Your dog is packing on some extra pounds. Don't worry, they can be an ideal body weight again with a little bit of extra effort on your part.
This pet information prescription will help you know what to do, how to help your dog transition to an ideal weight safely, and how to prevent weight gain from happening again in the future.
Nearly 56% of the dogs (and nearly 60% of the cats) in America are overweight or obese. With both conditions, excessive body fat causes inflammation. This inflammation can lead to lifelong diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, and many others.
Even before these diseases develop, overweight and obese dogs can struggle with normal day-to-day activities, including resting comfortably, getting up and down stairs, and regulating their temperature (particularly important for flat-nosed breeds like pugs and bulldogs).
Dogs are considered overweight when they are 10–20% above their ideal body weight. Obese dogs are 20% or more above their ideal body weight.
Common symptoms of being overweight or obese include a reluctance to exercise, difficulty getting up from a resting position, slower movement, labored breathing, and an overall decrease in activity.
Left unchecked, overweight and obese dogs can develop lifelong diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, heart disease and more. In addition to being uncomfortable in their daily lives, your dog's lifespan may be shortened.
Weight gain occurs when dogs consume too many calories and don't exercise enough to burn these calories off.
While there may be some breed, genetic, and sex (spayed vs unspayed) predispositions, becoming overweight or obese is most commonly a result of being fed too much. Very few dogs will self-regulate how much food they eat. As a result, it's important that owners feed a measured amount only at mealtimes (avoid having bowls out all the time), account for the calories in treats, and make exercise a part of their daily routine.
Occasionally, weight gain can be the result of a medical condition like diabetes, Cushing's disease, or hypothyroidism. If your dog has other symptoms (particularly if they are drinking more, urinating more, or have a skin condition), your veterinarian may recommend diagnostics to rule out any other conditions.
The first step in treatment is identifying there is a problem, and for every member of your dog’s household to understand it and the potential impact it can have on your dog’s health. Just like with human dieting, there can't be any cheating! If one family member is trying to control your pup's weight with portion control and exercise, but another family member is slipping them extra treats, your dog won't make any progress ... and their health will suffer.
After your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog as overweight or obese, it’s important to follow their nutritional recommendations and their exercise guidelines. Get a labeled measuring cup and properly measure your pet’s food (e.g., 1/4 cup) so you can be sure you’re giving the right amount your veterinarian recommended. Cut out any and all people food (table scraps), and reduce their treats – most dogs are just as happy with a few pieces of their kibble as a high-calorie dog treat. Make sure kids and neighbors aren’t sneaking in any extra treats!
The next step is incorporating regular exercise into your dog’s routine. Simple exercise could include:
If your senior dog is overweight, be careful to not overdo any physical exercise and choose appropriate activities for their aging body. Instead of long, continuous walks, take them on a sniffari where they can meander and sniff. Or take shorter walks frequently throughout the day. Based on your dog's specific health conditions, your veterinarian may be able to recommend specific types or amounts of exercise.
Check out more fun games and DIY toys to engage your dog's mind and body.
It is important to weigh your dog at home and keep a journal of their weight history. You will need to alert your vet if there are any drastic changes. In order to get an accurate weight on your pooch, simply weigh your dog alone on the scale if possible or hold them in your arms while you're the scale and then subtract your weight without your dog. This will give you your dog’s weight.
If you have a large breed dog or don't have a scale at home, most veterinary practices and pet stores have scales that they'll let you use at no cost, so plan to stop by with your dog and get a weigh in!
Start small – even if your pet is reluctant to exercise, even walking out to the mailbox and back can add up. Increase how long and how frequently you exercise your dog over time.
Have you ever worked out and then been so sore that you can't move for a day or two? The same thing can happen to your dog! Overexercising can also result in increased behavioral issues, such as anxiety or "out of control" excitement. It's important to introduce a new exercise regimen slowly and to not overdo it. Watch for these signs of over-exercise:
Reach out to your veterinarian if you're unsure if your pet's exercise amount/difficult is the right amount.
Your dog will definitely notice the decrease in calories, and might act like they are starving all of the time. To prevent any "hangry" behaviors, like begging, eating their meals too quickly, whining, or increased resource guarding behaviors, try these tricks:
Once you hit that goal weight, don’t slip back into old habits – keep your dog at an ideal body weight! This will decrease the risk of certain lifelong diseases. Remember, you should be able to feel Fido’s ribs!
You should weigh your dog every month, and you should be seeing a slow but steady reduction in weight.
Your vet will help ensure that the weight loss is not too rapid or excessive, and they will instruct you when your dog has reached their ultimate weight loss goal.
Your dog could start having more energy and a desire to play. You might just get your "puppy" back!
If your dog has not lost any weight in 2 months, you should consult your veterinarian. Your vet may recommend additional diagnostics to find out why your companion isn't losing weight or make changes to their specific diet.
The best prevention is to keep your pet on a strict diet (no table scraps) and daily exercise!