Veterinarians report that as many as four out of every ten dogs may be overweight. At the root of the problem is overfeeding, coupled with lack of exercise.
How can I tell if my dog is overweight?
If you can easily feel your dog’s rib cage and can spot a waistline when viewing your dog from above, then it is not overweight. But, if there is fat over the ribs or no visible waistline, you should think about slimming your dog down. Consult a veterinarian if there is any doubt because some dogs that appear overweight may have underlying medical conditions. Check with your veterinarian before starling on any weight reduction program.
Are particular breeds predisposed to being overweight?
While some breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Bassett Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, and Dachshunds may be predisposed to being overweight and others such as Afghan hounds, Whippets, Greyhounds, and Basenjis tend to be lean, excessive weight gain can be a problem for any breed.
Does being overweight cause health problems for dogs?
It can. Overweight dogs may exhibit a variety of health problems, some of which can even be potentially life threatening. These include an increased susceptibility to heat stroke and delayed recovery from surgery. We also see joint injuries and muscular difficulties, particularly as the animal gets older.
Overweight dogs also tend to have more liver and skin problems, more complications if they develop diabetes. and, possibly, an increased susceptibility to pancreatitis. All of these can shorten a dog’s life and cost the owner a lot of extra money in unnecessary medical bills.
A dog at its optimal weight is healthier, happier, more active, and a better companion. It’s best to maintain your dog at its ideal weight from the start by not overfeeding him.
Do veterinarians prescribe reducing diets for dogs?
Yes, many try to educate pet owners on the harmful effects of dog’s being overweight. We usually suggest exercise, change in feeding habits, and provide information on reduced-calorie dog foods. Most pet owners don’t have a problem with these recommendations when they realize that their dogs are satisfied and losing weight.
What kinds of reduced-calorie products are available?
Reduced-calorie products are formulated with less fat and more fiber. Since it is the fat that adds the flavor dogs love, some reduced-calorie products are less palatable than regular dog food. A weight loss program will fail if the dog refuses to eat the food. Therefore, you should choose a food that is palatable and the dog enjoys.
Can I just cut back on current rations?
That will work if you have enough willpower. Most veterinarians recommend that overweight dogs be fed about 75% of their required caloric needs to cause slow, steady weight loss. It’s often easier for owners to manage this by feeding a reduced-calorie food so the volume in the dog’s dish remains the same.
Is fiber as beneficial for dogs as it’s claimed to be for humans?
While fiber is useful in reducing the caloric content of the food, no definitive studies have shown that fiber has the additional health benefits for dogs that it does for human beings, even though some pet food manufacturers are suggesting just that.
Should a young dog go from the concentrated nutrients of puppy food to a reduced-calorie dog food as a maintenance product, rather than eating full-caloried canned or dry dog foods?
As long as the adult dog is active and not gaining weight, a full-caloried canned or dry dog food may be more appropriate, when the dog reaches ‘middle age‘ and activity level is reduced, it may be time to think about reduced-calorie dog food to keep it from gaining weight.
How will an abrupt shift in diet affect my dog?
Sometimes it can cause diarrhea. It is best to mix small amounts of the new food with your dog’s existing food. Over a week’s time, gradually add more new food and decrease amounts of the old food. This transition is less likely to upset your pet’s digestive system.
Do you have any tips for feeding to help make mealtimes easier?
Try dividing your pet’s total daily ration into three meals per day. Feeding the dieting or slimmed-down dog separately from other pets reduces ‘sharing‘. Feeding pets before family meals helps reduce tableside begging. Of course, all family members should refrain from giving the dog anything other than its specific diet.
Do you recommend specific exercises for dogs?
Dogs are readily adaptable and, depending on their age and breed, can participate in a wide range of activities. Many people associate exercise with running, but there are a lot of other things a dog can do to stay fit. Some dogs like to chase sticks or balls. Older dogs can often get enough exercise on a leash just walking with you. Smaller dogs often get all the exercise they need running around the house, yard, or apartment. Two dogs are better than one in this regard*, since they can play together.
Start any exercise regimen slowly and then work up to more vigorous activities. Be sure not to exercise your pet right after it has finished eating or drinking. Wait at least one hour.
What about dog snacks?
Snacks are fine if given as part of the dog’s total caloric intake. Snacks should only be given in moderation, especially to overweight dogs, since they may contain up to 250 calories each. Be sure to reduce the amount of dog food you normally feed the dog at its next regular meal and resist feeding sweets and fatty foods.
Can a mature dog with tendencies to become overweight be maintained indefinitely on a reduced-calorie dog food?
Yes, if the reduced-calorie food is complete and balanced for an adult dog’s maintenance needs. Read the label to be sure.
* pitchick says: this is not usually practical with pit bulldogs, unless it is a male and female, or neutered dogs, which in either case have been raised together.