I’ve been looking at my dog the last few days, and realised he is quite obese. It feels like this happened overnight, but it is with shame in my heart that I know I am to blame. A piece of cheese here, a cookie there and all of a sudden he looks like a sausage. I’m mortified and ashamed, but I know I can’t be alone.
Obesity in dogs is really bad for their health
Pet obesity is a common nutritional disorder in dogs and cats in “over-loved” households. Animals that are more than 20 percent over their ideal weight are considered obese, and heavier pets are prone to a torrent of weight-related disorders, including:
- Decreased Life Expectancy
- High Blood Pressure
- Ligament Issues
- Heart & Breathing Issues
- Anesthesia risk
- Even Cancer
How to tell if your dog is obese or headed in that direction
When evaluating a dog’s weight, vets do what’s called a body condition score, which consists of “a visual and hands-on examination,” says Alex German, small animal specialist at the U.K.’s University of Liverpool.
For instance, a dog at an ideal weight should have easily palpable ribs with minimal fat. A dog at a non-ideal weight may not have palpable ribs at all, and have a waist that’s barely discernable from above.
< Click on image to the left to view full body conditioning chart.
How does this happen?
If you’re like me and wondering, how on earth could I let it get this far – they say the eyes of love are forgiving. But I know the trifecta that is to blame for my situation:
- Too many Treats – I show love through food, and every time I make a cup of tea, or prepare lunch/dinner etc, a little piece of cheese, a cookie or table scraps go to the doggos. A treat here and a piece of cheese there all add up to more than the total caloric intake allowed for the day.
- Too Little Exercise – This is all on me. Although I play with them a few times during the day, play time is not enough. They do have their twice per week training walks, but since we started the training walks, we have not walked them outside of these sessions – and it’s been far too little exercise.
- Over Feeding – I only realised this the other day. I’ve been over feeding without realising it. I read our bag of Acana to see what the food quantity is meant to be and saw that they’ve changed it since I last read the bag! It now includes a breakdown for active vs non-active dogs – but since I had not checked this in so long (who knew they change this?!) I have technically been overfeeding daily quantities. Plus, I always put on a flavourant on-top of their food – such as a tablespoon of tuna, mince, or doggie wet food sachets – which all obviously add even more calories to their daily allowance.
The latest Acana feeding guide:
Also, I never pick up their bowls if they leave a couple of pellets in their bowls. But my little boy, often goes and snacks in the middle of the night and usually eats ALL the leftovers from both bowls. So I’ve been letting over eating go unchecked.
These bad habits end here. They are firmly out the door and we’re changing things up fast to improve their quality of life.
Dieting Your Dog – What can you do to help set things back on track
According to one article in my plethora of research on pet obesity,
“Pet owners should worry less about the amount of food that their pet is eating, and more about ensuring their pet is getting enough nutrients and calories for the animal’s breed and level of activity.”
- Correct Food Quantity – Feed the correct quantities for your dog’s activity level and check your dog food for their recommended daily allowance. It gets a bit grey ito whether you can feed less of your existing food, or need to feed a diet food, but most dog foods do have a ‘diet’ brand available as well. The general consensus here seems that the biggest issue is wrt perceived quantity, and just feeding less of what they’re used to may be a shock to the system, whereas feeding a lower caloric food that looks like it’s the same as before, usually works better.
- Exercise – Exercise them daily and try to increase the level of activity. If your pet has not had exercise for a while, or is not used to exercise – speak to your vet about how to slowly introduce more activity to their day. A general rule of thumb when it comes to exercise is that most dogs need 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Your furkid needs enough that they’re slowed down by the time it’s over.
- Monitor Treats – I’m personally creating a chart to make sure they are no longer over treated. Look for low calorie and healthy treats, and / or use treats only as a reward for good behaviour. Healthier treats are options that have no more than 10 calories per serving. In the latter instance, carrots are also a great option if your dog eats them; as well as meats such as droewors. As with human treats, some dog treats may be filled with sugar – which may make them crave more of it.
- Monitor Calories – Deduct any additional calories from their food intake – ie feed less food on days where they are getting more treats. And of course deduct any additional additives such as, in our case, the extra tuna or mince on top of their food.
- Decrease Intake Safely – make sure the weight comes off at a safe pace. Don’t just cut their food intake, or increase their exercise if they’re not used to it. If you’re unsure, speak to your vet.
How long does it take to get back in shape?
Losing weight requires a commitment to weight loss and fitness and attention to details. A safe weight loss for most dogs is 3-5% body weight loss per month. Most dogs will achieve their ideal weight within six to eight months.
I found this piece of advice particularly interesting:
“The first thing you can do to help your dog lose weight is to increase the intensity and length of your daily walk. Few dogs will naturally walk at a pace that generates the elevated heart rates needed for sustained aerobic activity and weight loss. Based on observations of people walking with their dogs, the average pace is 20 to 25 minutes per mile (12-15 minutes per kilometer), which is actually a stroll. They make frequent pauses (on average every one to two minutes) to allow their dog to smell an interesting object or mark territory. Walking for weight loss is very different than walking for pleasure. You should aim for a daily brisk 30-minute walk. With this sort of walking, you should break into a slight sweat within a few minutes.” Read on Creating A Weight Reduction Programme for Dogs
Keeping track of progress.
After you have put your dog on a weight loss program, it is critical that you determine if it is working for your dog. In general, your dog should be weighed at least every month until the ideal weight is achieved. Each dog is an individual and may require adjustments in the recommended diet or routine before finding the correct approach. If there is no significant weight loss in one month, (3-5% of the starting body weight), then the program will need to be modified. Sometimes, making only a slight change can deliver significant improvements.
If you’ve been in a similar situation, we’d love to hear your stories of how you managed to change your and your furkids habits and get back on track to lose the weight. Comment below!