Obesity in dogs is an increasingly common problem. In 2018, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that 56% of dogs in the USA were overweight or obese! Unfortunately, obesity can cause your dog a lot of problems and could even shorten his lifespan. All it takes is a few small changes in diet, routine or exercise to have your dog’s weight back to normal.
I understand only too well, as my Labrador Toby used to be a little on the tubby side. His appetite was legendary, as was his ability to charm extra food off anyone who came his way. Thankfully, I was able to get his weight back to normal by limiting his treats and slightly increasing his exercise. In this article, we will take a look at the problems obesity can cause, how to tell if your dog is obese and most importantly how to make your dog lose weight.
What Problems Can Canine Obesity Cause?
If your dog is carrying the extra weight it can put him at a higher risk of developing some serious medical conditions, including:
- Respiratory disease (especially in brachycephalic breeds, those with short, flat noses)
- Heart disease
- Kidney Disease
- Urinary Incontinence
- High blood pressure
Recent research has shown that obesity can decrease a dog’s lifespan on average by 2.5 years, compared to dogs with a healthy body weight!
Also, dogs that are carrying more weight obviously tend to be lazier, and less active. They might prefer to laze on the sofa than play and interact with their families. Therefore, obesity might also interfere with the owner-dog bond too!
Is Your Dog Fat?
Sometimes love can make us blind and this is true with our dogs too. You might think that those extra pounds make your dog look cute, but they are doing his health no favors at all. However, sometimes it can be difficult to know if your dog is just carrying a few extra pounds or if he is obese.
Here Are A Few Simple Tips To Help You Check If Your Dog Is Fat:
1. Look at him from above: Does he have a waist?
Look at your dog from above. If he has a round, oval shape bulging on either side he is probably fat. However, if he has a defined waist then he is probably a healthy weight.
2. Feel his ribs: Are they easy to palpate?
The prominence of the ribs is a big indication of your dog’s weight. If it is very difficult to palpate your dog’s ribs, as there is a thick layer of fat over them, then he is overweight. If your dog’s ribs have a slight covering but are easily palpated, then he is probably within the normal weight range.
3. Weigh your dog: Is he within range for his breed?
Each breed has a “normal weight range”, with which you can compare your own dog. However, this will vary depending on the sex and size of your pooch.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) has a handy body condition score chart to help check if your dog is overweight: WSAVA body condition chart.
Could Your Dog Have An Underlying Health Problem?
A successful weight loss program for your dog should involve your veterinarian and veterinary nurse team. Firstly, you want to make sure your dog is healthy and that there are no underlying conditions causing his weight gain.
Did you know that some diseases might cause your dog to pile on the pounds? Common underlying health conditions that may cause weight gain and lethargy in dogs include hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease).
Your dog should have a full physical examination to check he is healthy, and your vet will let you know if they think there may be any underlying conditions causing his chubbiness. Your vet will also be able to accurately weigh your dog, record his body condition score and give you an ideal weight to aim towards.
10 Ways To Make Your Dog Lose Weight
1. Change His Diet
Your dog needs a healthy and complete diet, with lots of vitamins and minerals, if he is trying to lose weight or not. You might want to try a change in diet, to help with weight loss. There are some great veterinary diets that are specially formulated to help your dog lose weight while still providing him with top-notch nutrition.
If your dog tends to beg a lot, Royal Canin® Satiety or Hills® Prescription Diet w/d might be a good option as they are high in fiber to help your dog feel fuller for longer. Low-calorie options that are low in carbohydrates, but still high in protein include Purina Proplan OM® or Royal Canin® Calorie Control diet. Another option that naturally increases the dog’s metabolic rate to burn off more calories, is Hills ® Prescription Metabolic diet.
Remember any changes in diet should be done slowly over a week or so, to prevent your dog from getting an upset tummy. Your veterinary team will be able to advise you on which new diet would be best suited to your dog and his weight loss goals.
2. Measure Out His Food
On your dog’s food packaging there should be feeding guidelines showing how much should be given per day for the weight of the dog. Ideally, you should feed your dog for his ideal weight, not his current overweight status. If your dog has a lot of weight to lose, then start at his current weight food recommendation and slowly over a few weeks decrease down to his ideal weight food amount recommendation. (1)
By decreasing your dog’s food amount too much, too quickly, you could starve his body of nutrients!
Measure out how much food is recommended for your dog per day. This can then be split into smaller feeds throughout the day if needed. By accurately measuring out your dog’s food you know that you, or anyone else in the household, are not accidentally giving your dog too much.
3. Count Calories
Counting calories might not be fun, but it can help to figure out how much food your dog actually needs and how many extra calories he is getting from treats! A recent research trial by the University of Liverpool found that a calorie-controlled diet was the most effective way to help a dog lose weight.
First, you need to calculate how many calories your dog actually needs per day, and this requires knowing your dog’s ideal weight. A trip to your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist can help you figure this information out. The Pet Nutrition Alliance has a very useful “calorie calculator for dogs” .
4. Everyone Is Involved
Everyone in the household or who has contact with your dog needs to be involved in his weight loss program. Your dog won’t lose weight if he gets lots of extra food at the weekend when Granny visits, or if the dog walker rewards him with treats on his walks.
5. Regular Weigh-Ins
It is a good idea to regularly monitor your dog’s weight as he starts on his weight loss program. It can help you keep track of his weight loss, and make sure he is not continuing to put on weight (it does happen, especially if someone is giving him sneaky treats!).
You also want to make sure your dog is losing weight in a controlled, slow way as his body adjusts to changes in diet and exercise. A monthly weigh-in is a good idea. Often your vet clinic will let you weigh your dog for free- they usually have a large, walk-on, an electronic scale which is so much easier to use than your small bathroom scales at home.
6. Increase Exercise
If you increase your dog’s exercise, then he should burn off more calories and lose weight. However, if your dog is a bit of a couch potato then a sudden increase in exercise can come as quite a shock to his system. He could even end up injuring himself if his muscles, joints, and ligaments are just not used to working out. Therefore, any activity adjustments should be done slowly.
Add an extra couple of minutes to the daily walk every few days, or add in some brisk walking spells to increase the pace. Other ideas for increasing your dog’s activity, include getting him moving more throughout the day by using new toys, balls, and extra play sessions. If you don’t have time to walk your dog, then think about using a dog walker. (2)
7. Stop The Treats
Don’t be fooled by the nice packaging, lots of dog treats are actually filled with hidden calories, as well as artificial colors, artificial flavors and high levels of salts and fat. While your dog is on a weight loss programme it is best to stop the treats.
If your dog begs for treats or scraps or loves getting something special during playtime, then you could replace his normal unhealthy treats with low calorie, healthy options.
Carrot sticks, some broccoli, baked sweet potato, a few blueberries, or a little apple are all good options. Another option is to use distraction when he begs, to help him forget about food, cuddle him, have a play session, take him outside for playtime or go on a short walk instead. (3)
8. Use Feeding Toys
Feeding toys can be a great option for some dogs to help slow down their eating time and make them work a little for their food. There are many different options available, from balls that roll and slowly release the dry kibble, to a rubber Kong that the dog has to slowly lick out his wet food. Your local pet store should have a wide variety available.
9. Join A Fat Club
Sometimes its good to share your experience with other dog owners who are going through the same thing. Like a little support system, so you can back each other up when you need it, or have a dog walking buddy to encourage regular walks.
You might find a breed-specific weight loss club online ora canine weight loss club at your local veterinary clinic. Some vet clinics might also offer free weight loss consultations with their veterinary nurses, a great way to get some expert advice!
10. If It’s Not Working, Change Approach
If your dog just isn’t losing weight after the first month or so, then don’t be afraid to change your approach. Think about changing the dog’s diet, adjust the daily calories, increase the protein and decrease carbohydrate levels, or increase his activity levels.
If it still isn’t working, then seek additional help from your veterinary team or a canine nutritionist. A general aim for safe weight loss for most dogs is 3-5% body weight loss per month. (4)
Getting your dog to lose weight may not be the easiest process, but remember that the reason for all your hard work is for a healthier, happier and longer living pooch. Every dog is different and requires a tailored plan to achieve his weight loss goals. Working closely with your veterinarian is often the best way to achieve the best results in the healthiest way possible. Remember to share this article with someone who’s dog needs a little nudge to shed those extra pounds!