While some people may consider overweight pups to be cute, its also in most cases very unhealthy for a dog to be carrying a few extra pounds. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, in 2018 an estimated 55% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. If you have concerns about the weight of your pup or your vet has suggested your dog lose a few pounds you might be overwhelmed. How do you help your pup lose weight safely and effectively?
What are the signs your dog is overweight?
According to our survey of 550 pet parents, only 10% believed that less than 1 in 4 pets are overweight. Similarly, we found that only 14% of Ollie pet parents think their dog is overweight and in need of weight management plan, when the reality is that 45% of Ollie's small dog pack is already overweight. These disconnects draw attention to the fact that many pet parents are in the dark about how much their pet should weigh and what signs to look for in their pets.
Some of the signs your pet might be putting on too much weight include lower energy levels and desire to play, difficulty finding and feeling their ribs, and a low-hanging belly — particularly in smaller dogs.
Some vets use what is called a body condition score. This scale from 1-5 or 1-9 measures a dog's body type. In both systems dog who are a "1" are considered malnourished, while dogs who are a "5" or a "9" are considered obese. If your vet does discuss this score with you - make sure you know which scale is being used. A 5/9 is generally considered ideal and a 5/5 is considered an issue.
Tips for helping your dog lose weight sustainably
If your dog does need to lose a few pounds, you want to make sure they do it the right way. These tips will set you both up for success.
1. Meet with your vet
If you have noticed your pup is packing on the pounds meet with your vet before making any dietary changes.
Your vet will be able to help you rule out any underlying medical issues that could be causing weight gain. Some common examples include thyroid conditions, gut issues or something more serious like a tumor.
Once your vet has determined your pup is otherwise healthy, he or she will be able to discuss a good healthy target weight range for your dog and a reasonable time to get there. Like yo-yo or crash dieting isn’t good for you, the same goes for your pup. There is no shortcut to getting your pup back to good health.
2. Look at your pet’s meals
The food you feed your pup can impact their weight. If you are feeding a formula for active dogs or canine athletes and your dog is sedentary, you may be giving your dog more calories than they need. This would obviously lead to weight gain!
Find a food that is more in line with your pet’s needs. At Ollie, we ask all pet parents to answer a few questions to come up with the perfect recipe for your pup. Then we recommend recipes and the perfect serving size to help get (or keep) your pet at their optimal weight.
Our Recipes are designed to taste great and contain ingredients with natural fiber to help your pup feel full and keep their digestive systems working well. In addition to helping pet parents pick a recipe and the perfect portion size, we recommend feeding on a regular schedule.
Having a regular mealtime can help your pet refrain from overeating. Free feeding, a practice where your pup has access to their food at all times can lead to overating. This is why we recommend serving our food at specific mealtimes.
Most dogs eat 2-3 times a day but you can discuss how often to feed your pup with your vet.
3. Cut back on processed treats
If your pup is snacking on dog treats or even foods like peanut butter, cheese or meats all day, it is possible that is contributing to weight gain. Delicious treats should generally make up about 10% of your pet’s diet.
However, if you are attending obedience classes or training for a dog sport like Rally, Agility or Flyball, you may be using treats as a reward to reinforce your dog’s learning. This could lead to a few extra treats, which shouldn’t be a huge issue as long as you’re adjusting your pet’s meals on the days you train accordingly.
If you’re training a lot, consider using some healthy treats your pet enjoys mixed in with things that are higher value. Some good examples are plain grilled chicken or salmon or some cut up berries.
4. Add fresh vegetables and fruit
To help your pup feel full longer, add some fresh fruit and vegetables to your pup’s meals. You may have to try a few to see what your pup likes, but you can try green beans, carrots, broccoli, spinach, peas, cucumbers, cantaloupe, berries, and apples.
You may consider steaming vegetables before offering them (except cucumbers, they can be served raw). Check with your vet before adding them to the mix, but generally speaking, fruit and vegetables will add both fiber and flavor to your dog’s meals!
5. Add or increase exercise
Just like the advice we give to humans, remember to consult your vet before starting an exercise program. This is to make sure your dog is healthy enough to exercise. You don’t want the exercise to exacerbate underlying medical conditions.
Your vet may ask you to start with modifying your pup’s diet for a bit before adding exercise. You also may just want to start with short, more frequent walks and work your way up to more vigorous movement.
As your pup tolerates more exercise, consider some agility training. It’s great for keeping your pup engaged and at a healthy weight. Because you have to work with them, it’s also a great exercise for bonding with your dog.
Sheltering in place? You can still keep your pup mentally and physically active with these indoor activities.
When exercising with your dog, watch for any pain, heavy breathing or other signs of discomfort. If you notice anything concerning, make sure to get a consult from the vet.
6. Try using rewards other than food
This may be challenging for a food motivated dog, but you can try rewarding good behavior with things other than food/treats. Consider other things your dog likes. A new toy or ball, some quality time with you, or a visit from a favorite person can sometimes be just as rewarding as a treat to your dog. Try to come up with 2-3 non-food rewards and alternate them with healthy treats!
What can you do if your dog is begging?
Face it, your dog probably hates being on a diet as much as you do. If you find your dog is begging while you’re eating or for a snack between meals you might start to feel bad and consider giving them a snack.
To avoid overfeeding your pup, there are a few things you can do so that you don’t give in to the begging. Have your dog eat meals at the same time you eat when possible. Consider using more interactive ways to feed your dog. Try using a snuffle mat or a puzzle feeder so that your dog has to work a little harder for their food.
If you don’t want to invest in an expensive mat or feeder, you can make your own using an old egg carton or empty boxes stuffed with some paper, like you get when you have products shipped to your home. Your dog will enjoy the game of “hunting” for food and it will make mealtimes last longer.
When else might you need to call your vet?
Helping your dog lose weight can be challenging, but it is important to help them live a long, healthy life. It won’t happen overnight. While your vet may help you initially plan your approach, you shouldn’t end their involvement in your pup’s weight loss process.
Consult with your vet along the way, especially if things aren’t going as planned or you think your pup is suffering from another medical issue. It might be helpful to weigh your pup regularly (maybe once a week or every other week) and write down their weight. That way you can see progress over time and make note of any anomolies.
Your vet will be a great partner in helping you get your dog back to good health. With some hard work from both you and your dog, obesity can usually be reversed and your dog can lead a long, healthy and active life. Just remember to be patient with yourself and your pup!
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.