Putting a dog on a diet

In North America, our pets are suffering from the same waistline epidemic as their human counter-parts – obesity. Our ever-expanding waistlines are at an all-time high and our health and well-being are being negatively affected. It is no different for our pets!

On average, seven out of ten animals that are brought into a veterinary clinic each day are there because of a weight related issue. Torn ACL or knee ligaments, bad backs, aching joints, constipation, diabetes, respiratory issues, heart disease, skin conditions – get the picture? The same things that affect their overweight owners sideline the overweight dog.

Thankfully for our four-legged friends, they do not require willpower to lose weight – we supply it for them! No trying to decide what to salad to order at a restaurant when really what they want is a giant plate of Fettuccine Alfredo, no guilt over eating a sweet and hopefully no food addiction or compulsive eating issues (this can be a problem in a dog that at one point in their lives did not eat regularly).

But how to you put your dog on a diet? First thing is to have your veterinarian exam them from their nose to their tail. There may be an underlying condition such as a hypothyroid that is making them gain the unsightly pounds. You also need to know if your dog has any blood sugar problems before putting them on a calorie restricted diet or increasing their exercise level.

Once you know they are healthy, then look at what type of food are they eating. High quality food is a must – like us, if all we eat is junk food that is high in sugar and salt, we too would be packing on the pounds! There are many diet or weight loss foods on the market that are less calorie dense so the quantity of food your dog eats per meal does not change, just the amount of calories they injest. Are they already on a diet food and it is not helping? Then address the quantity – dropping it by no more then 20% will see the pounds come off.

Dropping the quantity of food can make some changes to your dog’s behavior – they may start stealing food or acting ravenous. Adding fiber to their meal will help satiate their appetites without adding any additional calories. A tablespoon or two of canned pumpkin is an easy way to increase the fiber content but do so gradually so that their bowels have a chance to adjust over time. Another option is purchase high fiber dog food from your veterinarian. Mostly prescribed to diabetic dogs to help regulate their blood sugar levels, high fiber formula dog foods act the same way as the canned pumpkin but without the need for refrigeration. Gradually mix your dog’s regular food half and half with the fiber formula and, again, watch the pounds melt away!

Just like us humans, exercise is an important part of a canine weight loss plan and just like us, anytime our daily exercise is intensified the chance of injury also increases as does any post exercise stiffness. Increasing your pet’s exercise level gradually is the best way to prevent injury while guaranteeing your dog enjoys the new longer outings.

If your dog suffers from arthritis or is just getting up there in years, it is important to keep the exercise level consistent from one day to the next. This means that if you walk Fluffy one mile three nights a week, you would actually be doing her a bigger favor by walking her half a mile every night. At the end of a week, she will have walked half a mile more then in her previous workout but also the consistent daily exercise is better for her older muscles and joints. She might feel cheated the first time you are home in half the time as normal but she will quickly learn to enjoy the nightly swings around the block.

Treats are another important part of doggy diets. Everyone loves to give treats to their pooches and, of course, to everyone else’s pooches as well! There are diet treats on the market but buy only a small bag to start and see how your dog likes them – not all dogs enjoy health food. There are also fiber biscuits that work on the same principle as feeding a high fiber kibble. Whatever diet biscuit your dog enjoys, break them all in half as soon as you get home from the store. Dogs do not think about the size of the treat but they sure as heck know how to count! If they are used to getting three biscuits a day, guaranteed they will know if you only give them two but three halves are better in their eyes then two wholes and in reality, they are actually eating less in the long run but they do not need to know that.

Many dogs enjoy natural treats such as carrots and apples as well. They are easy to incorporate into their diet and most dogs take a while to eat them as well, making the healthy treat last a nice long time. Note: avoid grapes and raisins as they are toxic to pets!

Lifelong weight management for many dogs is just like it is for humans – an ongoing battle. Like any weight loss plan, consider it a lifestyle change that needs to be addressed daily for the remainder of their life and that life will be a long, healthy and happy one!