I lost 40 pounds by gaining 25. During my fast paced life of working part time, attending college as an adult full time, and being a then closeted wife with an active Cocker Spaniel, my eating habits were less than stellar. I did not overeat, but when I did eat, I chose fast food and less than healthy selections.
Enter my Cocker Spaniel and she literally got me out of the house, taught me to slow down, and helped this dog mom slim down. I didn’t feel internally what the number on the scale said, but numbers don’t lie: And so I started doing more with my dog and the pounds came off. She weighed 25 pounds and helped me take 40 pounds off!
Fast Forward to 2015
We are a nation of obesity, plain and simple. According to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of all U.S. dogs and cats are obese.
Read that again: More than 50 percent of all dogs and cats in this country weigh more than they need to for the size of their frames; not only that: they are not just over a healthy weight, but heavy enough to cause serious health issues in the short and long term.
Do Overweight Dogs Have Overweight Owners?
If you Google that question, then yes, pretty much the consensus points to this reality. There are many overweight humans who have dogs that reflect the same.
There are, however, millions of overweight people with pets who have not developed their parents’ eating habits.
Here are a few reasons that dogs are getting heavier:
- Every time people eat, the dog eats: A nibble here, a table scrap there: Trust me, I know all too well that look of longing and “but please, I may just starve, and I am so cute, and please just give me a bit of what you have on that plate, Mom.”
- We work all day (and/or night) and we feel guilty about not spending the time our dogs deserve: So we give them a treat for being a good boy/girl.
- We as a culture love our dogs: They are family and I am going to let him or her be happy: The way to that happiness is through their mouths.
- Society and culture have changed: We are a nation world that moves at a rapid pace. Social media means more time with our noses down, thumbs clattering on a keypad, and less time enjoying the outdoors on a walk, run, stroll, etc with our dogs.
- Crappy dog food: Highly caloric, carb saturated, dog food that often time is not in the best interest of the dog: Some varieties of dog food, like some varieties of people food, are crappy. Garbage in, garbage out, and garbage that packs on pounds.
- Overfeeding dog food: The labeling is not always accurate. Often times, the guidelines on a bag or can of dog food are just that: Guidelines. All dogs are not created equal, and they metabolize food differently. Talk to your vet and/or a canine nutritionist for caloric requirements. Everything from age to health conditions, size, and activity level dictate how much (and what kind of) food a dog should consume.
What you can do about your overweight dog
- Talk to your vet: Ask why the dog is overweight. It could be an underlying medical condition.
- Move: A good starting point is a regular walk around the park or neighborhood, with gradual increases. Rainy days, cold days, or snowy days do not make for good excuses. I wrote about indoor fun for dogs, so make no excuses. Just do it!
- Portion control: Keep the treats you plan to give your dog in a handy snack bag, and allocate the day’s treats. When the bag is empty, treats are done. Make it rewarding for the dog. Try stuffing a Kong toy with green bean pieces, low-fat snacks, and other items like 1-calorie chia seed infused SMARTCOOKEE treats, which are healthy alternatives. Watch for sugars added as filler to many store-bought treats. Always check with your vet for the amount to feed, as well as guidelines in feeding. If it says sugar on the label, I simply do not purchase it for my dog.
- Switch foods gradually: I thought I knew all about dog food, but I recently learned about dehydrated food. I cannot begin to express how thrilled I am with the Honest Kitchen and Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl. My dog licks the bowl clean. Bonus points for flavor options, ease of storage, and preparation (just add water, wait, mix, and feed). Plus, it helps with the firmness of stools.
- Human foods high in fat, sugar, or sodium are to be avoided: The last thing on anyone’s to-do list is an emergency visit to the vet due to pancreatitis. Foods that are fried, oily, or greasy (chicken, turkey, ham, beef bones, gravy, stuffing, pastries, rolls, cheese, and other starchy or rich foods and desserts) are all culprits and should be avoided. Never allow dogs to have grapes, raisins, chocolate, caffeine, or alcoholic beverages. To keep dogs lean, it is important the entire family and those visiting know the rules.
- Each family member must be on board: Your dog’s health depends upon everyone working together. Make a pact. If necessary, feed your dog separately in his own room away from the kitchen or dining table. The holidays are just around the corner. Don’t cheat.
Remember, there is no shame in admitting you need help to learn how to help your dog shed pounds.
Katie Newman wrote a how-to guide for canine weight loss, The Amazing Treat Diet for Dogs, to help other dog parents. Her dog Hustler suffered numerous ailments, which led to a more sedentary lifestyle — and extra pounds. Of particular interest are the appendices, which include toxic foods for dogs and a handy fruit and vegetable nutrition chart. Peggy Frezon also penned a Dieting with my Dog book with helpful tips.
How you can tell if your dog is overweight
Feel around his ribs and spine; you should be able to locate both, with only a thin layer of fat separating skin from bones. If you are unable to find the ribcage, you have an overweight dog. Viewing the dog from above, you should be able to see a moderate narrowing at the waist just past the ribcage. A large and drooping abdomen is another sign that your pet is overweight. A bulging line from the ribcage to the hips also indicates an overweight dog.
Ask your veterinarian to evaluate your dog’s size at every check-up. Once your canine has reached maturity, ask for his optimal weight.
How to tell if you are overweight
Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. You can determine your own BMI here.
Can a Dog Be Too Thin?
On the flip side of the coin, yes, a dog can be too thin — just like people — and this is unhealthy, as well. Read our piece on underweight dogs, as this is a danger, too.
Are Vets Afraid To Speak Up?
There is a theory that rears its ugly head now and again that some veterinarians may hesitate in advising a pet parent that their dog needs to lose weight. People get insulted: They may not want to hear it, they may disagree, and ultimately they will take their business elsewhere.
According to one article published by the American Hospital Association, “The greatest prevalence of obesity has been identified in dogs and cats between the ages of 5 years and 12 years, so that age group may benefit from increased vigilance and perhaps a diet change to a less calorie-dense food.
Success for weight loss of the dog depends on your willingness, interest, and ability to follow recommendations provided. And no, it does not mean feeding your dog a low calorie cardboard- tasting dog food prescribed by the veterinarian. There are plenty of things a pet parent can do to help their dog safely and effectively lose weight without compromising taste or quality of life.
Taking the Weight Off
Working in tandem with the veterinarian and/or a veterinary nutritionist to determine calorie intake is important. You don’t want the weight to come off too fast.
To determine how many calories your dog should eat to take the weight off, your veterinarian will need to calculate your dog’s ideal weight based on his breed and size. After you’ve put your dog on a weight loss program, it’s critical that you determine if it’s working for your dog.
The Begging Trap
Packing on pounds usually begins when the dog begs for extra food, so with that in mind, here are some things you can do to minimize guilt and manage the begging:
- Do not use a self-feeder. While this seems obvious, auto-feeders are nothing more than unlimited candy machines to an overweight dog.
- Pet your dog or play with it when it begs for food. Many dogs substitute food for affection so flip the equation and you may find that playtime displaces mealtime.
- Go for a walk with your dog when he begs. The distraction and interaction may be just enough to make it forget its desire for food.
- Feed small meals frequently – especially give a last feeding for those dogs that like to wake you up in the wee hours begging for more goodies – divide the total volume or calories into four to six smaller meals – whatever you do, don’t feed extra food
- When the bowl is empty and your dog is pleading, add a few kibbles to the bowl. A few means only a few – not a handful. If you don’t feed kibble, then add a bit of the soft food or homemade diet.
- If more than one person may feed the dog, you should measure out the total daily food into a separate container such as a covered food storage container. Then, everybody knows how much the dog has been fed, and how much is left for the day. If you enjoy giving treats to your dog, feed her several kibbles from the container rather than giving her high calorie dog biscuits.
- Give a couple of pieces of vegetables such as baby carrots, frozen sliced carrots, broccoli, green beans, celery or asparagus. Most dogs love crunchy treats so make it a healthy – and low-calorie – choice.
- Offer fresh water instead of food. If your dog is eyeing the empty food bowl, a drink of cold, fresh water may satisfy the craving.
(source for these begging tips: VCA Hospitals)
How to React to Negative Comments
If someone insults me, I take it with a grain of salt: The world is an uncertain place and I generally brush off negativity. When someone insults my dog, we have a problem: Can you relate?
Here’s a scenario I’ve run into, and feel free to borrow from this exchange:
What They Say: “He eats well, doesn’t he?”
What You Say: “I’m glad my dog cannot understand that you just insulted his weight, but I heard you loud and clear. Please refrain from being judgmental.”
Note: I have a Cocker Spaniel and when his coat is fuller, he looks heavier even though his weight is ideal. Unless the person telling you your dog is overweight is the dog’s veterinarian, please refrain from verbal rudeness.
The bottom line is that yes, there are overweight people with thin dogs and overweight dogs with thin parents: If the overall health of a person or pet is compromised due to eating habits and/or food choices that are less than stellar, there is no shame in seeking help to get on the right track.
In an effort to keep our readers fully informed, Fidose of Reality continues our twice monthly series, Medicine Vs. Mom, featuring Rachel Sheppard of My Kid Has Paws. Check her post out here on the topic of overweight dogs, too.
Is your dog in need of a few pounds off the waistline??? What are your thoughts on the topic? Let us know below.