Caloric Feeding for Dogs

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The caloric feeding for dogs methodology discussed in this guide uses “biomath” to calculate the number of calories or kcals a dog particularly needs each day. It is additionally important to understand nutrient density of food. Nutrient density is not covered in this particular guide beyond a brief point at the end of this page. 

The information on this page contains excerpts taken from one of the modules/units in the Balanced Diet Formulation for Adult Dogs course.

Dogs eat to meet their energy needs.

What is Energy? Energy is the capacity to do work.

A specific amount of energy is needed to maintain a given body weight, and even modest variances can bring about weight gain or weight loss in a dog. To determine the amount of food required, it is necessary to know the dog’s energy requirement and the energy content of the foods being fed.

Breed, age, activity, intact, fixed, growth stage, maintenance stage, pregnancy/lactation, and aging pet years; all of these are examples of factors used to determine your dog’s energy needs. Activity is an absolutely imperative factor to consider when figuring out your dog’s energy requirements. The energy number assigned to the math formula used to depict your dog’s life are a main factor in how you determine their metabolizable energy requirements also known as MER. MER is the portion of total energy your dog’s body retains to function. This metabolizable energy is what is measured in kCals/Calories.

Simplifying it for the Average Feeder

Sometimes when people start reading terms like “metabolizable energy requirements for dogs” or they get asked “how many kcals does your dog eat a day?” or they are presented in an online group with abbreviations like RER & MER; they get nervous and feel like they are about to get in over their head. DON’T BAIL, I’M GOING TO HELP YOU!

Let’s Get Into It from the Ground Up, Beginning with What a Calorie Is

Definition of a Calorie:

Athe amount of heat required at a pressure of one atmosphere to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius that is equal to about 4.19 joules abbreviation cal

 called also gram caloriesmall calorie

Bthe amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water one degree Celsius 1000 gram calories or 3.968 Btu abbreviation Cal

 called also large Calorie, Cal, Kilogram calorie, Kilocalories, & kCals. <—-This is what we use when feeding dogs. Calories and kCals are used interchangeably in casual conversation and they represent a unit of energy. 

Now that you know what a Calorie/kCal is & that we use it for measuring a dog’s energy requirements; we need to talk about Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and Resting Energy Requirements (RER).

Energy Requirements 

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

The Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) as I will call it from here forward; is defined as the energy required to maintain homeostasis in a dog in a post-absorptive state. <— This means the dog has been fasted or it’s laying down after a long period of not eating such as overnight; and is then awake in a thermoneutral environment that it is accustomed to.  

Resting Energy Requirements (RER)

Resting Energy Requirements, that I am going to refer to as RER from now on, is the minimum energy your dog needs for its body to provide essential functions to live when it hasn’t been fasted. It is also referred to as Resting Fed Metabolic Rate (RFMR). This is the minimum amount of kCals needed to sustain life in a resting state who aren’t in a post-absorptive state.

The difference between BMR and RER is dietary-induced thermogenesis. What is that?? Dietary-induced thermogensis or DIT is the increase in energy expenditure above basal fasting level, divided by the energy content of the food ingested.


Here is the math for you to figure out your adult dog’s RER. I also have it built into a calculator for you to use, in case you don’t feel like doing math. You can access that calculator here.

The Allometric Formula for Determining Resting Energy Requirements for Dogs (RER)

—-> RER = 70 x (body weight in kilograms) 0.75 <—-

This is the minimum amount of calories needed for your adult dog to function in a resting state. 

Daily activity level, growth stage, pregnancy,  & lactation all increase a dog’s energy requirements from the RER to what is known as Metabolizable Energy Requirements at Maintenance known as MER. This is one of the components needed to formulate a balanced meal based on ME for your dog.

In a nutshell —-> RER is the minimum number of kCals your dog needs to function. Any type of activity increases that number. Increased activity from a resting state means the dog is burning more energy and therefore needs more kCals to maintain. 

Metabolizable Energy Requirements (MER)

Metabolizable Energy Requirements for Maintenance that I am going to call MER here forward, are the kCals needed for a dog to maintain their ideal weight based on their current life stage & their activity level. MER requires more kCals than RER because the dog is doing more than life sustaining functions. Other factors affecting MER are activity, growth, pregnancy/lactation, climate, and health.

Examples of the Allometric Formula for Determining Metabolizable Energy Requirements for Adult Dogs at Maintenance

MER =  95 x (body weight in kilograms) 0.75 (Less Active Adult Dogs)

MER =  110 x (body weight in kilograms) 0.75 (Typically Active Adult Pet Dogs)

MER =  130 x (body weight in kilograms)0.75 (Active Adult Dogs)

MER=  200 x (body weight in kilograms)0.75 (Great Dane and a few other specific breeds)

I built a calculator for you to use that includes the other energy numbers that are most commonly applied to dogs.

You can access the MER calculator here.

There is more to formulating a balanced diet than just numbers on paper

The dog itself is a living organism and must be considered, the energy of the diet being fed, the bio-availability of nutrients in the foods, the nutrient density, and the digestibility of the food all factor into the proper creation/formulation of a balanced diet.

Raw Facts: What the calories consist of in your dog’s diet matter. Energy density of the diet is the foundation of building a diet to meet the daily caloric needs of a dog but the nutrient density that goes into those calories is important.

Puppies and pregnant, lactating adults, need to be fed a specific diet for that stage of their life. It’s best to consult with a canine nutrition professional to have your puppy or pregnant or lactating female’s diet correctly formulated.

Nutrient Classifications

Water • Protein • Fats • Carbohydrates & Crude Fiber • Vitamins • Minerals

Of the above nutrient classifications, only protein, fats, and carbohydrates provide energy to dogs. Water while vital to life, does not provide energy; nor do vitamins or minerals.

Important Hydration Note: Water does not, in itself, provide energy to the body, but helps in metabolism which is essential for the body to derive energy, function and repair itself. 


Interspecies Comparisons of Micronutrient Requirements: Metabolic cs. Absolute Body Size by Rucker, R and Storms, D.

Vitamin Requirements Relationship to Basal Metabolic Needs and Functions by Rucker, R and Steinberg, F.M.

Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, Animal Nutrition Series 

Animal Nutrition, Seventh Edition

Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th Edition

Ohio State University 

Colorado State University

Illinois State University

Balanced Diet Formulation for Adult Dogs, Module Three by Granillo, A.