Woman giving dog broccoli

Obesity in the developed world is increasing at an alarming rate, and our pets are not excluded. We enjoy loving our dogs through the gift of food, especially when they are so grateful to receive. It is instantly gratifying to see the joy in canine eyes while sharing a few morsels from our plates.

But, while a few bites of human food seem insignificant, with a few exceptions our dogs are smaller than we are and require fewer daily calories. Treats over and above their daily ration contain extra calories that add up over time. All of a sudden, we see that our beloved dog is carrying way too much weight on his or her frame, which can lead to chronic health conditions.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Overweight?

Look for the following indicators to assess your dog’s body condition:

  • Is his harness or sweater tight? – If your dog is an adult and you notice that his harness needs to be let out, or he needs a new sweater, this is likely due to weight gain.
  • Can you feel her ribs? – If you cannot easily feel her ribs through a thick layer of fat, then she needs to lose a few pounds.
  • Is his abdomen the same size around as his chest? – If you cannot distinguish between the end of his chest and the beginning of his abdomen, he is too heavy.
  • Does she pant excessively or seem to be intolerant of exercise? – While this is nonspecific and could be indicative of other issues, it also is a good indicator of weight gain.

Obese dog sitting

Oh No! My Dog Is Overweight. What Do I Do Now?

Remember that weight loss is a result of spending more calories and consuming less, creating a negative energy balance. This can be achieved by feeding fewer calories, increasing calories spent in exercise, or both.

We suggest the following  7-step strategy to help your dog achieve and maintain his or her optimal weight.

Step 1: Talk with your veterinarian. In some cases, weight gain is due to an underlying medical condition (such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease). For affected dogs, weight loss will be unsuccessful until underlying disease is managed. Additionally, your veterinarian will be able to give you a target weight and a rough estimate of daily caloric needs based on your dog’s size and activity level. Obesity is a medical condition and the best way to address this is by consulting a medical professional.

Step 2: Assess caloric intake. The only way to know how much your dog is eating is to measure the food and read labels. Your food bag contains the calorie content per measuring cup. Don’t forget to include all treats given in a day. It adds up! There are many online calculators that can calculate a rough estimate of target daily caloric intake. This is a good place to start if you do not have a veterinary recommendation.

Step 3: Decrease calories. This is where the changes begin. Start with the daily ration (dry or canned dog food). If you are below 2/3 of what the label recommends for your dog’s target weight, then you need to consider a lower calorie food. This will ensure that your dog is getting the appropriate nutrients added to the food for a balanced diet. I recommend Science Diet Adult Light, Royal Canin Weight Management, Purina ProPlan Focus Weight Managament and Iams Weight Control. In addition to these commercially available diets, there are numerous prescription diets available through your veterinarian that are more calorie restrictive but require veterinary oversight.

Step 4: Count the treats. Treats count toward the total daily calorie intake. What may seem like an insignificant treat may be too much for your dog. For example, a piece of bacon given to an 8-pound dog is 20% of her daily calorie need and provides very little actual nutrition. Lower calorie treats include ice cubes, green beans, carrots and other vegetables. Don’t forget to count rawhides and other chews in your daily calorie counts.

Step 5: Get everyone involved. If multiple people feed meals and treats, make sure everyone is on board. Use a measuring cup for every meal and communicate openly about treats and table scraps.

Walking dogs

Step 6: Get moving! Increase caloric spending by adding an extra walk or playtime daily. Make sure that it is safe for your dog prior to starting an exercise program. Increase exercise slowly to prevent injuries.

Step 7: Have regular weight checks. Weigh at regular intervals, usually every 1 to 2 months, to gauge progress. Small dogs can be weighed on a home scale by holding them and subtracting your weight. Larger dogs can be weighed at your veterinary clinic, usually without an appointment. If not making progress, go back to step 1.

The writers at Pet Life Today wish you success in your canine weight loss journey. Maintaining a healthy body weight will prevent many chronic disease conditions, increase longevity and improve quality of life. ‘Bone’ voyage!

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Dr. Catharine Hennessy