A note about calories

This is a follow up to my “show your waistline” post.

I wanted to clarify a little what I was saying about the difficulty of precisely measuring raw food, and to talk through something that bothered me a lot when I started feeding raw.

Let’s look at some calorie numbers. These are all for one ounce.

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Turkey breast with skin: 44 calories, 2 grams fat, 6 grams protein
Turkey breast without skin: 29 calories, less than 1 gram fat, 5 grams protein
Turkey back: 55 calories, 4 grams fat, 5 grams protein.
Turkey dark meat and skin: 45 calories, 2 grams fat, 5 grams protein.
Pork loin: 52 calories, 3 grams fat, 6 grams protein
Country style pork rib: 53 calories, 3 grams fat, 5 grams protein
Pork heart: 33 calories, 1 gram fat, 5 grams protein
Pork tail: 106 calories, 9 grams fat, 5 grams protein.

Now, except for pork tail (I’m a little horrified, since I just bought two pounds of them today), those numbers look pretty similar, right? Except you have to multiply them times 6 to get even one meal for a dog Silas’s size. 6 ounces of turkey breast without skin is 174 calories. 6 ounces with is 264. Calorie per calorie, that’s like 9 ounces of skinless.

The other complicating factor is bones. Something like turkey back, for instance, looks in this chart to be quite calorie dense. BUT, that’s a human nutrition number that does not include the bone. Because turkey backs are, in fact, incredibly boney, those numbers are not founded in your dog’s reality. I can’t find a “calories count” for pure bone, but I suspect it’s largely negligible, especially for marrowless poultry bones. Once you take a guess at the proportional math, my money is on the turkey back, in an actual meal setting, having fewer calories than that turkey breast with skin.

Are you crazy yet?

Letting go of the calorie numbers can be hard for humans, because that’s how we’ve been taught to think about our own diets. While I suppose you couldgenerate accurate calorie numbers by completely separating all the meat from the bone and weighing them independently, nobody wants to do that. That, too, is assuming that you can find the nutritional data for everything your dog eats. I have access to some pretty wild stuff. How many calories are in a duck head, anyway?

This is why raw feeding quantities can seem so arbitrary to people who are just getting started. Can you imagine a human diet based on eating, say, a set number of pounds of food a day? (I’d take mine in full-fat dairy products, chocolate, and bread, please.) Weight-based measurement is more about an easy starting place than about caloric accuracy. Because most people buy the same range of foods over and over again, both for themselves and for their dogs, an arbitrary starting place is really all you need. If your dog gains weight at a certain weight of food per day then feed less per day of the stuff you usually buy. If your dog begs for food all the time when you do that, or if your dog can’t gain weight no matter what (this was Silas on the premade raw diet he was eating), then might be a good time to look at the calorie numbers for the foods you buy. Then you can do some comparisons (“Gee, maybe I should take the skin off/leave the skin on the turkey”), which works much better than constructing a “perfect diet” by starting with a recommended calorie intake.

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4 thoughts on “A note about calories

  1. That is some tricky math you’ve got going on there…Honestly I would not be up to the task…Is there a way of doing it without counting calories? Can you feed what Silas seems to eat eagerly and then remove what he doesn’t eat right away? Can you feed what “looks right” and see if he gains weight/loses weight/stays the same? I’m just wondering, not that I know if any of this would work…It just seems so harad to determine what would be “just right”

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  2. Geez, you could easily get all messed up trying to figure that out. I’ve considered/wondered about a home-made diet for the pack but quite honestly, they are doing very well on the high quality kibbles. Also, being vegan, I know it’d creep me out to start buying animal parts again! Then I think…but should I…

    I continue to be very impressed with the effort you put into Silas and your knowledge. Silas is a very lucky pup!

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  3. It’s super tough to figure out, then add in any treats, measure or weigh them. I just go by the ounces and don’t worry about the calories, but maybe I should.

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