Metabolic Weight Helps Predict a Dog’s Daily Food Needs


Adult dogs can vary in size from 2 pounds to 250 pounds1.  So, with such a huge range of sizes, how can you figure out how much food your dog needs?

OK… time to get a little technical.

First, it’s important to know your dog’s energy requirements are not linearly proportional to his body weight.

In other words… they’re not related to each other… in a straight line.

A dog weighing fifty pounds does not necessarily use five times more energy than one weighing just ten.

No… a dog’s energy requirements are not linearly related to his body weight.  They’re related to his metabolic weight… the virtual weight of his energy-using tissues… his muscles, his organs, and so on.

Of course… energy needs are also related to a dog’s activity level… how much he uses those tissues, too.  Is your dog active… or inactive?  Is he a puppy… an adult… or a senior?

An internationally respected veterinary research institute has developed a formula that uses a dog’s metabolic weight to scientifically determine his energy needs2.

Click here to use our Dog Food Calculator to reveal your dog’s daily energy requirements.

  1. Burger IH and Johnson JV (1991), Dogs Large and Small – The Allometry of Energy Requirements within a Single Species, Journal of Nutrition 121: S18-S21
  2. Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition (1999), Canine Life Stages and Lifestyles, The Waltham Course on Dog and Cat Nutrition, p. 14
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  • Humphrey “Bogart” HAMDAN

    I had been eating EVO weight management dry dog food until the salmonella recall for the cat food. Vendor has suggested Annamaet Lean as a comparable substitute. I am at my optimal weight and walk 2 miles, 5x/week. Is this the best choice for me?

  • Hound Dog Mom

    I think the easiest thing to do would be to enter the kcal. per can (344) into the space that asks for kcal. per cup. The end serving suggestion will be for how many cans to feed per day (versus how many cups). Also, keep in mind the calculator isn’t exact. All dogs have different energy needs – go by body condition. If she isn’t losing weight you may need to feed less than what’s recommended by the calculator.

  • Tamara

    I’m still confused. My puggle is overweight (40#). We have her on Wellness
    Stew which has 804 kcal/kg and 344 kcal/can ME. Which measurement do I use in the calculator? I’ve used both but I’m still confused on the amount of food I’m to feed her.

  • Shawna

    LOL :)  My problem is I can’t EVER take a vacation etc without having to spend a week getting the dogs ready.  Two come with me, two go to a neighbor, two go to my in-laws house and two stay with my husband.  I have to premake and re-package (individual servings) their foods and then make a cheat sheet on amounts, supplement type/amounts etc for the six dogs staying behind.

    The last time I left town the two chihuahuas (3 pounds and 5 pounds) went to my in-laws.  I pre-portioned their raw food and put in glass containers (2 per each day we were gone for both dogs).  I also took kibble over in case they forgot to thaw the frozen any given meal.  They misread the instructions and gave kibble AND raw at each meal.  After only three days away, their harnesses had to be made significantly larger…. UGHHH

    Another time I prepackaged, in individual servings again, the raw for our Pom and left her with the in-laws.  The last meal she ate there — they forgot to thaw her food (hence why I now send kibble with)..  Since I feed her “people food” the in-laws thought it okay to feed her the crusts of their pizza—– UGHHHHHHHHHH~~  She puked for darn near 12 hours..

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Oh man this makes me wish I had small breed dogs (for my wallet’s sake). I can’t even imagine measuring food in fractions of an ounce lol. My dogs get 2-2 1/2 pounds of meat each per day and that’s not including fruits, vegetables, eggs, cottage cheese…etc. By the time the third dog gets here I’m going to be pushing 200 pounds of meat per month.

  • melissa


    Do you have a link for this food? I can find the raw in Canada and UK webistes, but no dry by this name?

    How much does your chi weigh?

  • Shawna

    I’m not familiar with Natural Instinct.  I can find the raw online but not the kibble?  Anyhoo, I think you may still be overfeeding her.  You really can’t go by what the bag says—it is just a guideline.  Here’s an example of what I mean.  My 10 year old, 5 pound Chihuahua gets 1.6 ounces of raw morning and night to maintain proper weight.  However my 7 year old, 5 pound Pomeranian gets .94 ounces of food morining and night to maintain her weight.  If I fed the Pom 1.6 ounces of food per meal she would QUICKLY become obese.

    Try dropping the kibble at night and just feed the raw.

  • Pattyvaughn

    Why 2 1/4 patties instead of just 2? Or you could give her just a little less of the dry or up her exercise just a little. I know one pound doesn’t sound like much, but I’m trying to think of it as a percentage of her body weight. As a chi, one pound might actually be grossly over weight, depending on her size.

  • Diana Morganstern

    i have a chihuahua who seems to be overweight by one pound no matter what i do. She eats Natural Instinct Raw food and Natural Instinct dry food (same protein). I feed her 1/8 of a cup of dry in the morning and at night, two and 1/4 patties at night. The recommended feeding for the raw is 4 patties. As you see, i have cut it down to just about 1/2 of recommeded. She walks/runs approx. 25 min. a day. We all work. She doesn’t look any different in weight. I tested her metabolism and it is normal. Any more suggestions????

  • susan still

    i love the dog ood advisor. i am soon to be recieving my second sevic do and this site has been a great help to me in keep weight control and helping with portion guidelines to me for foood for my dog

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi BJ… If your dog is doing well on her current diet and she is maintaining her ideal weight, you may wish to reconsider your plans to find something different. If you still feel it would beneficial and worth the risk to try another dog food, then switch to the new food using a very gradual transition over 7 to 10 days.

    Unfortunately, due to the biological uniqueness of each pet, I cannot provide customized product recommendations for each reader. For more help, please check out my reviews and visit our FAQ page. Look for the topic, “Help Me Choose a Dog Food”. Or check back for a possible response from one of our other readers.

  • BJ

    Our 13 yo doxie has always had problems. She has been on Royal Canin and Hills ID/WD for years. she has gerd, ulcers, gastro issues and allergies. She is doing well on the ID/WD mixture but she seems to always be starving. She hasn’t had to take any medications for several months on the ID/HD but the more I read about it I am wondering if we should try something else. Due to her weight (38#) and her other problems I was thinking of the Wild from Tractor Supply but don’t know that her health would tolerate it. Should we leave well enough along and maybe cook some chicken to add? We thought all these years we had been feeding the best :(Thanks for any info as I know you can’t address each of her problems. Xena’s mommy

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi Karyn… It’s impossible to know with any certainty what’s ideal for any dog (especially when the breed appears to be unknown). Of course, determining this figure for a growing puppy can be an even greater challenge. So, check with your vet, an experienced breeder or another canine professional.

  • Karyn Dossenback

    Dr. Sagman – yes this does help but I have an additional question. We have a puppy who is about 7 months old – he was neutered at 6 months. He looks healthy and weighs about 48lbs. He looks to be a medium size dog, he is a mix of several breeds but his father looks like a small pitbull mix, so should I assume this is his approximate ideal weight even though he is only 7 months old?

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi Karyn… I’m not aware of any exact mathematical to precisely determine in which of these activity categories any dog best would best belong. However, don’t worry. It’s not all that critical. Just make a good guess. After all, since each dog has its own unique energy requirements (just like people), it’s impossible to to know the exact serving size that’s right for your pet.

    So, I’d suggest starting with the package’s feeding instructions. Or make an estimate with my calculator. Weigh your dog every few weeks. Then, adjust (titrate) that serving size up or down to establish and maintain your pet’s ideal weight.

    Always measure the food with a real measuring cup. Not a scoop. Never guess. Keep a record of how much you’re feeding. And be sure to weigh your dog periodically (every few weeks or so). Then, adjust the serving size as needed to stay on track. Sure, it can be a little work. But in the end, it’s the only real-life method you can scientifically trust.

    Hope this helps.

  • Karyn Dossenback

    How do I determine my dog’s activity level based on the categories you have listed on your site in the dog food calculator? Typical, Active, Overweight, Highly Active, Senior-neutered, inactive? I have 4 dogs and the only one I can be sure I have the correct category is my beagle – she is 9 yrs old, and spayed so I chose Senior for her but what about my 6 yr old Golden Retriever mix – he is neutered and is still very active and very slender? Or my 3 yr old American Bulldog Mix – she is spayed, has some problems with her hips where they are set too high and is slightly overweight? Or my mixed breed terrier puppy (has some pitbull in him) who is neutered and 7 months old? How can I pick the correct activity level so I make sure I am feeding all 4 of them the correct calories in a day to get them to their ideal body weight?

  • Anne

    I don’t know if you are still reading this thread, but I want to mention that my dog had terrible tear staining problems until I switched her to a raw diet (Primal). After a couple of weeks on Primal, the staining disappeared completely. I think this is due to the purity of the food, and specifically, the lack of grains. I realize this is not for you, but giving my dog the food nature intended truly did the trick for her. I didn’t have to use any of those antibiotic-based treatments either, such as Angel Eyes. Would you consider a fish-based food, such as Natural Balance limited ingredient formal Sweet Potato and Fish, or Evo Herring and Salmon? It seems like this would work out much better (regarding overall health and tear stains) than vegan food.

  • Cathy


    Feeding your pet incorrectly because you don’t agree with the food source is not fair to the pet.

    Feed your dogs meat. Your dogs are dogs. You are human. Feed your dogs what their body is designed to consume and utilize. If you don’t understand, please do some internet research.
    “. . . There are plenty of comparative anatomical studies demonstrating the biologic parallels of big cats to little cats, dogs to wolves. Painful as it sounds, our pets are still designed to tear, rip, swallow and digest raw flesh. We voluntarily picked predators as companions and must accept them as such! Trying to convert herbivores to carnivores or vice versa is best left to Mother Nature and Father Time; they do a much better job. Feeding your pet incorrectly because you don’t agree with the food source is not fair to the pet. Knowing what each specie’s nutritional requirements are before buying the pet is imperative. . . .”

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi Melinda… I can respect your choice to be a vegetarian. I used to be one myself (for nearly 20 years). However, your decision to choose this lifestyle for yourself is not one that can be considered biologically appropriate for your dog. For this reason, it would be impossible for me (in good faith) to recommend a specific vegan dog food for your pet.

    By the way, if you’d like to avoid grains, there are many excellent grain free foods listed on our website. Wish I could be more help.

  • Melinda

    Dear Dr. Sagman,
    I am a vegetarian and would rather not give my dogs meat. I know they can do well on a vegetarian diet. I do not know what brand or what recipe to trust. Do you have any suggestions? I have a Maltese and Havanese that are having a tough time with tear staining. They are now on the Castor and Pollux Organix and I am thinking maybe the grains could be causing the problem.