In North America, obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs. Approximately 25-30% of the general canine population is obese, with 40-45% of dogs aged 5-11 years old weighing in higher than normal.
Being overweight can have lasting consequences for your pet and can even be fatal. That’s why we’ve asked the team at Tails.com to share their top tips to help you help your dog trim down the healthy way and maintain an appropriate weight.
How to reduce your dog’s weight the healthy way. As a nation of dog lovers, we can’t help but indulge our pups. But with pet obesity on the rise, a little morsel here and there soon adds up. And if we’re not careful, all those sneaky treats can lead to a pudgy pooch. While many owners use food as a way to shower their dogs with love, it could be doing more harm than good, because overweight dogs are more prone to illnesses and don’t live as long as dogs at an ideal weight. So if you think it’s time your porky pup to lose a few pounds, read on for our top tips on dog weight loss the healthy way.
How to tell if a dog is overweight? All breeds have standard weight guidelines. And while this is a good place to start, every individual dog is different. Rather than the numbers on the scale, what you should really pay attention to is the amount of extra coverage on your dog’s body. To understand if your dog is under, ideal or overweight, vets often use the body condition score (BCS) test.
The test is measured either on a 9 point or 5 point scale, and assesses your dog’s fat levels across your dog’s ribs, tummy and waist. Your dog should have an hourglass figure when viewed overhead and even breeds like bulldogs where many people believe they will be more rounded should have a waist. You should be able to feel the ribs through a little fat covering and they may even be slightly visible in places. And the tummy should tuck up from the rib cage, rather than being a straight line across.
If your pooch is more sausage shaped and you can’t feel their ribs easily without applying a lot of pressure, then your dog is likely overweight. If you’re unsure, your vet will be able to help you and even show you exactly what to look for when it comes to your dog.
What are the health implications for overweight dogs? Not only does the lifespan of an overweight dog decrease, but it can seriously impact your pup’s quality of life. The extra weight can put added pressure on bones and joints, potentially leading to arthritis in later years. But it can also put your dog’s life at risk, contributing to breathing difficulties, heart problems and diabetes.
There are three key areas to consider when managing your dog’s weight loss in a healthy way:
Dog diet food. Feeding the right diet for your individual dog is the first important step. Balanced meals packed with nutrients, slow release carbohydrates and beneficial fiber will help your dog feel fuller for longer. It’s also important to control portion sizes and feed the exact amount your dog needs to lose weight steadily, and eventually maintain a healthy weight.
Regular exercise. Exercising your dog every day will help burn off excess calories and keep their body healthy. Alongside the right nutrition and portion sizes, a regular exercise routine will help bring your dog’s weight down steadily and predictably. It also gives your dog something else to focus on during the day, by providing mental stimulation – dogs are a bit like humans, they get peckish when they’re bored!
Limiting treats. We know it’s difficult, but cutting out treats altogether is the best approach for healthy dog weight loss. Or at the very least, limit the number of treats and offer healthier options that aren’t high in fat, sugar or calories. Raw vegetables like carrots and cucumber are a good alternative to store bought treats.
But there could be a medical cause for your dog’s weight gain too. Hormonal disorders like hypothyroidism slow a dog’s metabolism down so they’re no longer burning calories as quickly as they should. Cushing’s disease and other metabolic conditions can also cause weight gain. If your dog is not losing weight or is still gaining despite diet changes, always share your concerns with your veterinarian (you can find a list of veterinarians and clinics here in the CityDog Directory).
Breeds prone to weight gain. Some breeds are typically more prone to being overweight than others — and sometimes it’s not just a case of a greedy pooch! About a quarter of Labradors have a mutation of a gene called pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) which controls appetite, meaning they can still feel hungry even after eating a big meal. With breeds prone to being overweight, it’s important to pay closer attention to your dog’s diet and find the right nutrients and quantities to help them maintain their ideal weight.
A few breeds prone to obesity include: Beagle, Shih Tzu, Cocker Spaniel, Yorkshire Terrier, Bulldog, Pug, Boxer, Dachshund, Rottweiler, Chihuahua, German Shepherd and Basset Hound.
Weight management in puppies. Puppies go through rapid growth spurts which means their calorie needs can change over time. Which is why regular weigh-ins are so important during this stage. For very young pups that are less than four months old, you should try to get them weighed every two weeks as they’re growing so rapidly. For older pups, monthly weigh-ins are a good rule of thumb. Since they grow so quickly it’s essential to feed puppies the right ingredients in the right quantities so they grow into a happy and healthy adult dog.
Most notably, if a puppy carries excess weight, it can impact their bones as they grow. This can increase your pup’s risk of developing bone problems like hip dysplasia and arthritis as adults, especially in larger breeds like Newfoundlands, Great Danes, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Saint Bernards and Mastiffs.
Weight management in senior dogs. Sometimes senior dogs can have an obesity problem. They’re slowing down, and playing and moving less, so they tend to put on more weight. This can create a negative cycle where your dog moves less and needs fewer calories, but if we don’t adjust the quantities they gain more weight. Then when they put weight on they don’t want to move as much, so they burn fewer calories and therefore gain more weight — and the cycle continues. In which case it’s important to adapt your dog’s daily calorie allowance to account for the drop in exercise. Excess weight can be especially tough on an older dog’s joints, which can make stiffness and arthritic pain worse. Senior dogs still need regular, gentle exercise and this can be a great help to loosen stiff muscles and joints.
If you’re trying to help your senior dog lose weight and they always seem hungry, try a higher fiber diet to keep them feeling full while controlling their calorie intake.
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about the author
Brandie Ahlgren is founder and editor of CityDog Magazine. She, and her team of dog-loving editors, dig up the best places for you to sit, stay and play with your four-legged friends. Brandie, 12-year-old boxer Thya and Mexican foster failure Pancho, reside in West Seattle and can often be found hanging out at Westcrest Dog Park.