How to lower your dog's weight and maintain it for long-term health.
Are you struggling to keep your dog’s weight at a healthy level? Does he have a couple of extra pounds and you are unsure how to help him slim down? About half of all family pets are overweight or obese. Chunky monkey is not just cute - being overweight puts your dog at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, joint pain, and other issues.
Let’s look at small changes you can make that can quickly bring down his weight to a healthy level.
Assess his overall calorie intake
First things first - you should count how many calories your dog eats in a day. Be honest about this. Most dogs do not just consume the calories that are in their daily kibble. They have a cube of cheese here and a hotdog there, a good night treat, and a bully stick and a cookie at the local pet-friendly Deli. Perhaps you let your dog lick your plate clean after dinner (you shouldn’t really do that) or he steals the cat’s food now and then. Make sure that you count everything he eats in a day. This will be your baseline.
Most veterinarians recommend that to reduce a dog’s weight healthily, you should start by trimming his daily calorie intake by 20%. For some dogs, this is all that is needed. If your dog does not seem to lose enough weight, cut it by an additional 10% until you see results.
Obesity-Related Conditions in
2. Bladder/Urinary Tract Disease
3. Liver Disease
4. Low Thyroid Hormone Production
5. Torn Knee Ligaments
7. Diseased Disc in the Spine
8. Chronic Kidney Disease
9. Heart Failure
10. High Blood Pressure
|1. Bladder/Urinary Tract Disease
2. Chronic Kidney Disease
5. Liver Disease
7. High Blood Pressure
8. Heart Failure
9. Gall Bladder Disorder
10. Immobility of Spine
Assess his activity level
Just like you had to be honest to yourself when counting your dog’s daily calories, you now have to realistically evaluate his activity level. Does your dog spend some time each day being active with you (by playing ball, going for walks, doing dog agility, or catching frisbees)? Or does he mostly hang out in the yard and his crate?
To promote healthy weight loss, your dog should at least have one hour of physical activity with you every day. Simply being outside by himself is not sufficient - you need to be there and make sure he is moving around. Dogs do not “self-exercise” well. If your dog is out back by himself, he likely does not burn a lot of calories moving around.
The only exception to the 1-hour rule is for senior dogs and young puppies. Both of these age groups should never do forced exercise. Only let them move around as much as they do by themselves.
Establish new reward methods
Many dogs are overweight because their owners love to show them their affection through treats. While this is very rewarding for your dog, it is by far not the only way to express your adoration!
Instead of using treats, develop new reward methods for your dog. How about a doggy massage every evening as you watch TV? Or taking him to a park to play with other dogs (if he likes them)? All dogs enjoy going on “sniffaris” - these are slow walks in areas that have a million interesting smells, where your dog can sniff to his heart’s content. You can also show your dog how much he means to you by brushing him, getting him a new toy, or enrolling him in a trick training course.
There are so many ways to reward your dog - it does not only have to be through food.
Many dogs and owners do well with the weight loss regime at first, but after a while, the pounds creep back on the pupper’s waist. Once your dog has lost weight, make sure to maintain his healthy shape. You should weigh him every two weeks to catch any kind of fluctuation early.
As you move through the different seasons you probably have to adjust his food intake as well.
If you live in a warm climate, chances are that you won’t be as active in the summer as it is just too hot. On the other hand, living in a cold climate means a lot less exercise in the winter. During months of less activity, reduce your dog’s food to avoid unwanted weight gain.
Ageing dogs and weight gain
Large breeds enter their senior years as early as age six, while medium and small dogs are considered seniors when they reach eight to ten years of age.
Senior dogs have a slower metabolism than adults and puppies.
If you find that your ageing dog is gaining weight, cut down on his food intake. Especially for older dogs, it is important to be trim. Every extra weight will put more strain on their muscles and joints and can cause musculoskeletal pains in the future.
The Bottom Line
The two factors determining your dog’s weight are - of course - his caloric intake and his activity level. For him to lose weight, you need to balance these two out to reach a caloric deficit.
- You can start by cutting your dog’s daily food intake by about 20%. In many cases, this already leads to significant weight loss and a healthy weight.
- Also, make sure that your dog has at least one hour of physical activity with you every day. For adult dogs, this can be jogging, agility, playing frisbee, etc.
Important: Puppies and senior dogs should not participate in directed exercise - they do best if they are allowed to move on their own terms.
Your dog’s energy needs will change throughout his life. As he ages, his metabolism slows and he will require less food. On the other hand, during months with good weather, you might be more physically active and he will require more food.
The best way to keep track of your dog’s weight and notice any fluctuations early on is to weigh him every two weeks. If you notice the scales changing, adjust your dog’s food intake accordingly.