The first step is admitting that you (and your dog) have a problem!
Obesity may affect up to 50% of our dogs, so take a good look at your pooch before you decide which half of the population he falls into. Your vet can assist in this determination; at each exam your dog should be assigned a body condition score (BCS). We grade them on a scale of 1-9, in which 1 is emaciated and 9 is morbidly obese. Dogs with a score of 8 or 9 do not have a waist when looking at them from above, and they do not have an abdominal tuck when looking from the side. It is also difficult to palpate their ribs.
Obese dogs are in serious danger of long term health problems like osteoarthritis, cardiopulmonary disease, pancreatitis, urinary disease, and even certain cancers.
Now that we’ve gained acceptance, what are we going to do about it? The main factors in our weight loss plan will be diet and exercise. Just as with people, we need to control our dog’s intake of calories as well as the number of calories burned by activity each day to start the battle against obesity.
First, let’s talk diet. As long as your dog is otherwise healthy, you can change his diet with relative ease. Our goal is a food low in fat and calories but high in protein and fiber. Your vet has some great prescription options on the shelf. These really are best because we can use them to restrict calories without restricting essential nutrients at the same time. Over the counter weight control foods can be used, but then we expect to achieve a much slower rate of weight loss.
Another key aspect of dietary control is meal feeding. Most dogs do well being fed 2-3 times daily. Free-feeding, or leaving food out to be eaten at will, encourages boredom grazing. Meal sizes should be chosen for each individual animal, and not based solely on body weight. Serving suggestions on the dog food bag are often more than your dog requires, so consider it a very loose guideline. Actually, it can be difficult for the average person to come to grips with how little food a dog may require, especially owners of tiny toy breed dogs. Try to keep perspective when sizing up your dog’s dinner. If Smoochie weighs a teensy 5 pounds, she doesn’t need to eat a bowl of kibble the size of your chicken pot pie!
Still on the topic of caloric intake, it’s time to discuss treats- those beefy morsels from the foil bag, the rawhides, and the illicit, juicy bits of bacon from your very own plate. Most pet owners do not realize how those little goodies add up to serious calories. Get the facts on your store bought treats. Calories in commercial dog treats range from a modest 1 calorie each to a muffin-top-inducing 619 calories in a single national brand bone! Control the number of treats the family gives by pre-measuring an allowance, no more than 10% of your pup’s daily calories, into a plastic baggie. Once the bag is empty, the treats are done for the day – no cheating. Store bought goodies can also be replaced with baby carrots, fresh or frozen green beans, and most any fresh fruit or vegetable. Just remember to avoid grapes, raisins, and anything from the onion and garlic family.
Exercise is another important variable in the weight loss equation. Physical activity is fun, stimulating, and healthy for our pets. As with any human exercise program, consult your regular vet before jumping in. Once you have the green light from the vet, keep in mind that Fido is not ready to run a marathon on his first day off the couch. Slowly ramp up the length and intensity of the exercise over a period of weeks. As long as he has no other physical ailments, you can start with short 20 minutes leash walks 5 days a week. Over time, you can work up to 60 minute walks each day. Swimming is another fabulous canine workout, but it’s also a much more strenuous exercise, so restrict initial swims to only 1-2 minutes a few times weekly.
Keep track of your progress with a log of daily feedings and activity. This will help make sure that we stay on task, helping our furry friend attain that svelte beach body. Your vet would be more than happy to have you stop by for regular weight checks. Many of the computerized record systems can also create a weight graph so you can visualize the fruits of your labor.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the adjunct use of medication. There is a weight loss drug, called Slentrol, that I consider my last resort. That being said, some patients need it. It’s not a medication to be used long-term, in fact it is only labeled for administration up to a maximum of one year. If you are really having trouble getting your dog’s weight loss program started, I may use this drug is a tool to get us back on track. Also, consider that your dog may already be experiencing some joint disease, and he may benefit from a supplement or pain medication as he becomes more active.