One of the most common questions we get in the store is, “How can I control my dog’s weight?”.
As pleasing as it can be to have a plump, happy dog, a chubby young dog can lead to a middle aged dog with health or mobility issues, and then possibly a senior dog with uncomfortable, painful, even life threatening health problems.
While dogs do indeed come in all shapes and sizes, it is up to you to recognize what is the healthy weight for your dog. As any life long pet parent and pet lover will tell you, sometimes it’s just so tempting to spoil your four-legged family member in the way they most readily recognize: with food.
But the same goes for children and dogs — spoil them now, and they suffer the consequences later.
So many of our customers tell us they don’t know what to do when it seems that their dog is always hungry, and their only defense against those pleading eyes and begging paws is to give them just a LITTLE more food or just ONE more treat.
Trust me, I know those looks.
But just as with any healthy diet, keeping your dog at their optimal weight takes some diligence and discipline. Your dog depends on you to guard their health. We’ve found that with a little forethought to your dog’s lifestyle, it is very possible to Fido or Fluffy reach their happy and healthy weight.
So here are a few tips that we’ve found can help your dog reach or maintain their optimal weight. And remember, if you have any doubts about your dog’s health, or need guidance regarding your dog’s weight, ALWAYS consult a vet first.
Carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
“My dog is overweight, I need to put them on a low fat diet.” While there is some truth to this, it is not the whole picture.
As a very general rule, your dog is going to put on more weight and still be begging for more food if they are on a diet high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein. I realize that this can seem antithetical to weight loss. So many customers balk when they explain to us that they have a relatively healthy dog, who is developing a weight issue, and we suggest a diet that is low carbs, with a fair amount of fat, and higher in protein.
The thing is, a low fat diet is likely to contribute to overfeeding. Let me explain.
Fat is what makes your dog feel fuller longer. While “fat has more than twice the calories per gram of protein or carbs” (Whole Dog Journal), it will keep your dog satisfied and less likely to be begging for more food, thus leading to overfeeding. Overfeeding, (an excess of calories — calories being energy that needs to be spent or risk being stored as fat) being one of the primary culprits of cultivating an overweight dog.
They key is moderation. If your dog is kept on a moderate fat/protein/carbohydrate diet, as opposed to a diet of extremes, you are more likely to be able to control their food intake.
As you will hear us say time and time again in the store, dogs need protein. Protein contributes to lean muscle, where as carbohydrates are stored as fat. Even a high performance dog (“doggie athlete”) benefits from a diet with high protein, a good amount of carbs, and a balance of fat.
What does this all add up to?
Unless your dog has a specific health condition that limits protein or fat intake (don’t guess, talk to your vet), most overweight dogs will benefit from a diet higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. You may recognize this on a package as “grain free”, “low grain”, or “low starch”.
Every dog needs a different levels of protein/carbs/fat in their diet. An adult dog on kibble should have a protein level of at least 25% in their food (give or take depending on age, activity level, size, etc) and 12-16% fat (again give or take depending on your dog’s needs). A food higher in protein tends to be lower in carbohydrates (usually).
From Whole Dog Journal, “Helping Your Dog Lose Weight“, regarding protein in canned food:
For canned foods, subtract the moisture percentage from 100, then look for protein that is at least one third the remainder, and fat that is one quarter the remainder or a little less. Usually that means protein is at least 8 percent and fat is around 5 to 6 percent, but these values may be slightly lower for foods with very high moisture content (80 percent or more).
And remember, it isn’t just the levels of proteins/carboyhydrates/fat, it’s the quality. Higher quality ingredients, from whole food sources, are more readily absorbed by your dog, offer them more “fuel”, and will allow them to be fed less while remaining satisfied and at a healthy weight.
However, remember, balance is key. Giving your dog more protein than they can handle can have adverse reactions too. Try out different foods, making sure to to give them adequate time to transition to a new food. If your dog is having consistent diarrhea from a higher protein food, their body may not be able to absorb so much protein. We recommend trying a different food with a different protein balance.
Some options for balanced, higher protein dog foods we carry are: Orijen, Acana, Great Life, Primal, The Honest Kitchen, ZiwiPeak, Fromm Four-Star line, and Taste of the Wild.
“Free Feeding” Vs. Scheduled Feeding
Some dogs can be trusted to only eat as much as they need then stop themselves.
Some dogs will eat any and all food that is put out.
Some dogs will just eat and eat and eat and eat and eat and eat and eat and eat and eat and eat if they can.
It’s up to you to discern what feeding program is best for your dog. In our experience, we’ve found that most overweight dogs benefit from scheduled meals 2-3 times a day.
While “free feeding” or just filling up your dog’s food dish whenever it is empty is the easiest way to feed your dog, it provides the least control over your dog’s calorie intake. You may inadvertently be overfeeding your dog, thus resulting in excessive weight gain.
Getting your dog on a feeding schedule, for example, morning and night or morning, afternoon, and night, can allow you to monitor how much your dog is eating. Very often, simply getting your dog on a feeding schedule can be all it takes for them to lose weight.
But say your dog is already on a feeding schedule, or they get on a feeding schedule and they do not lose enough weight? Then it is time to look at portion control.
Every dog food is different, so we always recommend looking on the your dog’s food bag or can to see how much the pet food company recommends feeding. Most premium and reputable dog foods will have a few different options for feeding such as “puppy”, “adult”, “active adult”, or “senior”. Each of these options may also depend on weight or “ideal” weight.
Also, a higher quality, balanced food with good quality ingredients will yield greater absorption and energy conversion, thus making for more nutrients used and less stored potentially as fat. Very often you simply NEED to feed less of a premium dog food because it is more nutritionally dense.
The trick is when a dog parent thinks they need to feed as much Acana, for example, as they do a low quality dog food with lots of empty calories and fillers. In this case, a dog may put on too much weight because “less is more” with a food like Acana, and your dog is getting too much of a good thing!
We recommend looking at the recommended feeding on food labels as a great starting point. More often than not, dog parents with overweight dogs look at the recommended feeding on a dog food bag and say, “Oh no! I’ve been feeding WAY more than that!”. Just cutting down to the recommended amount (slowly, not all at once, reduce over the course of a week or two) could be all your dog needs.
In some cases, you might need to reduce even further. As with most things in your dogs diet, slower is better. Try reducing your dog’s overall daily consumption of food by 5% for two weeks. At this point, if your dog has still not showed signs of weight loss, I’d consult a vet. They may recommend further reducing their diet, or changing their food. Remember, just like with human weight loss, a “crash diet” is not only going to make for a hungry, confused, and unhappy dog, but also one that may not be able to keep off the weight.
Diet and exercise. We hear this everywhere. Optimum health for all creatures great and small comes from diet and exercise.
Your dog is no exception.
Some breeds are predisposed to weight gain. You could be feeding them perfectly, but then your pooch returns to snoozing by the couch, and they get too fat. For reasons far beyond weight loss — heart health, mental health, joint healthy, among others — exercise is great for your dog.
But as with any exercise program — human or canine — start slow. Your dog may not be ready to go on a two mile run with you. Just playing fetch for 10 minutes might be taxing enough. Know your dog’s physical limitations, and slowly build endurance.
Just making sure that you actually take your dog for a walk everyday could be an excellent start. If your dog has joint issues, going for a swim (with a doggie life vest!) could be a effective and gentle way to get some exercise. Plus, spending time exercising your dog is a fantastic way to further bond, and really get to know your dog’s playful side!
IMPORTANT: Before starting a regular exercise program for an obese dog, we’d recommend consulting your vet. If your dog has never exercised before or is older, there may be physical issues such as joint health, respiratory health, and overheating (especially in Hawai’i!) that you need to be aware of.
Treats should be counted as part of your dog’s overall diet.
Very often pet parents feed their dogs the appropriate type and amount of food, but then their dogs get lots of treats (chews included).
If your dog is overweight, you might want to take stock of where their treats are coming from. Are you giving your dog lots of treats? Are they getting treats while training? At daycare? From well meaning aunties and uncles?
If your dog is being over treated, this could be the source of their weight gain.
It is often helpful to cut back on your dog’s food a little bit if they are getting lots of training treats. Sometimes even a supplemental snack such as a raw meaty bone, while healthy, can be a source of excess calories. Be vigilant about where your dog’s calories are coming from.
Also, note if your dog is “tasting” your other dog or cat’s food. To make sure your dog is only eating his or her food, it is sometimes necessary to play “dinner sheriff” and make sure everyone eats their OWN dinner.
This goes double for people food. While a little piece of plain cooked or uncooked meat is okay to give to your dog from time to time, offering them human table scraps may be the source of their weight gain. Food prepared for humans could have all kinds of salt, sugar, fat, and carbs your dog just does not need. As hard as it is not to share your food with your dog, most of the time, it’s best if they only eat their own food.
If your dog continues to gain wait, absolutely cannot lose weight, or is exhibiting symptoms other than being overweight, consult your vet.
Many canine ailments such as hypothyroidism, some cancers, and Cushings Disease exhibit as excessive weight gain or bloating. You know your dog. If something is JUST NOT RIGHT, go to the vet. Better safe than sorry.
We all want our four-legged family members to live the longest, healthiest lives possible. Helping them maintain a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your dog. And while your dog may not “love” his or her new diet plan, in the long run, they will benefit from added years of health and happiness with you!
Take care of each other,
~Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger
Sources: Pet.webmd.com and Whole Dog Journal
As always, check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet or body care. The Calvin & Susie Blogger always researches to the best of her ability, but she is not a vet. This blog is not in any way meant to replace veterinary advice or care. When in doubt always ask a vet.