Comparing Pet Nutrition Products- Caloric Content

The energy concentration of a pet nutrition product describes the caloric content of the diet.  It helps veterinarians recommend diets and the amounts of food to feed, in order to maintainComparing Pet Nutrition Products- Caloric Content healthy weights of animals.  It is important to know the energy concentration of a pet nutrition product because the required nutrients are usually based on the energy concentration of the diet.  The energy concentration on a pet nutrition product is typically expressed as metabolizable energy (ME) in units of kilocalories (kcal) / kilogram weight (kg).  The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutrient profiles of dry dog foods are based on an energy concentration of 3,500 kcal of ME per kg of dry food.  AAFCO nutrient profiles of dry cat foods are based on an energy concentration of 4,000 kcal of ME per kg of dry food. Click here to learn more about AAFCO.

Knowing the caloric content of pet nutrition products helps determine the daily amounts of food to feed pets.

Animals tend to eat enough food to satisfy their energy requirements. Guidelines on the pet nutrition product label are often based on caloric need estimates for animals.  They should be used as a starting point of what to feed the animal, and adjusted based on the animal’s breed, age, weight and activity level. To learn more about the different dietary needs of pets based on breed, age, and activity level, click here.

If the energy concentration of a canine pet nutrition product is lower than 3,500 kcal ME/kg of dry food, the nutrient level should be adjusted to a lower level.  If a normal dog eats a lower energy dense diet, it will need to eat more food in order to meet its energy needs.  If an adjustment were not made, the normal dog would receive excessive non-energy nutrients.  However, most diets with lower energy concentration are designed to be fed to obese animals. These animals should be fed fewer calories, and so the nutrient content of the diet should not be adjusted for the lower energy density.  These animals have a lower need for energy relative to non-energy nutrients. To read about obesity in cats, click here.

If, however, the energy concentration of the canine pet nutrition product is greater than 3,500 kcal ME/kg of dry dog food, the amount of nutrients in the product should be increased accordingly.  Not doing so may cause nutritional deficiencies if the dog eats only its energy needs.  Otherwise, the dog has to consume more calories to meet the non-energy nutrient requirements, which may cause obesity.  An exception to this rule is a working dog with high-energy needs, but normal non-energy nutrient requirements.

Metabolizable Energy on pet nutrition product labels.

It is not legally required to provide the ME value of a pet nutrition product unless the product is marketed as “light” or “reduced calories” in nature.   ME is determined either by a formula method to calculate the amount or by a metabolic trial as defined by the AAFCO.  If the ME was determined by the calculation method, it must be declared as “Calculated Metabolizable Energy.”  It can be difficult to locate the ME information on a pet nutrition product.  It cannot be part of the guaranteed analysis portion of the label.  It must be given under the heading of “Calorie Content” and must be in kcal/kg units.  It can be listed as kcal/pound or kcal/cup, but these units are optional.

Use of descriptive terms on pet nutrition products.

The AAFCO created guidelines for the use of terms such as “lite or light,” “lean or low-fat,” and “reduced fat or reduced calorie” diets.  These terms are subjective and similar in nature, and imply to the consumer that the pet nutrition product is reduced in calories.  These terms reflect approximate reduction in calories of 15% for dog foods and 10% for cat foods relative the average calories found in the regular comparable diets on the market.   In general, compared to a normal ME of 3500 kcal/kg of dry dog food, diets with claims such as “reduced calories” should contain no more than 3,100 kcal ME/kg of dry food.  However, pet nutrition products with these claims should state the percentage reduction and the product of comparison.  Feeding directions on these products should reflect a reduction in caloric intake for the pets fed these diets such that the animal will either maintain or lose weight on the diet.

To learn about ingredient lists and product label terms in pet nutrition products, click here.

To learn about ingredient statements an guaranteed analysis in pet nutrition products, click here.

To learn about protein, fat, and carbohydrate content in pet nutrition products, click here.

To learn about dry matter and moisture content in pet nutrition products, click here.

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Dr Stephen Atwater

Stephen W. Atwater, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (oncology) is a board-certified veterinary oncology specialist. His professional interests include utilizing emerging therapies for difficult to treat cancers.

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