How many calories does a dog need?
March 30, 2012 2:07 PM   Subscribe

How much food does my dog need? If you can find a straight calories, carbs, etc. answer that doesn't need vast amounts of complicated math, I will be forever in your debt.

My dog Django (you may recognize him from such previous questions as this and this) is currently eating an extremely limited ingredient diet: specifically, he's eating ground turkey and sweet potatoes that I cook for him. This has been the only thing, after several years of various other attempts including a raw meat diet, a commercial grain free diet and so on, that has actually completely cleared up his ear infections once and for all. Naturally, I'm therefore reluctant to take him off this diet but I'm worried that a) it's not nutritionally complete and b) that he's not getting enough.

He's losing weight, which is a Very Good Thing, since he was extremely obese and he's got a lot more energy, which is Not an Unmixed Blessing, since he's always had more energy than anyone else in the household. These seem like good signs but I worry that he's losing weight too fast or that he'll lose too much. He weighed 85 pounds when we started this; he should weigh about 55 pounds and he has lost 10 or 12 pounds in the last 6 - 8 weeks, so he's now about 75 pounds. Exact numbers are not really available: you try to hold a wiggling 75 pound dog on a bathroom scale and get back to me.

I've found a lot of information online but I haven't been able to find a clear guide as to exactly how much food a 55 or so pound Springer Spaniel should eat every day, assuming that, as in a human diet, he should be eating enough for his ideal weight, not for his actual weight. Usually I cook up two pounds of turkey and four largish sweet potatoes along with about a cup and a half of water. This comes to about 6 - 7 cups of food. I mush it all together and give him roughly a third of this mixture each day, which is to say about 2/3 a pound of meat per day. Is this enough protein? Enough calories in general? What about other vitamins?

My vet has not been involved in this process although she's the one who set me on the trail of food allergies in the first place and suggested the grain free food. He's up to date on all his shots and very healthy and honestly I do not have the $100 it would take for an office visit just to get some reassurance and calorie numbers. So I would vastly prefer to leave the vet out of this.
posted by mygothlaundry to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You don't have $100 for an office visit - what about talking to a pet nutritionist? (yes, they exist! and they do good work!) I have never used their services, but I do rely heavily on The Dog Food Project for my own dog, and the owner of that site offers meal recommendation services for what seem to me to be reasonable pricing.
posted by muddgirl at 2:21 PM on March 30, 2012

I'm at work and therefore not near my dog food bag at home, but I know the back has recommendations for how much of that food a dog of a given size and age should eat. It also has macronutrient and caloric analysis for the food. Some other mefite who's in the same building as a dog food bag could do a little calculating for you, or you could go to a pet store, look at a few high quality grain-free kibbles, and do some arithmetic to come up with a decent ballpark estimate.
posted by juliapangolin at 2:44 PM on March 30, 2012

1. You need to be carefully monitoring his weight. The DVM I work for allows clients to come in and weigh their pets for free. We have a few clients with giant breed dogs and originally started letting them do this when one client's dog with protein loosing enteropathy (where monitoring weight is A MUST). Ask you vet if you can stop by and use their scale.

2. Daily calories for a dog = body weight (kg) x 30 + 70.
So if Djano is 75lbs he should be getting about 1093 calories a day.
posted by OsoMeaty at 2:51 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

55lbs of Djano should get 830 calories. I wouldn't recommend dropping him to 830 calories right off the bat though.

Week 1- 1093
Week 2 - 993
Week 3 - 893
Week 4 - 830

Something like that.
posted by OsoMeaty at 2:55 PM on March 30, 2012

Glad you're finding something that works for your pup's allergies, and Django is lucky to have you cheffing for him! OsoMeaty's caloric calculations look reasonable, and slow and steady weight loss to the target weight is healthier.

Your concerns about nutritional deficiencies and long term health are valid. At minimum, you'll need both a oyster-shell calcium supplement (with no added Vitamin D; not bone meal because of contaminants such as lead) and a vitamin/mineral supplement(Vetri-Science Canine Plus is good quality and one of the few to list its complete analysis), or an all-in-one like BalanceIT. Unless you are feeding raw bones, the calcium supplement is a critical one and needs to be balanced with phosphorus.

Dog Aware has pretty good articles on homecooking for dogs. This NY Times article from last year may also be of interest though it's short on details -- it may bring up some good questions to ask if you get a nutritional consult.

Dr. Rebecca Remillard is another resource for affordable canine nutritional consultations. If I were to ever go to all homecooking for my hounds rather than using it as a meal topper, personally I'd definitely want professional guidance.

One more resource -- the USDA National Nutrient Database can be very helpful as you work on your recipes, and what I'd use to determine the calories in what you're cooking at present.
posted by vers at 3:51 PM on March 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Aaand apologies for the borked links. Here's Homecooking from Dog Aware. The NYT article isn't available without log in, so I hope it's okay if I take the liberty of memailing the text.
posted by vers at 4:42 PM on March 30, 2012

$100 just for an office visit? Yipes. Will the vet do a consult on the phone?
posted by radioamy at 7:51 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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