energy requirements for dogsI’ll start off with a brief introduction about energy requirements for dogs to cover the basics before I teach you how to calculate the required dog food amount for your pooch.

Every animal needs energy to support the various functions of his body, to build it, repair it, energy for walking and running and to maintain a constant body temperature. The exact amount of energy required depends mainly on the size of your dog and his activity level.

Energy requirements for dogs that are very active, such as agility loving dogs, obviously exceed those of a couch potato that prefers to sunbathe. Weather conditions also play a role as you need more energy (and hence more food, or more energy dense food) during cold weather.

Measure Of Energy

A calorie is a unit of measurement for energy. One calorie is defined as the amount of warmth required to get one gram of water from 14.5 degrees to 15.5 degrees Celcius. Currently, it’s a rather old-fashioned term and it is in most fields replaced by the joule, which is the international unit for energy.

As we do see both used today on dog food labels, I’ll tell you how to translate one into another:

  • 1 kCalorie = 4.2 kJoule.
  • 1 kJoule = 0.24 kCal.
  • 1000 Joule = 1 kJoule.
Energy comes from three sources: fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

girl holding two dogs

Energy Requirements For Dogs – Which Nutrients Provide The Most Energy?


Fat provides the most energy and this is also the only source that can be stored long-term in large quantities for future use. Fats are broken down to free fatty acids that can travel to hungry cells via the bloodstream. If there are more free fatty acids than needed, these are converted back into fat and stored in fat pads all over the body.

On a per gram basis, fats are the most important energy source for dogs. But as about 50% of dog food consists of carbohydrates, those are actually the biggest net energy source.

FAT ENERGY: Per gram fat, 36 kJ is released.


Carbohydrates provide less energy and are stored in small amounts in your dog’s muscles.

Carbohydrates deliver energy that can be used for short and quick bursts of energy. Carbohydrates in dog food are broken down to glucose, which can travel via the bloodstream to the hungry energy requiring cells.

Both fats and carbohydrates are “clean” fuels.

CARB ENERGY: Per gram carbohydrate, 15 kJ is released.


Proteins should be used to build and repair tissue and not as a primary energy source in dogs. Protein is not a clean fuel as a by-product needs to be excreted from the body via the kidneys into the urine. This waste is urea.

The energy that is released from fat, protein, and carbohydrates as warmth can only be used by your dog when these ingredients are metabolized (digested and absorbed by his body). The part of the energy that cannot be metabolized is excreted via his feces.

PROTEIN ENERGY: Per gram protein, 15 kJ is released.
This is the same amount as for carbohydrates.

How Much Dog Food To Feed Your Dog

Determine The Ideal Weight Of Your Canine

great dane pupTo answer this question you first need to know how much energy your dog needs. And to know that you need to know, amongst other things, the ideal weight of your canine.

  1. Weigh your dog (current weight) and score his body shape.
  2. Compare your dog’s current weight to his ideal weight (which is breed and gender dependent).
  3. Calculate the maintenance energy requirement.
  4. Adjust for life stage, activity level, and obesity issues.
  5. Calculate the energetic value of the dog food you’re feeding your dog.
  6. Adjust for snacks, treats and table scraps you feed in addition to the dog food.

What About Different Dog Breeds?

At this point, I won’t go into genetic differences (yet). Energy requirements for dogs such as Siberian Huskies or Akita’s are different than for dog breeds such as the Greyhound. They differ in metabolic rate and energy conservation characteristics. One breed is just more efficient at producing energy and converting it to muscle power than the other.

Feed With Your Eyes

Also… take the result of the calculation as a guideline only. It’s not an exact science and there is one rule that is probably the most important one in determining whether to cut down on the daily dog food amount or to increase it and that rule is: Feed with your eyes!

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