According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of all dogs in the United States are considered overweight or obese. If your pup is looking a little “husky,” there’s a chance he may need to shed some pounds.
As pet owners, we love our dogs unconditionally. Fido is adorable, overweight or not. That being said, extra weight on your dog can be a serious health concern and should not be overlooked. A pooch who’s just 10% above the ideal weight is more susceptible to health problems such as joint/mobility issues, diabetes, skin problems, kidney and liver disease, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and cancer.
Fortunately, many of these conditions are preventable or even reversible. Knowing how to help your dog lose weight can improve his quality of life, and even add an additional two years of snuggles and playtime to his life.
Is Your Dog Overweight?
Because a dog’s ideal weight varies by breed, a number won’t be the best indicator of whether your dog needs to lose weight. If you’re unsure whether your dog is overweight, try to feel for his ribs. If you can’t feel them when placing your hands at his side, there’s likely too much fat in the way.
You should also be able to tell with a visual test. When looking at Fido from above, you’ll want to see a defined waist. From the side, you should see an upward-sloping belly.
If your dog looks more like a blimp than an hourglass with a belly hanging down below the chest, you’ll probably want to consider putting him on a weight loss plan.
Rule Out Medical Conditions
If the diet isn’t the problem, then changing the diet won’t fix the issue.
Before making any considerable changes to your dog’s lifestyle, be sure to consult with your vet and rule out any possible underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to his weight gain.
The vet will also be able to determine any other potential weight loss obstacles, and help you come up with an individualized plan that suits your pooch.
Many of us associate losing weight with hitting the gym or taking up running. For humans and dogs alike, though, exercise is only 30-40% of weight loss. The other 60-70% is all diet.
If you typically follow the portion size guidelines on dog food packaging, you may want to consider another method. These guidelines tend to be generalized for all dogs—but every dog is different. In order to ensure the proper diet for your dog, you’ll need to consider dietary needs and restrictions, underlying medical conditions, breed, age, size, and activity level.
You’ll also want to take whether your dog is spayed or neutered into consideration. According to Ernie Ward, DVM, and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, spaying or neutering reduces energy requirements by 20-30%. This means that a spayed or neutered dog could potentially be overfed by 20-30%.
Focus on smaller, more frequent meals instead of a few large ones each day. This will help to regulate your dog’s appetite and insulin levels, which will boost metabolism and help your pup shed pounds more easily.
Be sure to also focus on the quality of the food in addition to the quantity. For example, a low carb, high fiber diet will help your dog lose weight more easily than a diet consisting of processed dog foods full of extra carb fillers. For some (but not all) pet owners, making the switch to a raw diet is the right choice.
Of course, we can’t forget about treats! There’s no need to get rid of treats completely—after all, they’re great for positive reinforcement when training—but you should still be mindful of the quality and quantity of treats you’re giving to your pooch. Treats shouldn’t make up any more than 10% of Fido’s daily calories. Try switching it up every so often and opting for some dog-friendly vegetables or non-toxic peanut butter instead of a regular treat.
If your dog needs some extra dietary support, Pet Honesty’s Digestive Probiotics Chews promote healthy digestion and nutrient absorption.
Talk to your vet before making any changes to your dog’s diet.
Regular walks are essential not only for exercise, but also for mental stimulation and allowing your dog to explore his world through sniffing. If you’re already going on daily walks with your four-legged friend, try gradually increasing the intensity and length of your outings.
Choose the activity level based on what’s appropriate for your dog’s energy levels and physical limitations. Introduce activities slowly. If you push too hard right away with a dog who isn’t ready, you could risk him forming a negative association, injury, or heatstroke. Exercise should be a fun bonding activity for you and your dog, rather than a painful or uncomfortable experience.
Slow and steady is key. Weight loss takes time, so prepare to be in it for the long haul. Your dog should ideally begin losing 3-5% body weight per month, with significant results within 6-8 months. If you’re not seeing similar results, something else may need to change.
For dogs who have trouble with physical activity, Pet Honesty’s PureMobility Chews ease joint stiffness and promote mobility.
Some other changes you can make to your dog’s routine include:
- Moving the food bowl to another area of the house every so often. If the food moves, so will Fido!
- Slowing down your dog’s eating with a puzzle feeder to help him feel more full.
- Using a variety of games and toys to keep your dog interested in physical activity.
- Establishing a designated meal time, rather than an all-day buffet.
- Providing plenty of water. Dogs, like humans, can often mistake thirst for hunger.
If your dog is begging for food, he may not actually be hungry. Instead, give him some attention or go for a walk. Many dogs associate food with love, but some bonding time with his favorite person may be what he really needs to satisfy that craving.