According to veterinary nutritionists, about 50% of all pet dogs are overweight or obese. Obviously, excess body fat slows your dog down, but it also acts as a source of inflammation. All the systems of the body are affected--from the bones and joints to the heart and liver.
I know what you're thinking. You dread putting your dog on a diet because you feel so guilty for depriving your best buddy. I'll show you how to trade guilt for satisfaction while improving your relationship with your dog.
Is My Dog Overweight?
Morbidly obese dogs are easy to spot, but moderately overweight dogs are harder to recognize. We've all become so used to seeing overweight dogs, it almost seems normal for them to be pudgy.
To evaluate your dog's weight, first look at the outline of his body from the side and from the top. If you can't see much of a waist from either direction, he's probably too fat.
Next, feel his body with your hands. When you run your hands along the sides of his chest, you should be able to feel (but not see) the bumps of his ribs without pressing very hard. You should be able to feel the tops of his pelvic bones with a thin layer of fat over them when you pet his lower back.
Check out a canine body condition score chart for more guidance. Ideal body condition is a 5 out of 9 on the chart.
How Much Should My Dog Weigh?
OK, so you've faced the fact that your dog is packing some extra padding. Now you need to figure out how much he weighs now and how much he should weigh.
Your vet's office will have an accurate scale to weigh your dog and a record of his weight history. Many dogs are at their ideal weight when they're about two years old. Ask your vet for an opinion on the ideal weight for your dog.
Recheck his weight every two weeks on the same scale once you start his weight loss regimen.Your vet clinic will most likely be happy to let you use their scale free of charge.
A good goal is 1-2% of body weight loss every couple of weeks. If he's losing faster, increase food allotment by 5-10%. If he's not losing weight, speak to your vet for advice on what to do next.
How Much Should I Feed My Dog for Weight Loss?
Stating the obvious: you need to feed your dog less than he's eating now to get him to lose weight. A good place to start is to feed 25% less total food for weight loss. If you're not sure how much he's eating because he gets treats from other people in your home, use a dog nutrition calculator to estimate his caloric requirements.
If your pup is more than 10% overweight, you might want to add 10% to the calorie calculation so his hunger doesn't become extreme. When he reaches the point of being only 10% overweight, change to feeding amount for his ideal weight.
3 Tricks to Help Your Dog Lose Weight Without the Guilt
Most dog lovers dread putting their buddy on a diet. The guilt can be overwhelming when he gives you hungry puppy dog eyes ten times a day! There are some tricks you can use to help your dog feel less deprived (and you feel less guilty).
1. MORE Mental Stimulation
House dogs have cushy (and boring) lives compared to their wild ancestors. They don't have to spend all day hunting for food or mates. The big highlight of a house dog's day is meal time and snack time. If you remove the mental stimulation that constant snacking provides, you should replace it with something equally stimulating.
Try teaching your dog some fun behaviors like putting his feet in a box or any clicker training trick you like. Most dogs love clicker training, especially when it's used for shaping activities. Make sure to use tiny, low calorie treats for rewards.
Add extra exercise time by taking your dog for a walk around the block when he gives you sad/hungry eyes. Take him to some new places he will find interesting. Even a quick car ride around the neighborhood will work in a pinch. The idea is to provide mental stimulation, exercise, and novelty.
2. MORE Food
When I say "more," I mean feed food with more volume. Wet food has the advantage over dry food due to its high moisture level. Since it hasn't had all the water removed, wet food calories take up more space in the stomach than dry food calories. The stomach has stretch receptors that send signals to the brain that it's full. Wet food stimulates those stretch receptors more!
Putting a larger volume of food in the stomach helps your dog feel more satisfied. It's like the difference between eating a giant salad for lunch versus eating a donut. They both have the same amount of calories, but you'll feel more satisfied from the salad because it literally "fills you up."
3. FEWER Feedings
A continuous flow of snacks all day may actually make your dog feel hungrier. When a dog eats many times each day, his insulin levels are elevated all the time. High insulin levels have been found to correlate with feelings of hunger in humans and the same effect likely applies to dogs.
Feed one or two meals per day and very few, if any, between-meal snacks. If you're giving treats, use very low calorie/high fiber foods like baby carrots or apple slices. Substitute play, fun training exercises and other attention for treats.
Remember that just like people, dogs need to break bad habits like constant snacking in order to lose weight. Skipping the snacks will soon become the new normal and your dog won't feel as hungry without them.