Is your dog overweight?
If you cannot feel your dog’s ribs when you run your hand along its side, your dog is overweight. Or if there isn't a waist, then your dog is overweight.
What’s worse, obesity can be life-threatening, too. An overweight dog is more likely to suffer from a disabling medical condition like…
- Heart disease
- Lung disorders
- High blood pressure
- Immune dysfunction
- Cancerous tumours
A veterinary visit is crucial once you have decided your dog is overweight so they can tell you if there are any other underlying causes of the weight gain. Just like humans, it is important that they don't try to lose too much weight too quickly as this increases the likelihood of the weight going straight back on after the programme. A reasonable target would be to lose between 1 and 2% of the dog’s body weight a week as long as you are strict - this is for your dog's health after all.
You must be careful when bringing more exercise into your dog's weight reduction plan as it can cause too much strain on their muscles, joints, heart and respiratory system. Begin by lead walking for between 20-60 minutes five times a week but be aware of heavy panting as this is a sign of fatigue and you must stop to let the dog rest.
Swimming doesn't cause as much strain on the joints and is also great exercise for overweight dogs. You can increase the amount of exercise slowly but again, be careful to monitor your dog's condition. If swimming in our beautiful Cumbrian lakes or rivers, do take care to look out for Blue-Green Algae which is extremely poisonous for dogs. It will often look like brown dots, greenish bundles or brown or green flakes. It can turn water cloudy and give it a green, blue-green or greenish-brown appearance.
Generally, a dog who doesn't achieve its weight loss target is not at fault; rather, it is the owner who can't resist a dog's begging. You must be strict with your weight loss programme. Table scraps must be eliminated.. There are several other ways to reward your companion such as new toys, grooming or regular exercise as they increase your dog’s mental stimulation and ultimately stop them thinking about food so much!
Cutting calories is usually the easiest weight reduction method and can be done in a few different ways. You could simply cut down the quantity of food you are feeding your dog by 20 to 40% and evaluate every 3 to 4 weeks to decide if further reductions are necessary.
Another option is to switch to special weight reduction foods which are specifically designed for weight reduction in dogs. Using specially designed foods generally allows you to feed your dog the usual amount of food as they have a reduced fat and calorie content. They also contain the correct nutrients, fatty acids (for a healthy skin and coat), vitamins and minerals that your dog needs to stay healthy, alert and active while doing more exercise.
If you can't resist giving your dog treats and have already given them new toys to stimulate them, change to low fat nibbles that will fit in with the reduction programme:
- Cooked green beans
- Specifically designed low calorie treats
- Frozen strips of canned diet food
- Baked strips of canned diet food (put slices in the oven at about 180 degrees Celsius until crisp – store in fridge)
You must make sure these treats aren't more than 10% of your dog’s daily intake! Or better yet, simply use some of your dog’s daily food ration as rewards or treats throughout the day.
General feeding rules while on a weight reduction diet are to feed your dog separately from any other pets so that there is no temptation for them to steal extra food, feed them more often (e.g. between 2 and 4 smaller meals a day as opposed to 1 or 2 bigger portions) and feed them before you make a meal for yourself as it will decrease begging and therefore won't tempt you to give them extra food either.
Monitoring your dog's progress is essential and also easy. Keep a log of your dog's food intake, and update a graph of their weight every week, taking photos and visiting your vet every 2 to 4 weeks. Doing these things will help determine how your dog is progressing and which activities, food portions or formula is helping the most.
Finally, keeping the weight off your dog is just as important. Make sure your dog still gets the exercise to maintain a healthy weight; continue to weigh your dog as you increase their food content to ensure they do not gain back the weight they lost; don't give them free choice feeding by always leaving food in their bowl; and when your targets are reached you should congratulate your dog but also yourself.