According to a study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of all U.S. dogs and cats are obese. It’s an epidemic. So when my darling (and devouring) Dexter dined a little too heavily, the vet issued me a stern reprimand. Gulp! A fat dog? Me?
I love dogs, I write about dogs, and my dog is a portly pooch? Well, not really portly, but he had gained two pounds. Ruling out any thyroid condition, I assessed table scraps, the type of dry food I was feeding him, and treats.
Fast forward two months, and my boy is leaner and I am a lot happier. He lost the two pounds, plus a teensy bit more. Here’s what I’ve learned about keeping dogs fit.
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.
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 Zuke’s salmon treats, which are only three calories a piece and a natural healthy alternative. 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.
- 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. 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. And my finicky friend loves the stuff.
- 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 Fido separately in his own room away from the kitchen or dining table.
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.
While sneaking a tidbit now and then isn’t so bad, dogs who are overweight are prone to knee injuries, pancreatic issues, liver disease, heart problems, trouble cooling off, snoring, and much more. And remember, just because a treat says “healthy” or “nutritious” does not make it so. I can read dog food and dog treat labels better than I can human food labels these days. It isn’t as hard as you might think. Becoming your dog’s advocate for what he consumes is pivotal for better health and increased longevity.
Got a pooch who can stand to lose a few pounds? Have you had any luck bringing her weight down? Bark at me in the comments below!
Note: I originally wrote this article for Dogster magazine and am re-running it here to help raise awareness for keeping dogs healthy!