Putting It into Action: Companion Pet Caloric Needs for Ideal Target Weight

Recently, we came across a wonderful article by Dr. Karen Becker entitled, “Mistakes Owners Make When Feeding Their Dogs”. Her first and primary point is spot-on: Ignore Pet Food Package Feeding Guidelines. 

She expands on her point by stating: 

“These recommendations often use overly broad weight ranges for dogs such as ‘under 20 pounds’ (a 15-pound dog requires significantly more calories than a 5-pound dog), ‘20 to 50 pounds,’ and ‘over 50 pounds’ (some breeds tip the scales at well over 100 pounds and may need twice the calories a 50-pound dog requires).

Package feeding instructions also use wide serving ranges, such as ‘feed 1/ 2 to 1 1/ 2 cups.’ These suggestions obviously don’t consider, for example, a dog’s activity level, and they tend to be short on other important details, such as whether ‘feed 1/ 2 to 1 1/ 2 cups’ is a daily or per-meal guideline.”

She’s absolutely correct. 

It can contribute to pet obesity, which can lead serious weight related disorders such as diabetes, arthritis, obesity, bowel disorders, tooth and gum disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, and more.

Oftentimes, we suggest to pet companion parents to feed the minimum to the middle of the range of a pet food manufacturer’s recommended feeding guidelines. 


#1. We honestly do not know how many people actually measure their companion pet’s food. So, we see it as at least a baseline. A place to start. 

#2. We want to make sure the pets are getting enough vitamins and minerals. 

#3. As well, we found the math to figure out resting energy requirement (RER) a bit different. We’ll explain.

#4. How do we help companion pet parents put the plan into action wisely and safely without too much confusion? Because if you are confused, you might give up!  

First, what is RER? According to the Pet Nutritional Alliance, “RER is used to estimate the daily energy needed to sustain essential bodily functions (e.g. respiration, circulation, digestion, metabolism) while the dog/cat is at rest in a thermoneutral environment.”

Now, we love the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). They are doing amazing work and provide excellent guidance for companion pet parents to help their pets gradually lose weight. 

The association’s Pet Caloric Needs webpage details the following:

Dog and Cat Daily Caloric Needs

Calculating the calories your dog or cat needs to be fed 

You’ll first need to have your pet examined by your veterinarian and an ideal weight calculated. Based on your pet’s degree of excess weight, you may choose a target weight higher than the ideal weight to start. General guidelines for safe weight loss in dogs are 3-5% body weight loss per month and about 0.5 pounds per month in cats (1-3% body weight). A basic formula for weight loss in pets is:

Ideal weight in pounds divided by 2.2 gives you weight in kilograms (kg)

Calculate the Resting Energy Requirements (RER) based on this ideal weight:

RER in kcal/day =

RER in kcal/day = (ideal or target weight in kg ^ 0.75) x 70

       or (ideal or target weight in kg) to the 3⁄4 power) x 70


30 x (body weight in kilograms) + 70

For weight loss in dogs and cats, feeding the RER calories for the step-weight loss target weight (or ideal weight in some cases) should be adequate. In cases that fail to respond to this number of calories, the total will need to be reduced by your veterinarian. We strongly advise pet owners not to reduce feeding below RER calories unless under direct supervision by their veterinary healthcare provider.

Basically, you want to feed RER calories of the desired weight your companion dog or cat should achieve. 

So, we tried both formulae for the ideal weight for a dog that should weigh 18 pounds and one that should weigh 60 pounds…And this is what we got:

Ideal Target Weight: 18 lbs.

Steps Calculations Units
Ideal Dog Weight 18 lbs
Divide lbs. by 2.2 to get target weight in kg. 8.18 kg
Formula: (ideal or target weight in kg ^ 0.75) x 70 338.64 RER kcal/day
Formula: 30 x (body weight in kilograms) + 70 315.45 RER kcal/day

Ideal Target Weight: 60 lbs.

Steps Calculations Units
Ideal Dog Weight 60 lbs
Divide lbs. by 2.2 to get target weight in kg. 27.27 kg
Formula: (ideal or target weight in kg ^ 0.75) x 70 835.40 RER kcal/day
Formula: 30 x (body weight in kilograms) + 70 888.18 RER kcal/day

We know; it is a range. That’s OK and we’ll show you why. Further down the page on APOP’s site is a chart that illustrates the ideal weight or target weight and the number of calories needed to achieve it. 

With that being said, APOP brings up another excellent point:

“Please note that the calorie counts provided are guidelines for average lightly active adult spayed or neutered dogs or cats (1 to 7 years old receiving less than 30 minutes aerobic activity per day). The caloric needs of a particular pet may differ depending on such factors as lifestyle, genetics, activity level and medical conditions. Your pet will likely be fed fewer calories if you are attempting to reduce weight and improve fitness. Note that most indoor cats receive very little sustained activity and many dogs do not receive adequate daily physical activity. We recommend a structured daily exercise and nutritional program for both you and your pet.”

Comparing Foods

We looked at the calories per cup from two different single-protein and grain-free kibble dog foods from two different manufacturers. One was kangaroo and the other was duck. Before looking, we assumed the kangaroo would have less calories than the duck. That was not the case. 

The kangaroo food had 396 kcal/cup, while the duck food had 341 kcal/cup. That’s a difference of 55 kilocalories per cup!

Where We Think Companion Pet Parents Might Get Flustered…And What We Suggest…

Let’s say you can’t switch your companion pet between many foods due to food sensitivities and intolerances. So, let’s pretend you have to feed the kangaroo food at 396 kcal/cup to a 23 pound dog that should ideally be 18 pounds and that has a RER range between 315-338 kcal/day. 

What do you do? 

#1. Multiply 396 kcal/cup by standard measuring cup sizes. 

Measurement Calories
1 cup 396
3/4 cup 297
1/2 cup 198
1/3 cup 130.68
1/4 cup 99

#2. Figure out the best measuring cup size combination. 

For the 18 pound target weight goal, we quickly realized that 1/3 cup and 1/2 cup per day would be optimum as a starting point because the total calorie count was 328.68 kcal/day, which is in the range we calculated above if we didn’t give any supplements. 


You need to consider treats and supplements. 

We prefer teeny-weeny pieces of fruits and vegetables for companion dogs.

Popular supplements for dogs are pumpkin, coconut oil and fish oil.

For the dog that needs to be 18 pounds, normal suggestions are usually a maximum of 1 tablespoon pumpkin and 1.5 teaspoons of coconut oil per day.

50 calories per 1/2 cup
8 tablespoons in 1/2 cup
6.25 calories in one tablespoon


120 calories per tablespoon
3 teaspoons in a tablespoon
40 calories per teaspoon
60 calories for 1.5 teaspoons

We looked into popular fish oils on the market. It was difficult to find calories for some of them. 

Another hurdle we encountered was that the daily recommended amounts for companion dogs are in milligrams, but many companion pet parents give the actual liquid oil and not the pill, which requires a conversion to milliliters to figure out how much to give. You have to think about density then. This one is a doozy, but you can figure out the daily dose per kilogram for the dog that should be 18 lbs. 

The recommended dose of fish oil is 75-100 mg/kg total EPA/DHA. Again, we know that 18 pounds is 8.18 kilograms. That would mean 818 milligrams as the recommended daily dose. For the purposes of this blog, we are going to round down to 800 milligrams. 

1 milliliter of fish oil is 921.43 milligrams. 

1.25 milliliters are in 1/4 teaspoon. That’s a tiny amount! Our 18 pound dog does not need that much!

Our suggestion is to grab the 1/4 teaspoon and pour it about 3/4 full. 

Now, one fish oil company stated its product had 41 calories per teaspoon. 

If you are giving a little less than 1/4 teaspoon, that would be approximately 10 calories. However, if you do hit the level top, that’s okay for the 18 pound dog because it would not exceed maximum recommended daily allowances. 

So, when you put that altogether, that’s:

328.68 calories from 1/3 cup and 1/2 cup food total per day
+6.25 calories from 1 tablespoon pumpkin
+60 calories from 1.5 teaspoons of coconut oil
+10 calories from a little less than 1/4 teaspoon fish oil
404.93 calories

That’s over 60 calories over the recommended amount of calories if we add in all of those additional supplements. 

What you could do is cut the coconut oil to 1/4 teaspoon per day. That would take you to only 10 calories from coconut oil and the overall calories would be 354.93 kcal/day. 

That still exceeds the recommended calories for weight loss. So, let’s say we still cut the coconut oil to 1/4 teaspoon, but play with the quantity of food again. If we substitute the 1/3 cup for the 1/4 cup at 99 calories, the total caloric intake drops to 323.25, which is within RER range. 

Again, talk to your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist before you start. We do not want your companion pet to be malnourished – just want them to shave some pounds. 

Putting Plan into Action

#1. Talk to your veterinarian about your plans for your companion pet’s weight loss. You can also work with a veterinary nutritionist. 

#2. Look at the chart or calculate RER. 

#3. Figure out the different calorie counts per average measuring cup size of the food you are feeding your pet. 

#4. Get the closest you can within the range.

#5. Increase aerobic activity for your dog. 

#6. Feed low-calorie treats and do not overtreat. We prefer small amounts of fruits and vegetables for companion dogs. 

#7. If your pet is not achieving the results he needs, talk to your veterinarian to possibly figure out if there is another medical condition such as hypothyroidism or if you need to adjust your pet’s weight loss plan.

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