Weight loss is tough for anyone—two- or four-legged. However, losing weight and getting in shape cannot only add years to your pet’s life, but they also make those extra years more enjoyable. Helping your cuddly canine shed a few pounds may be easier than you think. It simply requires understanding the importance of weight loss and fitness, paying attention to detail, and seeking assistance from your veterinary team.
Why a healthy weight is important for your dog
If a dog is just five pounds over its ideal weight, it’s at risk for developing some serious medical conditions. When a dog is overweight or obese, it’s not a question of if it will develop a related illness, but rather how many and how soon. Some of the common disorders associated with excess weight include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Chronic inflammation
- High blood pressure
- Respiratory disease
- Kidney disease
- Many forms of cancer
It is expected that overweight and obese dogs will have shorter lives than their fitter counterparts. Heavy dogs tend to be less energetic and playful. It’s common to think dogs that lie around are just lazy, making it easy to overlook the lethargy that results from being overweight or obese.
Start with a Medical Exam
One of our veterinarians will examine your pet to make sure your pet does not have a medical condition, such as hypothyroidism or hyperadrenocorticism, amongst others that may be causing your dog’s excess weight. An exam with some blood work and a good medical history will rule out these diseases before putting your dog on a weight loss plan. Too many dogs start a diet and fail simply because overeating and lack of activity weren’t the problem—a disease was.
A weight-loss formula seems simple: fewer calories, in plus more calories out equals weight loss. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Once we recommend a diet, the next step is calculating the calories your dog needs. First, we will calculate your dog’s ideal weight. If your dog has a lot of weight to lose, we may strive for an initial goal weight that is higher than your dog’s ideal weight. We will use your dog’s initial goal or ideal weight to figure out how many calories your dog should eat each day.
A safe guideline for dogs is losing 3-5% percent body weight per month under a doctor’s supervision.
If you feed too much, your dog won’t lose weight. If you feed too little, your dog could get sick. To figure out how many calories are in your pet’s food we will need to check the label.
The art of changing foods
You’ll most likely need to offer your dog a diet food if it’s overweight. When you’re introducing a new food, allow several days for the transition.
Exercise the Right Way
Based on our studies of observations of people walking with their dogs, the average pace is 20 to 25 minutes per mile. That is a slow stroll with frequent pauses (on average every 1 to 2 minutes!) to allow their dog to smell an interesting object or mark territory. We’re here to shed pounds, people! Walking for weight loss is very different than walking for pleasure. Make it your objective to walk briskly and focus on the “out” leg of your walk and then you can smell the roses on the “back” leg. We recommend starting the activity with the brisk or “hard” effort first. Too often if we try to start slowly with the dog, allowing them to sniff and smell everything, we may have a challenging time getting them up to speed when we’re ready. People often ask, “Shouldn’t we do a warm up before you walk them?” The simple reply, “Have you ever seen a fox take a few warm-up laps before an all-out sprint to capture its prey?” Our dogs are built to go from 0-100 miles per hour with very little risk of injury. And besides, we’re going nowhere near an all-out sprint when we’re walking for fitness.
It is important that your dog understands you have places to go and that this is different than your usual casual walk. If they sit or refuse to walk, you may have to return home, crate them or put them in a quiet space without your attention and try again another time. We have yet to encounter a dog that didn’t take readily to brisk walking.
Draw your leash close – generally within two to four feet of your body – pull them close to you and away from the street side and set off at a pace you feel comfortable sustaining. This should be about a 12-15 minute per mile pace. It should feel like a brisk walk and you should break into a light sweat. The key is to keep it up! Don’t stop. Don’t look down at your dog when they inevitably want to stop and smell something or mark a hydrant. Continue staring straight ahead, tighten the leash (don’t jerk) and give a command such as “No stop.” “Come.” or “Here.”
Additional tips for getting your dog to move more:
- Move the food bowl upstairs/downstairs and rotate it so that the dog always has to walk to get to its food bowl. Dogs are smart, and if the food bowl moves upstairs, they’ll start relocating upstairs, too.
- Move the food bowl as far away from your dog’s favorite haunts as possible. Again, many dogs will sleep and lay near the food bowl so they don’t have to go far when the eatin’ urge hits!
- Use toys, balls, laser pointers, squeaky toys, anything that your dog finds interesting to chase. Try to engage your dog for at least ten to fifteen minutes twice a day. There are numerous toys that move and squeak that may also be interesting to your dog. Experiment and understand that what is exciting today may be boring tomorrow.
- What about the dog that wakes you at four in the morning to be fed or the dog that stares at you during dinner or television time until you give in and feed them? Our dogs have trained us well and know exactly which buttons to press when it comes to getting their way. Here are some tips for handling the pleading pup:
- Do not use a self-feeder. Auto-feeders are unlimited candy machines to a dog.
- Pet or play with your dog when it begs for food. Dogs substitute food for affection so flip the equation and you may find that playtime displaces chowtime.
- Walk your dog when it begs. The distraction may be just enough to make it forget its desire for food.
- Feed small meals frequently – especially for those dogs that like to wake you up in the wee hours begging for more goodies – divide the total volume or calories into 4-6 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. By a few, try ten or fifteen – not a handful.
- Give vegetables such as baby carrots, broccoli, zucchini, celery and asparagus. Dogs love crunchy treats so make it a healthy – and low-calorie – choice.
Information from petobesityprevention.org
Rechecks and weigh-ins after you’ve put your pet on a weight loss program are critical to determine if the plan is working for your pet. Each pet is an individual and may require many changes in diet or routine before finding the correct approach. In general, your pet should be weighed every 30-60 days until the ideal weight is achieved. If there is no significant weight loss in 60 days a new approach should be pursued.
*Weight progress Evaluation ($) (with a doctor) should be done at a minimum every 4 months in order to continue to be part of the Weight Loss Program. Every exam is charged separately. All prices are subject to change without notice.
**Blood test should be done at least every 12 months or more often if the doctor deems it appropriate to continue to be part of the weight loss program. Every blood test is charged separately. All prices are subject to change without notice.
***Technician evaluations are free of charge. However they do not include a Veterinarian during the evaluation.