Calorie Breakdown: What Are Kcals & How Many Should Your Dog Eat?
Most of us are pretty familiar with the large, bolded text that shouts "calories" on the back of a food label - this calculated number is one of the first things we see and can even influence our consumption choices. However, when it comes to our four-legged friends, the calorie count on dog food labels isn't displayed quite the same, which can cause confusion for many pet parents.
In canine nutrition, calories are generally referred to as kilocalories - a unit (like a human calorie) that denotes the amount of energy your dog will be consuming. So what's the difference between the two?
Nutrition labels can turn into a confusing stream of numbers if you're unfamiliar with the terms - in this article, we'll break it down for you so you can make sense of the food your dog is consuming and focus on getting your dog the nutrition they deserve.
What Are Kcals?
Calories are a unit of energy that refer to the amount of energy in foods and beverages. They can also tell you how many you have to burn while exercising in order to lose weight.
What most of us don't realize is that calories come in different sizes: small or large. Calories with an uppercase C are usually used in physics or chemistry settings and refer to the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water by 1°C. Small calories are what we see listed on a food label, which estimate the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C - meaning 1 large Calorie equals 1,000 small calories, just as 1 kg equals 1,000 grams.
All this calorie talk can get confusing, but don't fret - that's where kilocalories come in. With the prefix "kilo" meaning 1,000, the term kilocalories are meant to distinguish small calories from large ones. So the "calorie" that we refer to in foods is actually called a kilocalorie. In this sense, the terms calorie and kilocalorie can be used interchangeably.
In a nutshell, 1 Calorie = 1,000 kcals, and 1 calorie = 1 kcal.
Finding Kcals on a Food Label
Kcals are required to be listed on all dog food labels, including treats.
Often times, these will be listed under the Calorie Content section on the back of the packaging by weight (kilocalories per kilogram) and volume (kilocalories per cup or can).
For example, the calorie display for the Raw Bistro complete and balanced 2oz patties are listed as such: 1760 kcal/kg; 100 kcal/2oz patty.
*Note that calories can also be listed as metabolized energy, or ME, which refers to the amount of energy contained in the food that is actually absorbed by your dog after digestion takes place.
Kcal Requirements for Dogs
You may be wondering just how many calories your dog should be eating every day - unfortunately, there isn't an easy universal number to memorize, but the good news is that you can tailor your dog's calorie count to their physical needs so your dog is intaking the right amount of calories they need for maximum health.
Your dog's daily calorie requirement can vary on a number of factors. Calorie needs can fluctuate between different stages of life (or age of your dog), their size and metabolic weight, or even their breed.
Other factors such as activity level or medical history could affect their calorie intake range. The best thing you can do to make sure they're getting the calories they need is to monitor and adjust the calorie count over time for an overall better, vibrant health.
A Healthy Weight For Your Dog
From complicated math equations to detailed diagrams, there are many ways in which you can attempt to calculate the exact range in which your dog's weight should fall.
Aside from visual cues from your dog, one of the easiest ways to do this is following the WSAVA body condition score chart. Depending on the breed or size of your dog, the ideal weight can fluctuate in terms of numbers, but the overall shape and physical qualities should remain the same. This chart does an excellent job in describing the different physical attributes of a dog's body within each stage on the scale, with 1 being underweight and 9 being overweight.
How Much Should I Be Feeding My Dog?
The general rule of thumb is to feed an adult dog about 2-4% of their body weight, 2 times per day split into morning and night. However, food needs can vary from dog to dog, so it's important to monitor your pet closely and increase or reduce food quantity as needed in order to maintain a proper weight.
Young puppies will need to eat a minimum of three times per day, and anywhere from 2-3x the amount that an adult dog of the same weight would eat in order to meet all of their nutrient requirements. Since their activity levels are much higher and more susceptible to low blood sugar, their growing bodies need a consistent fill of a fully balanced diet. After 3-4 months of age, you can begin to be more flexible with their feeding schedule.
Quality Food with Raw Bistro
Quality health starts with quality food. At Raw Bistro, we pride ourselves on serving you and your dog high-quality ingredients from trusted farms. Explore our many options of complete and balanced diets for a nutritious and diversified meal you can count on.
For a baseline recommendation based on your dog’s weight, you can enter your dog’s information into our raw feeding calculator.
Keeping tabs on your pet's nutrition is so important for maintaining a strong and vibrant life. Learning how to read pet food labels and navigating calorie needs is the first step in getting your dog the nutrition they deserve. Need additional help? Schedule a raw dog food consult with us today!