pet’s daily calorie requirement can be calculated. For neutered, inactive pets the daily energy requirement (DER) is:
    • [30 x (Weight (lbs.) ÷ 2.2) + 70] x 1.2 = DER (kcal or calories/day)

    For intact or active pets, use 1.5 instead of 1.2 as the multiplier. For kittens and puppies, pregnant, lactating, or performance and working animals, consult with your vet for the appropriate multiplier.
    If your pet is overweight, these calculations do not apply. Overweight animals need calorie restrictions and special foods. Feeding the overweight pet is the subject of upcoming posts.

  2. Weigh the food on a kitchen scale. Weighing is far more accurate than measuring. You will need to find the kcal/kg of the food. Pet food companies are not required to provide this on the packaging. If it is not available on the package, the company website will have it. The formula to determine the amount to feed is:
    • (DER kcal ÷ kcal/kg) x 1000 = grams to feed per day*
    • (* to convert to ounces divide the number of grams by 28)

    Divide the grams or ounces of food by 2, and that is the weight of each meal you feed. Feeding dogs twice daily is better than feeding one big meal. The amount of canned food per meal is calculated the same way. (Feeding strategies for cats will be covered in a future post.)


If your pet’s Body Condition Score increases with this volume of food, cut back in 10 percent increments every two weeks until he/she maintains a perfect BCS. If the BCS decreases, add food in 10 percent increments.



Dr. Ken Tudor



Image: karam Miri / via Shutterstock

Comments  5

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  • there you are
    02/17/2012 03:32pm

    Hi Dr Tudor,

    About 3 or 4 months ago I had a lengthy discussion with Dr Mahaney about the need for weight loss centers for pets and now...here you are.

    I think it is wonderful and it is really the number one defence we pet owners have for keeping our pets healthy.

    I envision a diet program, along with a very high quality human grade pet food provided and a weekly or monthly group meeting for pets and owners.Heck it could even be franchised out to pet care centers, vets offices and so on. The need is there, the education of pet owners and diet is what needs to be brought out. For myself I battle with my pets weight problems all the time. I think my over feeding and treat giving is more of a misunderstanding and a feeling that I want my pets to be happy and some guilt too. So a good plan, food and contact with others on the same plan and path, I think would be very helpful.

  • trial & error
    02/24/2012 07:08pm

    I am transitioning to raw feeding with our very active lab/terrier -- a stray we adopted five months ago; she's a little over one year old. She weighs about 25 pounds. I must confess that I have no clue how much to feed her. But I have found that, when she's sated, she stops eating. I have to stop myself from fretting about this -- I'm scared she's not getting enough -- but she seems very healthy, very active, and very happy, so I guess I'll just have to chill.

    I know some dogs do not have this internal self-check, but my dog does. Sometimes I hand-feed her. When she's had enough, she just licks the piece of meat I'm holding out to her and turns away. I admit that I occasionally persist, trying to get her to eat that last morsel. But I'm learning not to do this. She's pretty insistent: When she's not hungry, she's not hungry, and that's that.

    I used to worry that she was off her feed, but, believe me, when she *is* hungry, she eats eagerly...so, clearly, she hasn't lost her appetite.

    But all of this makes it really hard for me to gauge the right amount to set out for her. I have to remind myself that she has a little stomach, and the amount that would satisfy a giant mastiff for breakfast would last her for a week.

    Sigh. Why is it all so complicated?

  • 02/24/2012 09:31pm


    I think you have hit a good point. For me it is always a big temptation to give too much of everything.

  • Paw Licker
    03/08/2012 08:17pm

    I'm still anxious for a recommendation on a beef and chicken -free diet for my maltese to lose 3 pounds. I am more than willing to cook or prepare a batch and save it and feed three times a day if necessary. But she's not losing weight and acts like she's starving and licks her paws to death for the salt because she's hungry and I feed her a cup of food a day. When I feed her less, she finds a way to eat garbage!

    Three vets gave me three different recommendations!

    Would love some proven recommendationsto try.

  • MamiAngel
    03/09/2012 03:12am

    First: She does not lick her paws for salt or hunger. She licks her paws because of allergies, most likely pollens.
    Secondly: There is nothing sacred about beef or chicken free unless she has PROVEN allergies to these proteins.
    Thirdly: If she is not losing weight than she is getting plenty of food and the calorie restriction is not adequate. You must count calories and know exactly how much she is getting daily. Dieting is not a casual exercise. Recommendations from your vet, or in your case vets, must be very specific, you must follow it (with no other treats or rewards) and you must monitor 1-2 times monthly.
    Dr. T

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