Is My Dog Too Fat? By Dr. K.

April 9, 2021

As the staff veterinarian at QK Dogs, I have the amazing opportunity to examine some really COOL dogs on a regular basis of all different breeds – some of which I have never heard of. These dogs are owned by dedicated people that care about their dogs immensely… and yet, many of the dogs that I see are overweight, and some are obese! I base my assessment (the dog’s body condition score) on established guidelines, such as those presented by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Global Nutrition Committee – here’s a website for your reference here.

One of the most concerning health trends in the US is the number of overweight dogs, which has been growing dramatically. Statistics show that more than half of all dogs in the United States are overweight, which can lead to arthritis and a myriad of other health conditions.

I often find myself telling owners that their dogs are FAT (although I try to be polite about it), and am presented with the same question time and time again: “How much should I feed my dog Doc?”

The answer is: it all depends. There are 2 major issues to consider, which are the dog’s daily energy requirements based on life stage or activity, and the caloric density of the food that the owner is feeding. Of course, you always have to include calories from extra treats, bones, human food, etc. – this can be tough to estimate accurately.

So, to determine how many calories a dog needs on a daily basis, we look at an equation to determine the dog’s resting energy requirement, or RER. This is calculated by taking the dog’s weight in Kilograms and raising it to the 0.75 power, then multiplying by 70. Then, we take this RER and multiply it by the dog’s appropriate life stage factor, taking into account whether the dog is overweight, spayed/neutered, working or sedentary, etc. to determine the dog’s daily metabolic energy requirement, or MER. A heavily working dog may require up to 8 TIMES the RER to establish the appropriate MER for that dog!

As an example, if we have a 44 pound (20kg) dog, this dog’s RER is 660 calories per day. If the dog is an adult neutered male, we multiply by 1.6 and get a total requirement of 1,060 calories per day. If this dog were a young rapidly growing puppy, the life stage multiplier would be 3.0 for a total calorie requirement of 1,980 per day.

Then, you need to know how many calories are in the food that you are feeding, which is often not on the label (it is not required except for reduced-calorie diets), so an owner may need to call the company of the food they are feeding to inquire about caloric density. Commercial dog foods vary widely in caloric density, and this must be taken into account to avoid significant over or under-feeding.

The above calculations can be made with the help of a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to make sure that an owner is feeding their beloved dog appropriately. This is not always an easy task, especially when pet food labels often suggest feeding WAY TOO MUCH. But, it is important to keep a dog’s body condition on the lean side for a long, happy and healthy life – very much worth the effort!