The Inactive Dog’s Nutritional Needs

Is your dog a bit of a couch potato? Do they seem to gain weight by just looking at food? Well today we are going to talk about your dog’s nutritional needs and what to look for when purchasing a food for your pet!

Before we get started I want to put up a big disclaimer:


Every dog is an individual – we are going to discuss generalities in this video, but this is not a replacement for customized nutritional advise.
>> If your dog has a medical condition – talk to your vet! This information only applies to healthy adult dogs.
>> If your dog is overweight currently, discuss this with your vet! Though this category of dogs may be more prone to being overweight, there are medical reasons outside of excess calories that can make dogs become overweight, and setting up a weight loss plan isn’t as simple as decreasing calories.

How do I know my dog is inactive or obese-prone?

This really comes down to the amount of calories your dog consumes in order to maintain their healthy weight. Every dog is different, just like every person is different. And some dogs do tend to need less calories per day to maintain their weight than others, even when having similar activity levels.

If your dog is at a healthy weight – simply add up the calories on average your dog gets each day from food, treats, chews and additions.


“My dog eats 1/2 cup twice daily, the kibble is 450 kcals per cup. I also give 1 six inch bully stick twice per week (estimated at 100 calories each), and about 30 cup of the pupford rabbit treats, which are 1 kcal each.”

Kibble: 450 x 1/2 cup + 450 x 1/2 cup = 450 kcals per day
Chews: 100 x 2 / 7 = 28.5 kcals per day
Treats: 30 x 1 = 30 kcals per day

450 + 28.5 + 30 = 508.5 kcals per day

Now we are going to compare that number to the calculated amount for an inactive dog which is:

([ body weight in kgs ] ^0.75 x 70) x 1.2 – 1.4


My dog is 20 pounds and currently at a healthy weight per my veterinarian with a body condition score of 5 of 9.

([ 20/2 ] ^0.75 x 70) x 1.2 – 1.4 = 440 to 513 kcals per day estimated

When we compare the amount we are currently feeding of 508 kcals per day to the estimated range, it falls into this category for a more “inactive” dog.

What are my inactive dog’s nutritional needs?

Generally speaking inactive dog’s dog best on diets that are higher protein, higher fiber, lower in caloric density, and nutrient-dense. 

Dogs within this category need diets that are nutrient-dense,<graphic of two dogs of different calories and protein needs> meaning that the food is going to need more protein per calorie consumed in comparison to a highly active dog. The reason for this is simply because the inactive dog consumes less calories, but still needs to meet minimal protein needs.

Dogs who are obese-prone and consume smaller amounts of calories also tend to struggle with satiety, or feeling full. Research shows us that diets high in protein and fiber, with low caloric density have higher diet satisfaction, and lead to better weight loss results. 

We also find diets that are lower in fat, tend to also be lower in caloric density, as fat as also 2 ½ times the calories per gram to that of either protein or carbohydrates. 

Personally, I’ve found that diets lower in caloric density tend to be easier to measure accurately by pet parents as well, and they feel less guilt about the amount of food they are feeding their pet. And honestly, we really can’t forget to factor in the us, the pet parents, because if we feel like we are “starving” our dog, we aren’t going to keep doing that.

Your Inactive Dog’s Macronutrient Needs

Protein: 75g / 1000 kcals
Fat: can vary, but typically 35-45g / 1000 kcals
Carbohydrates: can vary, but typically 50-100g / kcals

Note that I’m not talking about the guaranteed analysis here – I’m talking about nutrient density. The reason I’m not, is because the guaranteed analysis is influenced by both the moisture content and caloric density of the diet. When you look at comparison calculators that compare via Dry Matter or % Calories – these do not take into account caloric density. 

Looking at foods by nutrient density per 1000 kcals or 100 kcals is the most accurate way to do so. You can get this information from the company by requesting what is called a “Typical Analysis” OR you can estimate it using calculations.

Other things to look for on the pet food label:

Fiber: 5+% Dry Matter
Caloric Density: <350 kcal/cup (dry foods – kibble, freeze-dried, air-dried, dehydrated), <35 kcal/ounce ; or < 1250 kcal/kg as fed (high moisture foods – lightly cooked, raw)

Common Exceptions

Now I did allude to earlier that dogs are individuals. Meaning that though many inactive dogs will do well on the nutrient profiles I just described some will not. So I wanted to go through the two most common exceptions.

Needing a Low Fiber Diet

First – the dogs who do not tolerate high fiber diets. Dogs who don’t tolerate high-fiber diets, they may have large voluminous stools, vomiting, or even diarrhea. In these cases, we’d lower fiber content within the recipes. Ideally, we’d still want to keep caloric density lower, however it might not have the same effect a far as satiety. <picture of enrichment items> This is where using enrichment items, slow feeders, and puzzle toys might come in handy. Dogs who use their brain get mental satisfaction, which may help with dietary satisfaction.

Needing a Low Carb Diet

Another common exception is not tolerating a low-fat diet, or not tolerating a diet higher in carbohydrates. For these dogs a high protein, high fat, low caloric density diet is ideal. Most kibble diets will not fit into this profile, however, many fresh food diets like lightly cooked, or freeze-dried raw diets do fit into this category.

Obviously, there are more exceptions than these two examples, however, these are the most common things that I have seen during consultations where dogs don’t tolerate this “general” profile.

About the Author: Nikki is a Registered Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) and Dog Mom with over a decade of experience with dogs and cats. Since graduation from college (BS Biology, Dip. Animal Nutrition, AS Animal Science) she has adopted two mixed breed dogs – Ranger and Ash, and has focused her time learning about pet food and nutrition.

Nikki shares information on a range of dog nutrition topics: from how to create a homemade complete and balanced dog food recipes, to how to choose a dog food. Nikki strives to give dog parents the information they need in order to make the best nutrition decisions for their pup!

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