The regulatory requirements for calorie information on pet foods changed significantly in the year 2014. Increasing numbers of pet food products will display calorie statements, as the states adopt this requirement from the current AAFCO Model Pet food Regulations.

The change could take up to three years for complete compliance; until then, some pet food products without calorie statements will remain on the market.

The calorie statement must be located under a heading titled “Calorie Content.” It should be expressed as kilocalories per kilogram of food as fed and as kilocalories per familiar unit (e.g. per can, per cup or per biscuit). The calorie content will be distinct from (though likely near) the guaranteed analysis.

Though it sounds complicated, the requirement that all pet food labels express calorie statements in terms of kilocalories per kilogram of product as fed makes it easier to compare similar products. A kilocalorie is the same as a calorie (aka a big calorie or food calorie). It means the same thing as a calorie on a human food label, but is a more scientifically accurate term. A kilogram is a weight equal to 2.2 pounds.

But pet owners should be cautious in their comparisons because, for example, a canned food will have fewer calories per kilogram “as fed” than a dry dog food due to the canned food’s high moisture content.

By also requiring the calorie content to be expressed in terms of a familiar unit, it is easier to determine how many calories are being fed to an animal per day.

To determine calorie content, a guarantor can use its own calculations or AAFCO testing procedures, and the calorie statement must state which method they is used.

A veterinarian or other animal professional can help determine how many calories are needed for an individual animal depending on age, weight, activity and other factors. In that way, daily feeding amounts can be fine-tuned to fit individual pet needs.

The calorie content of a product should never be the sole consideration for purchase, but rather one factor among many. Depending on life stage and condition, a pet may need lots of calories to give it the energy to grow, reproduce or work; therefore, fewer calories doesn’t necessarily add up to a healthier diet.

Historically, the AAFCO Model Pet Food Regulations have included some limited requirements regarding calorie labeling on pet foods where the guarantor claimed the product was low-calorie, lite, or similar. For more on these descriptive terms, click here.