It’s a topic that sends chills up the spine of dog parents everywhere: Fat pets. No one wants to admit their dog is overweight, but someone has to approach the topic. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reveals that 57.9% of cats and 52.7% of dogs are overweight or obese. That’s astounding. Many veterinarians don’t approach the sensitive topic with their clients because they fear repercussions in the form of losing a client. No one wants to hear that their dog could afford to lose weight.
This is fi-dose of reality and we are a no judgment zone but we are a very real place to give information to help dog parents make better, more well-informed decisions for their dogs. Today, October 7th, is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, but this is an epidemic that needs to be controlled year-round. We actually can love our dogs to death if we don’t take care of their weight. Here’s the scoop, an arsenal of info, and what to do to help your dog safely and effectively:
Tools to Determine if Your Dog is Overweight/Obese
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention , a 2 pound Yorkie is the same as an average female weighing 218 pounds and a 14 pound cat is equivalent to a 237 pound man? Did you consider that a 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5’ 4” female or 217 pound 5’ 9” male or a fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds (DSH) is equal to a 218 pound 5’ 4” female or 254 pound 5’ 9” male?
Use these weight equivalent charts to determine how much your pet weighs compared to an average adult human male or female. Click on breed/gender to view the charts. Note: For comparative purposes only. Your pet’s actual body condition should be determined by your veterinarian. Not intended to be used as a substitute for BCS or medical evaluation.
Keep in mind that these are guidelines. Some breeds are taller or bigger boned that others and mutts run the spectrum.
Log in What You Feed Your Pet and How Much Exercise He or She Gets
You’d be surprised to learn how much you feed your dog – and how rapidly treats can add up. Here is a handy food, treat, and activity planner that you can print and log in everything.
How To Assess 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 SMARTCOOKEE treats which are only ONE calorie 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. We also feed Dr. Harvey’s veg-to-bowl and that is a great way to fill a dog up without all the extra calories.
- 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.
Fun Ways to Help A Dog Get Fit
You cannot take weight off a dog the way you would in a person: In fact, both should be slow and steady. Back at the end of September, a fun Pet Fit Challenge started. to step up to the plate and make a positive health change for their pet. Though this ends October 7th, you can sign up to get tips and advice from expert trainers, vets and nutritionists to help you achieve your pet’s fitness goals.
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.
You can monitor your dog’s daily activities, feedings, and calories to make sure your dog is a SlimDoggy, not a chubby puppy by clicking the Slim Doggy assortment of tools here.
Search the SlimDoggy food database to check the calories, protein, fat, and carbs, and ingredients of your dog’s food. We even provide a ranking (based on ingredients) so you can quickly assess the relative goodness of each food.
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 Safely Help a Dog Lose Weight
Reduce the amount of food and treats you feed gradually rather than making drastic changes all at once. If you cut back on the the amount of food too dramatically, it will abruptly change your dog’s metabolism. This makes it more difficult to lose weight and easier to gain it back. Keep in mind that slow and steady weight loss is more likely to result in long-term results and success.
According to the experts at Whole Dog Journal, weight your dog frequently, especially when first starting a weight-loss program. Aim for weight loss of 3 to 5 percent of body weight per month, or one percent per week. A 50-pound dog should lose about half a pound per week, or 2 pounds per month.
One of the best articles I’ve ever read on canine weight loss and the safe, proper way to do it comes from Whole Dog Journal. Read the canine safe weight loss article 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.
I have a Cocker Spaniel and when his coat is fuller, he looks heavier even though his weight is ideal. Some people can be verbally rude and tell me that my dog is well, fat. He is not. If you face this situation, feel free to borrow my commentary:
What They Say: “He eats well, doesn’t he?” or “Your dog is fat.”
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.”
QUESTIONS: Have you ever dealt with an overweight dog? How did you handle it?