How to Help Your Overweight Dog Be Healthier
Has your dog gotten fluffier lately? A common question I get asked by my clients is how they can help their overweight dog slim down. Dogs can have weight problems just like we do. Most already know that to lose weight, their dogs need to eat less and exercise more. But they often feel like what they are doing isn’t working. Here, I will share what I tell them about helping your overweight dog maintain a healthy weight.
- First, has your dog been to the veterinarian for a check up with blood work lately? Dogs age much more quickly than we do. So, it is important to visit the veterinarian regularly to catch health issues earlier rather than later. Dogs can have low thyroid or hormonal balances just as humans do. Does your dog have any other symptoms like recurring diarrhea, lethargy, or is panting a lot? Screening for health issues and getting on any necessary medication is the first step. Your vet may also recommend a good probiotic or a prescription diet dog food.
- Does your dog get regular daily exercise? Walks are very important for a dog’s mental and physical health. Most dogs enjoy 2–3 nice 30 minute walks outside per day.
- How much is your dog eating? Are you keeping their food bowl full? Are they getting treats off your plate at mealtimes? How about treats? Do they get showered with treats every time you see them? Do you measure their portions? Have you tried a weight management food? Here is a funny true story. I have a client that struggles to slim down her chocolate labrador retriever. She gives her carrots for treats and measures her food when she feeds the dog. She said she only feeds the dog one cup of food in the morning and one cup at dinner. This is a ninety pound dog. So, I was sceptical. I asked to see the food and the measuring cup. She showed me the food and inside the food container was a 32 ounce plastic scooping cup. I laughed and reminded her that 32 ounces is not a “cup”. It is 4 cups.
- Who feeds the dog? On they onboard with helping the dog slim down or do they enjoy the love that they feel when giving the dog an extra treat? Everyone in the family needs to be in agreement regarding the dog’s health.
- Schedule more active play time. Dogs love focused time with their people. If your dog enjoys chasing a ball or frisbee, do it more often.
- Take your dog with you when you run or hike if they are cleared for it by the veterinarian. Start slow if they have been a couch potato. Dogs enjoy getting outside and exploring. Most dogs (not all) will enjoy time spent running or hiking with you. The key is to find something active that your dog loves. I have a client’s dog that is overweight and I tried running with her. She made it a block and sat down. She gave me a look like, “how dare you”. I tried again and she sat sooner the next time. She was obviously not keen on running with me. She enjoys a brisk stroll though. If you try something and your dog clearly doesn’t like it, try something else.
- Switch to a lower calorie weight management food as your dog ages and their metabolism slows down. This works fairly quickly and your dog still feels full so they aren’t begging and acting hungry all the time. Keep in mind that any changes to your dog’s diet are best done gradually to avoid diarrhea. When changing food, add a little of the new food to the existing food and increase the proportion of new food to old food gradually over several days. This allows your pet to adjust slowly without getting diarrhea.
Dogs that are overweight are at risk for many of the same diseases that overweight humans face: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. It may feel good short term to give your dog a little extra here and there because they seem so happy when they get a treat.
But, an overweight dog does not live as long as a normal weight dog. I know I want my dogs to live as long as possible and to feel good as long as possible, so I try to keep them at a healthy weight.
One last bit of encouragement: You can follow all of these tips and your dog may lose weight very slowly. That is ok and healthier than rapid weight loss.
My little Eddie was almost twice as heavy, as he is today, five years ago. Slowly, we reduced his calories and cut out high fat treats. He is not only much slimmer and healthier these days — but he is much more naturally active and playful. He seems like a much younger dog now that he has the spring back in his step.