In part one, we covered weight loss as the top New Year’s resolution for your dog. A quick refresher on how to tell if your pooch is overweight: your dog’s ribcage should only be covered by a thin layer of flesh; a heavy layer of fat means your dog is overweight. Except for a very few specific breeds, your dog’s ribs should be neither immediately visible nor entirely hidden. When you view your dog from above, their chest should also taper into their flanks, creating a waistline. If your dog is sausage-shaped from above, they’re overweight. It is best to check your dog’s weight approximately once a month if weight control is an issue, that way you know immediately if there are any changes, otherwise, check every two to three months. You can take your dog into most veterinary clinics and use the scale for free if your dog is too large to weigh using your home scale or an infant scale at home. Obese dogs are at far greater risk of heart disease, pancreatitis, hip and joint trouble, ACL and soft tissue rupture, diabetes, and some forms of cancer, among other risks. Obesity is a big deal. Don’t fool yourself into thinking a few extra pounds on your pooch don’t matter when every little bit makes a difference on a dog’s frame.
Unfortunately, the top cause of obesity in dogs is their owners. We love our pets, and spoiling them with food is one of the most common ways we like to show our love. However, if we overdo the treats or feed table scraps on a regular basis, it is all too easy to end up with an obese dog. Different dogs have different metabolisms. For example, Greyhounds and Shepherds are two breeds with a natural tendency towards thinness, while breeds such as Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers, and Beagles are among those breeds that tend towards obesity. Other factors affect weight also including whether your pet has been spayed or neutered, potential thyroid or other chemical imbalances, and a myriad of possible health-related complications. If your dog has a weight problem, having them checked by your veterinarian is a good idea in order to rule out any causes not related to food and exercise. When you are sure your dog’s heart and body can handle an increase in exercise, and there is not any outside cause of weight issues, proceed with a basic weight loss plan.
If your dog has been altered, their chemical makeup has also been changed. When your male is neutered, but more drastically when your female is spayed, the hormonal changes lead to both a slower metabolism and an increased appetite, among other changes, which lead to weight gain. Your veterinarian should be straightforward with you about the side effects of having your dog altered so you know to change your dog’s caloric intake after surgery. There are also some big names in the dog industry claiming the removal of your dog’s reproductive organs has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on their weight. Spaying and neutering does affect your dog’s weight gain, plain and simple. Fixing your dog at an early age, but not prior to six months, makes a positive difference. Waiting until the dog is several years old has a more drastic affect on their bodies than if you simply have it taken care of early on. An altered dog will typically need fewer calories and more exercise then an intact dog in order to maintain a healthy weight.
The first factor to consider is the quality of your dog’s food. The pet food industry in general is not concerned with creating the healthiest possible kibbles and canned foods for your dog. They’re more concerned with making money, which leaves you to do your homework to figure out which foods are actually good for your dog. Sadly, less than ten percent of what’s on the market is truly healthy. Unfortunately, the more affordable (read: cheap) dog foods are typically the least healthy. Conversely, just because a dog food is expensive does not mean it is the best. Choose a food specifically formulated for your dog’s age, size, and activity level. Consider any special needs or allergies that would benefit from a prescription diet purchased from your veterinarian. The following are basic considerations when choosing a quality dog food, but by no means a complete list:
- The very first and at least three of the first five ingredients should be protein, for example, lamb and lamb meal are both appropriate sources while “poultry meal” is too vague. Dogs are carnivores, not vegetarians, so do not try to force your dog to subsist on veggies alone.
- A general rule of thumb is that all ingredients listed prior to the first fat-based ingredient, such as chicken fat, are the major components.
- You do not want food packed with fillers, by-products, or chemicals. Avoid fillers such as corn and soy, both of which are nutritionally empty and common allergens.
- Grains are a controversial topic in dog food. The grain found in your dog’s food should be minimal, certainly not the primary or dominant percentage as it is in economy and poorly made brands. When grains are used they should only be used in small percentages and should be whole, healthier grains such as rolled oats, millet, quinoa, brown rice, or barley. It bears repeating that although corn is a commonly used filler, it is worthless and many dogs are allergic.
- Do your best to avoid foods using the chemical preservatives BHA, BHT, propylene glycol and ethoxyquin, the last of which is still found in many foods that are otherwise superb. Holistic or natural foods are often best and tend to use natural preservatives such as Vitamin E and C.
- Some manufacturers use known toxic ingredients like synthetic vitamin K and onions, both of which should be avoided.
- Dyes to make food more visually appealing to humans and added flavors, which are not necessary when your dog’s food has sufficient protein in it, are unwanted additions.
- Diet or Light dog foods are often a contributing factor in weight again. They are often high in carbohydrates, which is detrimental where weight loss is concerned. Diet foods are also high in fiber (worthless fillers), which means your dog feels full and creates significantly more waste while not actually ingesting the nutrients their bodies need. You are better off simply feeding regular dog food in smaller amounts.
- Sugars including sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are unhealthy and should not be included in your dog’s food. The same goes for salt.
- Avoid foods using cellulose as a filler. Cellulose is made from sawdust. Surprise!
Do not use the instructions on the label as a guideline for how much to feed your dog. Labels are notorious for advising owners to overfeed, sometimes in massive amounts. Portion control is very important. Do not use a coffee mug or , worse, dip into the bag of kibble with your dog’s dish and simply eyeball what you think is right. Use a measuring cup, whether from your kitchen or a cute one from your pet store. You will find you need to feed smaller amounts of high quality dog food and larger amounts of economy dog food. Most adult dogs should eat twice a day. Do not free feed. Reduce your overweight dog’s food gradually rather than quickly. Weigh them after the first week’s reduction and if there is no change, reduce their meal size again. A five percent (or one-eighth of one cup per two cups) reduction at a time is a good rule of thumb.
Your dog should be eating dry kibble as their primary food source. Feeding wet food alone or as the better part of their diet is not good for their overall health or dental health. If you do feed wet food, an 80% dry and 20% wet ratio is a decent balance. As your pet ages their teeth, which you have maintained through brushing and proper diet, should remain strong enough to eat dry food. If for some reason they are unable to chew dry food, it is still better to soak their kibble in hot water than to feed a predominantly canned food diet. Feeding all canned food is not unlike your eating only candy bars all day long.
Adequate exercise is an important part of weight loss. Have your dog checked out by your veterinarian prior to starting an exercise program to ensure their joints and heart are healthy enough to handle the increased activity. Short, easy walks are a good starting point. As your dog’s endurance builds, increase duration and length. Playing fetch is a good weight loss method, just make sure their weight is not so great the sudden stops and turns create too heavy a strain on their joints. Just like their human counterparts, dogs need a bare minimum of twenty minutes of constant, heart-pumping exercise every day. And just like humans, each dog is unique, some needing more or less than others to achieve the same weight loss results. A breed like a Great Dane with a preference towards relaxing and lying down all day may need more exercise with you than a breed like a Jack Russell that tends to move energetically around the house all day.
Once you address medical issues, dietary needs and intake, and exercise, your dog should be well on its way to a healthy weight. You need to be willing to put the same time and energy into your dog’s weight you should be putting into your own. A healthy dog is absolutely a happy dog, and the healthier your dog is, the longer their lifespan. Having your beloved pet around for years to come is great motivation for proper diet and exercise.