America’s obesity epidemic grows, with 1 in 3 Americans clinically obese, according to the CDC. This sad trend holds true, and the statistics are even worse, with our pets as well, with 53% of dogs in the U.S. reported obese by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
Overweight dogs are at risk for health problems and do not generally live as long as dogs that are trim. In addition to being at a greater risk for heart disease, overweight dogs show greater incidence of arthritis, circulatory problems (high blood pressure), pancreatic disorders (pancreatitis), diabetes, liver disease and more.
Obesity is the fourth leading cause of death today for dogs and the cost of medical care for conditions related to obesity is constantly growing. Dogs that maintain an ideal weight have an extra lifespan of 2 years than their overweight counterparts.
How Can You Tell that Your Dog Is Overweight?
Run your hand along his side and if you cannot feet his ribs, it’s time to start a weight reduction program. If your dog does not have a waist, it is time for a weight reduction program.
In most cases, dogs are obese because we feed them too much. Just like with humans, output has to exceed input and when it doesn’t we (and your pets) gain weight.
While some dog breeds are prone to obesity (Dachshunds, Labradors, Cockers, etc.) and others not (Greyhounds, German Shepherds, etc.), the bottom line is that humans are responsible for our pets’ pudginess. After all, Your dog doesn’t serve its own food nor open the refrigerator searching for a snack. Our pets depend on us for their dinner.
In theory, weight loss is simple enough: fewer calories in plus more calories out should lead to weight loss. Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. Before you start restricting your dog’s intake or change their diet, you should visit your veterinarian for a check-up and look for underlying medical conditions, such as Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.
These diseases, along with others, should be eliminated as possible causes or contributors to your dog’s weight problem. Many times dogs started on a diet fail to lose weight because the diet wasn’t the problem — a disease was. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and can also perform blood tests to ensure that there are no obstacles to weight loss for your pet.
How Much Weight Does Your Dog Need to Lose?
As a rule, any weight 15% above the ideal one is overweight. Take a look at your dog and if you cannot see a waist or feel his ribs, it’s time to get serious.
In relation to humans, even a couple of pounds can be serious depending on the size of your dog. For example, if you have a 10-pound Chihuahua, but his ideal weight is 5 lbs, this means that your dog is 50% overweight. In contrast, if you weigh 125 lbs and gain 5 lbs, this is only a 1% gain. You would have to weigh 187 lbs to reach the 50% range.
Imagine carrying an 62-pound child on your back all day and imagine how tired you would feel at the end of a day — your joints and back would hurt, you would be out of breath and grumpy. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian about how much weight loss they recommend.
Realistically, your dog will keep getting treats, so here are some treat tips and suggestions:
- Portion is everything. The treat portion is dependent on the size of your dog. A treat with 20 calories isn’t much to a Great Dane who requires 1,400 kcal / day, but for a Chihuahua a 20-calorie treat is 10% of his or her total 21O kcal / day diet. If you feed more than one treat a day, it is going to add up fast.
- No table scraps. They are often high in fats and sugars and thus calories.
- Treats should never make up more than 10% of your pet’s daily intake.
- Use your dog’s kibble for treats.
- Try fresh veggies. Cooked green beans, broccoli and carrots are high in fiber (giving your dog a greater sense of fill) and are low in fat. No ranch dressing top dress!
- Rice cakes. A piece or two, not the whole cake.
- Air popped popcorn. Not salted and no butter.
- No OTC treats: pupperoni, beggin’ strips, etc. These are high-fat junk food: imagine eating half a bag of potato chips and a Snickers candy bar.
Other Feeding Ideas
Here are some more tips on managing your dog’s food intake:
- If your dog whines and begs for more food while you are eating, hold firm. Such behavior causes a lot of owners to give in. Your dog will beg if she knows that she will get him more treats and snacks.
Suggestion: While you are dining, put your dog outside, in its carrier or in another room. Give her a rawhide bone to gnaw on to keep her busy while you eat. This way help you remove the temptation to give in.
- Go for a walk when your dog begs. This distraction and interaction may just be enough to make it forget its desire for food. Many dogs substitute food for affection so flip the equation, play tag, laser point, ball, frisbee instead and you may find that playtime displaces mealtime.
- After feeding your dog, pick up the bowl. There is no need to tease your pet with an empty bowl. You also remove your temptation to fill it.
Write on the bag or container how much your dog needs a day and feed only that amount. You might want to measure the total daily food into a separate container, so that family members know how much the dog has been fed and how much is left for the day. You can use the kibble in this container for treats when the day container is empty, which means no more food for the day.
- Try feeding your pet out of food toys. Such toys include Omega Paw’s Omega Tricky Treat Ball, Premier’s PetSafe Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble Toy and The Company of Animals’ Dog Tornado Interactive Plastic Toy. These interactive food delivery toys can be filled with your dog’s meal and she gets to work for her dinner by figuring out how to get the food out of the toy. Exercise and food in one place!
Make sure that you monitor your dog’s progress. Keep a food log (it helps with people too) and weigh your dog weekly. Most veterinary offices will be more than happy to have you come in and use their scale.
Remember that your dog may hit a plateau, where your dog seems stuck at a certain weight (common in people too). Don’t despair or give up, but keep on the plan and you will get there. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to make adjustments in your dog’s program, if your dog is not progressing.
A good way to help you enjoy the process with your dog is to take a before-diet picture and several during the weight reduction process and then one at its conclusion. You will be amazed at the difference.
Make it fun for the whole family and include pictures of your dog having fun playing and walking with the family. Start a picture board and talk about how much fun you and your pet have shared together. As your dog loses weight, her level of energy will increase and you might be surprised how much more fun she can be and have with you.
Image credit: Wikimedia.