One of the biggest pitches of pet foods is the 100% Balanced Nutrition claim.  You see that ‘100% Balanced Nutrition’ claim everywhere, even veterinarians advise pet parents to make sure you are feeding one of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) balanced pet foods.  ‘Your pet will suffer from health problems if you don’t feed a balanced diet’ is the typical advise.  Well guess what?  Those AAFCO balanced diets have calorie contents that run from well lower to well higher than what is needed for healthy pets.  Pet health is at significant risk even with 100% Balanced Diets.

To a health conscious world, calorie counting is a must.  For the pet health conscious, calorie counting is a world of misinformation, poor directions, and lack of regulatory oversight.  The FDA and AAFCO have no current regulations that require pet foods to accurately report calorie information to pet parents.  No calorie statement regulations and/or no enforcement of existing pet food label laws means pets are at risk.

In using standard food industry calorie measurements, I found pet foods with recommended feeding instructions providing pets from 30% less calories per day (required to maintain good health) to more than double the recommended calories per day.  And again – this was taken directly from manufacturer recommendations; pet food advising pet owners to feed far less or far more to maintain a healthy pet.  These discoveries weren’t limited to grocery store type pet foods either.  The drastic variations in calorie statements and recommended intake of calories were discovered in all types of pet foods from raw, canned, and kibble.

What’s the risk to pets?  From ‘The Growing Problem of Obesity in Dogs and Cats‘ “The problems to which obese companion animals may be predisposed include orthopedic disease, diabetes mellitus, abnormalities in circulating lipid profiles, cardiorespiratory disease, urinary disorders, reproductive disorders, neoplasia (mammary tumors, transitional cell carcinoma), dermatological diseases, and anesthetic complications.” 

Besides the significant risk of pet obesity, another absurdity of pet food regulations is the calorie calculations used by AAFCO.  The food industry’s standard to measure calories is known as the Atwater system or Atwater formula.  Simply put, the Atwater system allows anyone from a nutritionist to a consumer to calculate the amount of calories from food.  The system is so easy to calculate calories, the Science Education Partnership University of California even provides a lesson plan for 4th Graders using the Atwater formula.  The Atwater Formula is…

Each gram of protein produces 4 calories.
Each gram of carbohydrates produces 4 calories.
Each gram of fat produces 9 calories.

Although the Atwater system is standard in the food industry, pet food uses a slightly different Atwater formula which is defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as “Modified Atwater”.  The Modified Atwater is…

Each gram of protein produces 3.5 calories.
Each gram of carbohydrates produces 3.5 calories.
Each gram of fat produces 8.5 calories.

Remembering that pet obesity is at epidemic levels in the U.S., consider that the AAFCO Modified Atwater formula calculates calories lower than the food industry standard formula.  Is a .5 difference in calorie calculations significant?  With one pet food exampled below, we found only a 14 calorie difference between the standard calorie measurements and the AAFCO calorie measurements…per ounce.  When you do the math, you realize how many ounces of pet food a 30 pound dog consumes each year.  The 14 calorie difference turned into a 35,000 calorie difference between AAFCO’s reporting method and standard calorie methods (over a year).  The AAFCO method tells the pet parent the pet has consumed 35,000 less calories over a year.  Again – AAFCO chooses to use a method that reports significantly less calories to pet owners.  In the pet food calculations exampled below, the AAFCO method did not report an additional 98 calories a day.  100 additional calories per day can result in a weight gain of 15 pounds per year.  No wonder pet obesity is epidemic.

Unfortunately, we pet parents cannot rely on pet food regulators to protect our furry families.  Counting calories is yet another issue we must take control of for our pets.  The following is teaching you how to calculate the calories your pet consumes each day.  Yes, it’s a little tedious.  But I believe it to be significantly important for all of us to know how to do.  Ok…get your math hats on and here we go…

The following pet foods were chosen at random and are used soley to teach pet parents how to accurately calculate calorie information.
First, the standard Atwater formula (not used by pet food)…
Purina ProPlan Natural Chicken & Brown Rice Formula Dry Dog Food
Daily Feeding Instructions from the Purina ProPlan website states a 30 pound dog should be fed approximately 1 3/4 (1.75) cups of dog food per day.  The Guaranteed Analysis of this dog food states the food contains…
30% protein
17% fat
4% fiber
12% moisture

Ok, now we need carbohydrate information (to calculate the full amount of calories for this dog food).  How do we determine the carbohydrates?  From the Guaranteed Analysis stated on every pet food label and website, we are provided with percentages of protein, fat, moisture, and fiber in a pet food.  With this particular pet food…100% minus 12% moisture equals 88%.  Thus, for each ounce or pound of dog food, 88% of each ounce or pound is dry matter food.  Next, we subtract other percentages we are provided with in the Guaranteed Analysis.  88% (dry matter of this dog food) minus 30% protein, minus 17% fat leaves us 41% dry matter.  This remaining percentage is fiber, carbohydrates and various other (minimal weight) ingredients such as vitamins and minerals.  So now we know that this pet food contains 30% protein, 17% fat and approximately 41% carbohydrates and fiber.

Next, we will need to convert these percentages of one ounce of dog food into grams.  One ounce equals 28.35 grams.  We need to calculate grams because both the Atwater formula and AAFCO’s modified Atwater formula are based on grams.

So one ounce of dog food is 28.35 grams.  We know, thanks to the Guaranteed Analysis that 30% of an ounce of this dog food is protein.  Our math to change 30% of one ounce of dog food into grams is…
.30 X 28.35 = 8.5.  Each ounce of dog food contains 8.5 grams of protein.

Again, from the Guaranteed Analysis, 17% of an ounce of this dog food is fat.  Our math to change 17% of one ounce of dog food into grams is…
.17 X 28.35 = 4.81.  Each ounce of dog food contains 4.81 grams of fat.

And lastly carbohydrates (which includes fiber).  From our calculations above, we determined this dog food is 41% carbohydrates.  Our math to change 41% of one ounce of dog food into grams is…
.41 X 28.35 = 11.62.  Each ounce of this dog food contains 11.62 grams of carbs.

Each ounce of this dog food contains…
8.5 grams of protein
4.81 grams of fat
11.62 grams of carbohydrates

Now we have all the information we need to calculate calories of this dog food.

The standard Atwater formula calculates calories at 4 calories per gram of protein, 9 calories per gram of fat, 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates.

4 calories per gram of protein.  4 X 8.5 (grams of protein per ounce) = 34 calories per ounce from protein.
9 calories per gram of fat.  9 X 4.81 (grams of fat per ounce) = 43.29 calories per ounce from fat.
4 calories per gram of carbs.  4 X 11.62 (grams of carbs per ounce) = 46.48 calories per ounce from carbs.
Our total for this dog food is 123.77 calories per ounce.

Now, we go back to the information provided by Purina ProPlan from their website.  Purina ProPlan states there is 1889 calories per pound of dog food.  One pound equals 16 ounces.  So from our calculations, 123.77 calories (per ounce) X 16 (ounces in a pound) = 1980.32.  Purina’s calorie statement is very close to our calculations.

But what about feeding directions?  The Purina ProPlan website suggests a pet parent feed 1 3/4 cups of dog food to a 30 pound dog.  Because all kibble weighs differently (size of kibble, density), we need to know how many ounces of dog food (by weight) is in each cup.  Purina shares that one standard measuring cup will contain approximately 112 grams of dog food.  Our 1 3/4 cup daily recommended feeding for a 30 pound dog would weigh 196 grams.  To change this back to ounces – our math is 196 (grams) divided by 28.35 (one ounce in grams) equals about 7 ounces.  Whew!  Now, back to our calorie calculations.  Each ounce of dog food produces 123.77 calories.  7 (ounces) times 123.77 equals 866 calories per day for a 30 pound dog.

Is that too many calories?  The National Research Council (NRC) nutritional guidelines are what AAFCO chooses to follow.  NRC suggests a 30 pound inactive dog consume 674 calories per day.  The difference between the recommended feeding amount of this dog food and NRC recommendations is 192 calories per day. 

That’s not too bad, is it?  192 additional calories for a 30 pound dog per day would be similar to a human consuming 1000 extra calories per day (everyday, month after month, year after year).  By human standards, one can gain 15 pounds a year by consuming only an extra 100 calories per day (over a year).  Imagine a pet food providing 192 additional calories per day would do to the waistline of a 30 pound dog.

Now let’s look at a cat food using the standard Atwater formula…

Purina Natural Chicken & Brown Rice Formula Cat Food Dry

Purina recommends 2/3 cup dry food per day for a 10# cat
The Guaranteed Analysis states…
40% protein
16% fat
3% fiber
12% moisture
To calculate carbohydrate…100% – 12% moisture = 88% dry matter food, – 40% protein (= 48%), – 16% fat (= 32%), leaves 32% fiber, carbs, and misc.

Next we calculate grams of protein, fat, and carbs from each ounce of cat food…
40% protein – .40 X 28.35 grams  = 11.34 grams of protein per ounce
16% fat – .16 X 28.35 grams = 4.536 grams of fat per ounce
32% carbs, fiber, misc – .32 X 28.35 grams = 9.072

Now we have the information needed to calculate calories using the standard Atwater formula…
Calories from protein 11.34 X 4 = 45.35 calories per ounce
Calories from fat 4.536 X 9 = 40.824 calories per ounce
Calories from carbs 9.072 X 4 = 36.288 calories per ounce
Total = 121 calories per ounce of this cat food.

1 cup weighs 124 grams or approximately 4.4 ounces of cat food.
2/3 cup serving size equals 2.8 ounces by weight of cat food.
2.8 ounces of cat food X 121 calories (per ounce) = 339 calories per serving.
NRC recommends 280 calories for an adult cat per day.

According to standard Atwater calculations, a ten pound cat would be consuming almost 60 extra calories per day following manufacturer directions for feeding. This is similar to a human consuming almost 900 extra calories per day; weight gain of 15 pounds a year occurs with just 100 extra calories a day over a year.

But these calculations are using standard Atwater formula, not the AAFCO modified formula.  Here are the results using the AAFCO formula…

Same Dog Food as above…
Each ounce of this dog food contains…
8.5 grams of protein
4.81 grams of fat
11.62 grams of carbohydrates

Next we calculate grams of protein, fat, and carbs from each ounce of cat food…
40% protein – .40 X 28.35 grams  = 11.34 grams of protein per ounce
16% fat – .16 X 28.35 grams = 4.536 grams of fat per ounce
32% carbs, fiber, misc – .32 X 28.35 grams = 9.072

Using AAFCO’s Modified Atwater formula…
11.34 X 3.5 (calories per gram) = 39.69 calories per ounce from protein
4.5 X 8.5 (calories per gram) = 38.25 calories per ounce from fat
9.07 X 3.5 (calories per gram) = 31.7 calories per ounce from carbs
Total – 110 calories per ounce

Daily recommended feeding for a 30 pound dog is 7 ounces.  7 X 110 = 770 calories per day.  NRC recommends 674.  That’s an extra 96 calories per day.  But – we need to realize how much the AAFCO Modified Atwater changes the calorie content for our pets.
Standard Atwater Formula this dog food contained 124 calories per ounce.
AAFCO Modified Atwater Formula this dog food contained 110 calories per ounce.

A difference of 14 calories per ounce doesn’t sound like much until you do further math.  For a 30 pound dog – the difference of calorie reporting for just one day of food between these two formulas is 98 calories (standard Atwater formula measures 98 more calories per day). The difference between standard calorie measurements and AAFCO calorie measurements for a 30 pound dog over a year would be 35,770 calories.  The AAFCO measurement of calories reports 35,770 less calories per year than the standard calorie content formula!
Here is one more…

Now, we look at a raw pet food…
Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Frozen Diet
The Nature’s Variety website states this pet food contains “Calories 65 per ounce”.

The Guaranteed Analysis…
Protein 13%
Fat 6%
Fiber 2%
Moisture 68%
(Carbs, Fiber, Misc 100 – 68 = 32 – 13 = 19 – 6 = 13  13% Carbs, Fiber, Misc)

13% Protein – 13% of 1 ounce (.13 X 28.35) = 3.68 grams protein per ounce.
6% Fat – 6% of 1 ounce (.06 X 28.35) = 1.7 grams fat per ounce.
13% – 13% of 1 ounce (.13 X 28.35) = 3.68 grams carbs per ounce.

Now we can calculate calories using the standard Atwater formula…
3.68 X 4 (calories protein) = 14.72 calories per ounce from protein
1.7 X 9 =  15.30 calories per ounce from fat
3.68 X 4 (calories carbs) = 14.72
Total 44.74 calories per ounce of dog food.  The Nature’s Variety website states each ounce provides 65 calories per ounce.

Ok, now we’ll use the AAFCO Modified Atwater formula…

The Guaranteed Analysis…
Protein 13%
Fat 6%
Fiber 2%
Moisture 68%
(Carbs, Fiber, Misc 100 – 68 = 32 – 13 = 19 – 6 = 13  13% Carbs, Fiber, Misc)

13% Protein – 13% of 1 ounce (.13 X 28.35) = 3.68 grams protein per ounce.
6% Fat – 6% of 1 ounce (.06 X 28.35) = 1.7 grams fat per ounce.
13% – 13% of 1 ounce (.13 X 28.35) = 3.68 grams carbs per ounce.

Calories using Modified Atwater…
Protein 3.68 X 3.5 (calories per gram) = 12.88 calories per ounce from protein.
Fat 1.7 X 8.5 (calories per gram) = 14.45 calories per ounce from fat.
Carbs 3.68 X 3.5 (calories per gram) = 12.88 calories per ounce from carbs.
Total – 40 calories per ounce.  Again, Nature’s Variety states each ounce of this raw dog food contains 65 calories.

Nature’s Variety recommends 7.7 oz dog food for a 30 pound dog with normal activity.  Using the AAFCO Modified Atwater calorie calculations…7.7 oz X 40 calories per ounce = 280 calories.  The NRC recommends 674 calories/day for a 30 pound dog.  This dog food, if fed as directed, would provide less than half of the daily needed calories for a 30 pound dog.
Without going into all the math calculations again (hopefully you understand how to calulate calories now), the Nature’s Variety Instinct Raw Chicken Formula for cats as well states each ounce provides 65 calories.  Using AAFCO’s Modified Atwater formula, the calorie content shows 40 calories per ounce.  Recommended feeding for a 10 pound cat is 3.5 ounces; 3.5 ounces X 40 calories per ounce is 140 calories per day.  NRC recommends a cat consume 280 calories per day.

 

How crazy is this?  We’ve calculated calories from just four pet foods and we see variations of…

40 to 124 calories for one ounce of dog food;
40 to 121 calories for one ounce of cat food.

Serving recommendations from…

For a 30 pound dog 280 calories to 866 calories per day;
For a 10 pound cat 140 calories to 339 calories per day.

Imagine how crazy this could become with thousands of different pet foods?
Please Note:  The above calcutions did not exclude an estimate of vitamin/mineral content of the pet foods (vitamins/minerals would not produce any calories).  This was excluded to not confuse the teaching of using this method any further.  When you calculate calorie content of pet foods, you might consider subtracting an an additional 5% (.05) from the carbohydrate percentage.

How can pet foods be allowed to state calorie content high or low?  Why can’t State Department of Agriculture (AAFCO members are State Dept of Agriculture employees) do quick calorie calculations on pet foods – and those that are under or over be pulled from store shelves?  Why isn’t someone doing something about this?  Why…because AAFCO has NO minimum or maximum calorie requirements for pet foods.

Of course, an educated pet parent would have to wonder if calorie misinformation is intentional.  Pet food manufacturers are well aware many petsumers calculate cost per serving.  Is low end pet food feeding instructions meant to appear the pet food is less expensive?  We will never know.  But what we do know is that pet food regulations don’t protect pets and are not designed to provide accurate information to discerning pet parents.  But…now we all know how to calculate calories per ounce and serving for ourselves.

I don’t like that so many pets are overweight or obese.  But what I really don’t like is that the pet owner gets the sole blame.  How can a pet owner be blamed for an overweight pet when some pet foods – even ‘light’ pet foods – contain far more calories than is recommended by the NRC?  How can a pet owner be blamed for an overweight pet when they are following the manufacturer feeding directions?  How can a pet owner be blamed for an overweight pet when the pet food regulatory agency intentionally reports calories lower than what is considered standard in the food industry?

One more thing…Another significant issue to pet obesity is exampled below…

Nutro Max Adult Chicken, Rice & Lamb Dinner Canned Dog Food

Nutro reports that the 5.5 ounce can of this dog food contains 183 calories.

Using the standard Atwater formula, calculations showed 187 calories for the 5.5 oz can.
Using AAFCO’s Atwater formula, calculations showed 170 calories for the 5.5oz can.

Nutro was fairly accurate in reporting calorie information.  However…

Feeding instructions for this dog food states “feed adult dogs 1 – 2 1/4 cans daily per 10 lbs. of dog weight.”  For a 30 pound dog, feeding instructions from Nutro are to feed between 3 – 6 3/4 cans per day.  The pet owner is instructed to feed between 3 cans and almost 7 cans a day?

Using standard Atwater Calculations these feeding instructions vary calorie intake between 561 to 1262 calories per day.
Using AAFCO’s Modified Atwater calculations these feeding instructions vary calorie intake between 511 to 1150 calories per day.

NRC recommends 674 calories per day.  These feeding instructions vary from 150 calories less per day to 550 calories more per day than AAFCO accepted feeding recommendations.  I completely understand that each pet is different, however the huge variation in many feeding instructions makes it hard for me to believe pets are that different!

I have to say it one more time…How can pet parents prevent obesity if accurate calorie information and solid feeding guidelines are not provided?

Next week I’ll be attending the AAFCO meeting.  I’ll be asking about this issue, but I’m expecting nothing more than the typical run-around.  By the way, incoming AAFCO President Robert Waltz has never agreed to an interview.  I’ve been told that FDA’s Dan McChessney isn’t attending (I had to contact his boss for this information – he never bothered to respond to my multiple emails), and no one will tell me names of anyone from the FDA that is attending.

Please, do your own pet food calculations.  If you find a pet food is significantly higher (or lower) than NRC recommendations, please report this to your State Department of Agriculture.  Share with them how this wide variety of calorie information makes you feel as a petsumer.  Ask them to do something about it!