Two of the most popular New Year’s resolutions people have for themselves are losing weight and living healthier. Although dogs can’t make resolutions for themselves, we as their trusted parents can take an appraisal to make some changes for them.
With over 50% of pets reportedly falling into the category of being overweight or obese according to the Association for Pet Obestiy Prevention (APOP), it’s no surprise that weight loss and healthy digestion is going to be top of the resolution list for many pup parents.
Pets maintained at a healthy weight live longer and have fewer health complications as they age, including arthritis and mobility issues, and the chronic inflammation brought about by excess fat in the body.
Food choices and questions about digestion are among the most common and popular lines of questioning veterinarians get during pet visits. In this article, we’ll discuss 5 tips to get you started on fulfilling a New Year’s resolution of weight and dietary health for your dog.
Know Your Dog’s Calorie Needs
Just like with us, knowing how much food is okay requires knowing how many calories are okay per day. The most successful weight loss plans for people involve figuring out your calorie needs depending on your body condition, lifestyle, and health needs. This is very much the same for pets.
Not sure what’s normal for your dog? Make sure to ask your vet at your pup’s next appointment. If it’s not coming up for awhile, check out this ideal dog weight list by breed at APOP’s website.
Then, to get a rough idea of calorie needs per day that your pup needs, check out this chart of Dog and Cat Daily Calorie Needs from APOP. At the very bottom of the weight chart, you’ll find some helpful guidelines on how to approach helping your pup to lose those pounds.
The formula included helps you to calculate your dog’s specific needs. Since formulas and math can be confusing, make sure to double check with your vet, who can help you calculate and determine calorie needs based on the age and activity level of your pup.
Once you know the calories, how do you use them? Whatever your dog’s calorie needs are determined to be either based on the chart or through doing the calculation yourself, take this number of kilocalories per day and divide it by the calories listed on your dog’s package of food. This will give you how many cups, cans, pouches, etc. to feed per day.
If you home cook for your dog, this makes things more challenging, as you will need to figure out how many calories are found in each ingredient you use to ensure your dog is getting the right amount. This can be one important reason to seek help from a board certified veterinary nutritionist to help you with formulation and calorie amounts for home-made diets.
Exercise is important for sure, but it provides far better benefits for other aspects of health, like good muscle tone, cardiovascular health, and general happiness. Many folks make the mistake of believing they can take their dog for an extra walk to lose the weight while keeping dietary habits the same. Unless you plan to get your dog into highly athletic events like sporting or agility, that extra fifteen minute walk is unlikely to help significantly with weight loss.
Make Sure Your Food is Balanced
If you’re feeding some kind of commercial diet, you want to make sure that the right amounts and combinations of nutrients are included. The best way to do this is to look for a statement on the bag from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
AAFCO provides guidelines on minimum and maximum amounts of essential nutrients that need to be included in pet food. While many US States and jurisdictions have included AAFCO guidelines in law for pet food manufacture, not all manufacturers have to follow them, so it’s important to check.
If you home cook, it’s important to be mindful that there is a lot of room for error when it comes to the right balance of nutrients, and mistakes are common. Your veterinarian can provide general guidelines, but good nutrient balance in homemade diets is another reason to consider involving a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to help ensure the right amounts and types of ingredients are providing the right scope of nutrition.
Avoid Table Food
Is all table food bad? Of course not. Frozen vegetables are a crunchy healthy snack many dogs love, but the habit of feeding your dog a little bit of this or that from the table can have worse consequences.
Table food can be an unpredictable source of added calories, making it difficult to balance that out with the primary diet. In addition, if the family is in the habit of dropping food, this heightens the chance of a mistake where a food that is toxic for dogs may end up getting eaten.
Remember the big foods to avoid like chocolate, raisins, grapes, and sugar-free candy. A list of additional foods to avoid can be found comprehensively at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website.
Not all pups require digestive aids, but every dog’s digestive system is unique. If you feel your dog needs something to help boost healthy digestion, you can consider digestive aid supplements.
Digestive aid supplements can include probiotics, prebiotics, fiber, and digestive enzymes. Probiotics help to keep the delicate balance of the bacterial populations in the intestinal tract happy. Bacterial imbalance or dysbiosis can be a common reason for chronic stool problems.
Prebiotics, which can include some types of fiber, help to provide nutrients for those bacteria in the gut vital for healthy digestion.
Fiber itself can help to keep stools regular by helping either with bulk or better transit time from start to finish, depending on the fiber types.
Digestive enzymes may be helpful to help the body break down certain nutrients, leading to better absorption and digestion.
Because there is a high degree of variability in nutraceutical supplements like digestive aids, always make sure to look for products made in the US that carry the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) Quality Seal. Similar to the USP Verified Mark you can find on supplements for yourself, the NASC Quality Seal means that companies like Pet Honesty hold themselves to a higher standard for manufacture and quality.
Get in to See the Vet
While these first four tips are a very helpful place to start to make good on a New Year’s resolution for your dog, they can’t fully replace a check-up for your pup and discussion with your veterinarian.
If you have concerns about your dog’s weight, your veterinarian can discuss your furry friend’s body condition and help determine how much weight needs to be lost, as well as a reasonable time frame and plan to get there.
Do you have a question about your dog’s diet or are you contemplating changing to a new one? Your vet can help discuss some considerations for diet selection based on your dog’s health needs.
Your vet can also help discuss and rule out concerns for more serious health problems related to weight and digestion. Issues like unexplained weight loss, chronic stool problems, and even recurrent skin and ear problems can all be related to dietary and digestive health. An annual physical exam (biannual for our older pets) and some wellness lab work testing can go a long way towards both keeping early tabs on anything of concern as well as providing you peace of mind that you’re starting off your new year in a good place with your furry friend.