Between 25 and 40 percent of dogs in the United States weigh too much. Your dog's extra pounds could become a serious problem; overweight dogs are prone to serious illness and early death. They may be plagued with sugar diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive problems, decreased liver function and a compromised immune system. They may also experience damage to their joints, decreased stamina, heat intolerance and a high risk for cancer.
Dogs' weights can vary depending on breed and even within the breed. If you’re not sure if your dog is overweight, feel his ribs, spine, shoulders, hips and tail. You should be able to feel each rib and the bones in the other areas. If you can’t, they’re likely under a layer of fat. Next, look at your dog from the side and from above. He should have a definite waist behind the ribs that’s smaller than his chest.
If you determine that your dog needs to slim down, it’s up to you to help him lose weight. By committing to improving your dog’s health and focusing on the tips below, you’ll soon see a lighter, happier pup.
- Check with your vet. Before starting a weight management program for your dog, schedule a check-up with your vet. He will tell you the ideal weight for your dog and provide feeding and exercise guidelines. Your vet may also run tests to rule out any diseases that could account for the weight gain.
- Feed your dog the right kind of food in the right amounts. Many foods available today are packed with carbs and empty calories. Overweight dogs need a high-protein, low-carb diet with healthy fats. Look for a high-fiber, grain-free, weight-management formula when selecting kibble. Avoid free-feeding your dog; give him small, portion-controlled meals. To encourage weight loss, feed your dog 25 percent less food than the manufacturer recommends and add vegetables such as cooked spinach, broccoli and kale to make up the difference.
- Cut back on treats and table scraps. Treats should be limited to 10 percent of your dog’s daily intake. Choose low-fat commercial treats or offer your dog air-popped popcorn with no salt or butter, carrots or cooked green beans. High in fat and sugar, table scraps should be eliminated if possible. Feeding your dog before you cook may help with the begging.
- Provide exercise. Helping your dog burn calories is essential in helping him lose weight. When planning exercise, take into consideration your dog’s physical condition and don’t overdo it. Start slowly, let your dog rest if he’s panting and build up the amount of activity. Walking your dog five days a week for 20 to 45 minutes is a good goal.
- Track your dog’s weight. Weigh your dog weekly and record the results. Since it’s difficult to tell if your dog is losing weight by sight, monitoring the weight will keep you motivated to continue and also allow you to adjust food and activity levels if needed.
It may be difficult for you to resist your dog’s pleas for snacks but you need to think long term. By helping your dog lose weight, you’re providing the most loving care and helping him have the fullest life possible. And who doesn’t want that for their best friend?