Are you enabling your Overweight Dog?
Brought to you by Inside and Out Pet Care
Author Caroline Coile
Published in May/June 2017, AKC Family Dog
How to help your dog lose weight—without losing your mind.
I should probably not admit it, but I am addicted to that television show about people who weigh 600lbs and go on to lose weight. Most episodes begin showing the bedridden person surrounded by tons of unhealthy food. How did it get there? Their loving family brought it to them, several times a day. And like many other viewers, I think, “Why doesn’t the family stop?”
Then I look at my obese dog, Sparky. There’s very little difference. She can’t go to the store. At her weight, she certainly can’t catch a rabbit. She’s entirely dependent on me to pack those extra pounds on her. Like the family I saw on TV, I’m an enabler. I fill her bowl too full. I hand her treats under the table. And I give in to her sad eyes and insistent barks.
Sometimes It takes a crisis to realize we are killing with love. In Sparky’s case, it was back pain that made me get serious about her losing weight. Unfortunately, weight-reduction surgery is not an option for dogs, but there are ways an owner can help dogs drop the weight safely and effectively.
Stop making excuses! Yes, Sparky is spayed and older, and that does change the metabolism so that she needs less food—about 20 – 30 percent less than intact dogs. But as they say, there may be reasons, but there are no excuses.
Feed less! Sparky is a small dog (at least, she should be). She weighs about a fifth of what our other dogs weigh, but we probably feed her a 1/3 of the amount they get. If your dog is overweight, what you’re feeding is too much.
Count calories! Your veterinarian can help you determine how much food your dog needs. But here’s a rough formula for inactive, spayed or neutered adult dogs between 6 and 60 pounds: Divide your dog’s ideal weight in pounds by 2.2. Multiply this figure by 30. Add 70. This is a rough idea of how many calories your dog needs a day.
Next figure out how many calories are in your dog food. The easiest way is to look up the food at the www.petobesityprevention.org (click “Food & Calories”). This site also has caloric content of popular dog treats, which you must also figure into your dog’s daily intake. Don’t forget any treats you give as training rewards. Figure up to 10% of a dog’s daily calorie intake can be from treats. Use a measuring cup to control how much you feed.
Treat Healthy. Give low calorie treats such as carrots, green beans, celery, broccoli, cucumbers, sliced apples, bananas and even ice cubes. You can freeze fruits and veggies to make them last longer. Treats that break down slowly, like bully sticks, can be effective, but remember to consider their calorie content. Another trick: Use interactive treat dispensers that make your dog work for one kibble or treat at a time.
Feed Fiber. Adding fiber, such as vegetable, adds bulk without significant calories, stretching the dog’s stomach and sending signals to the brain that it’s full. But even this is controversial, as not all studies find that fiber increases satiety. Unfortunately, the stomach contains other sensors that are not as easily fooled.
It turned out that feeding a bit of fat also helps signal satiety, which is one reason you don’t want to totally eliminate fat from their diet. But don’t get carried away and just feed your dog green beans, as is often recommended. Any diet with too much fiber won’t leave enough room for protein and other essential nutrients. High dietary fiber interferes with the digestion and absorption of some essential fats as well as calcium, zinc, and iron. It’s probably fine for a few days, even a week, but beyond that you’re flirting with malnutrition.
By the way, if you go the green bean route and must use canned ones, rinse as much salt as you can off of them first. Canned pumpkin (not pumpkin-pie filling) is also a popular source of fiber in dog weight-management diets.
Feed Better. So if your dog needs fewer calories, that just means feed less, right? Not quite. Your dog still needs to take in amino acids, vitamins and minerals every day, sufficient for his present, not target, weight. Extra protein is needed to prevent the dog from metabolizing his own muscles during dieting. It’s better to feed your dog a regulated amount of a specially formulated weight-loss diet rather than just cutting down on his normal diet. For most overweight dogs, a high protein/low carbohydrate/low fat diet is best. Talk to your veterinarian for suggestion on which diet to feed.
Feel the burn. The burn of calories, that is. Get out and walk with your dog, gradually increasing distance as your dog becomes more active. (Bonus: You’ll benefit from the added activity, too). For dogs who are too overweight to walk far, special activities like hydrotherapy might be an option. All in all, exercise burns surprisingly few calories itself, but it increases metabolism, takes your dog’s mind off of food and makes him too tired to think about eating once he gets back home.
Visit the weight-loss aisle. True, you need to avoid human sugarless sweeteners like xylitol, which is toxic to dogs. L-carnitine has been shown to aid weight loss and promote lean muscle mass in some studies.
Get Social. Everyone wants a pat on the back. Post your dog’s “before” picture on Facebook, along with his weight. Follow this with weekly pictures and updates. You’ll be amazed at how having others follow your progress is a motivator.