Obesity isn’t just a problem for people, it’s a problem for our dogs, too.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), its fourth annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Study “found that approximately 55 percent of dogs were overweight or obese.”
Overweight dogs are more prone to diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. They will also likely suffer damage to their joints, bones and ligaments as well as have trouble breathing. They will have to deal with a decreased immune system and an increased risk of cancer, not to mention a few other serious health issues, all of which can be prevented with a proper diet and exercise.
How To Tell If Your Dog is Overweight
The signs are usually pretty obvious, but there are ways to detect if your dog has started to gain weight before the problem gets out of hand.
Pets.webmd.com states, “To tell if your pet could shed a few (pounds), feel around his ribs and spine. You should be able to locate both, with only a thin layer of fat separating the skin from the bones. If you can’t find the rib cage, you have an overweight dog.”
When your dog is getting his check-up, ask your vet to provide you with his optimal weight.
“As a rule of thumb, 15 percent above that weight is obese; zero to 15 percent is overweight,” says pets.webmd.com.
How to Start Your Dog on a Diet
Losing weight for dogs is pretty much the same as the way humans lose weight – cut calories and fat and increase exercise.
You’ll first need to take an honest assessment of your dog’s diet, including treats and table scraps, and then adjust accordingly. After you’ve figured out your dog’s total diet for the day, all you may need to do is cut back on treats. However, be realistic about that as treats are more than just snacks your dog does tricks for.
“If you or your family likes to give them, it’s unlikely that a no-treat policy will succeed,” Louise Murray, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM and director of medicine for the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital writes on pets.webmd.com. “Choose healthy alternatives, such as veggies or rice cakes, and decide at the beginning of each day exactly how many the dog is allowed; put this amount in a bowl, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Your next step is to reduce portions: “Murray recommends immediately cutting daily food intake by 15 percent to 20 percent for a six to eight-week period, then analyzing the results,” reports pets.webmd.com. “Additionally, your veterinarian can calculate the exact amount of calories your pet needs per day to lose weight based on his current size, ideal body weight, energy level and general health.”
If these tactics do not work, then it might be time to switch from regular dog food to diet.
It’s best to consult your vet on this one as factors such as size, age and overall health will dictate the type and/or brand your vet recommends. Your dog may need to go on prescription dog food until his weight is under control.
“Some diet foods that are higher in certain types of fiber can help a dog feel fuller, while ingesting fewer calories,” Murray continues. “If you decide to switch to diet dog food, do so slowly, each day mixing in more and more of the healthier fare.”
When switching foods, peteducation.com offers the following advice: “To avoid problems, switch to a new food slowly, over the course of at least seven to 10 days. Start by mixing 25 percent new and 75 percent old food, and feed that for at least three days. If all goes well, go to 50 percent of each type of food for three days, then 75 percent new and 25 percent old for three days. By now, your pet should be ready to eat only the new food. If problems occur, consult your veterinarian for advice.”
The short answer is several months. Why? Because you want your dog to lose weight in a healthy way with exercise and proper nutrition.
Peteducation.com says, “In general, a good goal would be to have your pet lose 0.5-2 percent of his body weight per week. For instance, a 50-pound dog should lose 1/4 to 1 pound per week.”
How to Choose the Right Dog Food
First take into account your dog’s age and activity level. Since no two dogs are the same, then it follows that no two dog foods will be the same, either.
“A puppy eating an adult food will not get the higher amounts of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals he needs for proper growth,” states peteducation.com. “An adult dog eating puppy food is likely to become overweight. An older dog may need a senior food that is more easily digested. When it comes to nutrition, one size does not fit all.”
Read the label. Look for high-quality ingredients like meat, fish, eggs or, at the very least, food that lists meat and fish as the second ingredient. Meat, fish and eggs have a high percentage of protein in the form of digestible and usable amino acids.
According to peteducation.com, “High-quality ingredients are essential for a healthy food. Some economy brands of dog food are made from inexpensive ingredients that are not easily digested, and therefore, do not provide the best nutrition. While they may technically meet the legal specifications for percentages of protein, fat, carbohydrates, etc., these foods have lower energy values and lower-grade proteins. Because of this, many health-building nutrients may pass right through your dog’s system without being absorbed. It also means that you have to feed larger amounts of that lower quality food to provide your pet with the same nutrition as a smaller amount of premium food. When you compare the cost of these foods on a per-serving basis, and realize how quickly you go through a bag, economy foods may actually cost more in the long run.”
Go over the guaranteed analysis with a fine-tooth comb to ensure that your dog’s needs are being met.
Petmd.com recommends “the protein content to be at least 30 percent, the fat to be at least 18 percent, preservatives to be found via vitamin E and/or C, and for omega fatty acid to be present. Supplementation can be harmful, especially calcium supplementation to a pregnant dog. If a good quality dog food is being fed, no special supplementation should be needed. If a supplement is required to make the dog look or feel better or whelp healthier pups, you should instead change the food.”