Many dog owners are simply not aware that their beloved pets are obese. Or, if they are aware, they don’t realize the health risks their dogs face due to obesity. Read on to find out more about the dangers of obesity, how to check if your dog is obese, and what to do about it!
The Dangers Of Obesity In Dogs
About 55% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, according to one study done in 2013. Much like in humans, long-term obesity will result in diseases such as diabetes, heart & lung disease, and some forms of cancer. Another study done in 2002 concluded dogs with healthy weight lived an average of 2 years longer than obese dogs.
Other problems brought about by even short-term obesity in your dog are low energy, high blood pressure, upset stomachs, and joint problems such as arthritis.
The good news is that these problems can be prevented or resolved with weight loss. So if you’re here, reading this article, then you’re off to a good start!
How To Check If Your Dog Is Obese
Weight. The best way to check if your dog is obese is to use a weighing scale. You can find the ideal weight for your dog’s specific breed by doing a simple Google search (example: search bulldog ideal weight). It’s important to weigh your dog regularly – once a week while he’s a puppy or if you’re making changes to his diet, once every 2-4 weeks if it’s just for monitoring. The important thing is to use the same weighing scale each time, and to do it around the same time of day (in the morning, upon waking up is the best time to get his fasting weight). An overweight dog is 10% over his ideal weight, and an obese dog is 20% or more over his ideal weight.
Body score. Another way to identify obesity in your dog is by examining him physically. If your dog is at a healthy weight, you should be able to feel his ribs and spine under the skin without difficulty, but the ribs and spine should not be visible, and there should be an abdominal tuck when viewing your dog from the side. If your dog is overweight or obese, feeling his ribs and spine will be more difficult as it’s covered by fat, and his abdominal tuck may be less pronounced or not visible at all.
Ask your vet. Some vets may not bring up a dog’s weight because it can be a sensitive topic for owners, but if you show an interest, your vet will be glad to help you track your dog’s weight regularly, let you know if your dog needs to lose weight and how to go about the weight loss.
Exercise Tips To Prevent Dog Obesity
Exercise is important for all dogs to maintain a healthy mind and body. For dogs that are obese (or trying to prevent obesity), it’s an especially important tool. At least 30 minutes of exercise a day is the optimal amount.
You can do a healthy jog instead of your usual walk, or mix things up by turning his exercise into a game, like playing fetch, going to the park to play with other dogs, or even going for a swim! It’s important for dogs to get a variety of activities to keep them from getting bored.
Keep in mind that an obese dog will take some time to find his exercise groove. You can start off slow, doing just 10 minutes of exercise a day and slowly working your way up, instead of jumping right in at a run. If your dog is panting hard or is visibly distressed, take a break and give him some water.
Feeding Tips To Prevent Dog Obesity
The right amount of calories. Your dog has gained weight over time because he’s been eating more calories than he’s burning. This is most commonly because he’s eating too much, as opposed to burning too little. In general the recommended calories per day based on size is:
Small dogs (up to 20 lbs) – 300 to 400 calories per day
Medium dogs (up to 60 lbs) – 700 to 950 calories per day
Large dogs (over 60 pounds) – 1,400 to 1,700 calories per day
This recommendation is just a guide, and a lot will depend on your dog’s daily activities (sedentary or active), in that a more active dog will require more calories per day. For your dog’s weight loss needs, a good place to start is to measure how many calories he’s eating per day. The dog food label should contain the necessary information.
Once you’ve determined that your dog is overweight or obese, and that you need to decrease his calorie intake per day, do so slowly over time, no more than a 10% decrease in calories relative to his current calorie intake. During this period that you’ve reduced his food intake, monitor his weight at least once a week to check if he is indeed losing weight, and how much weight is being lost. You should aim for only 3-5% weight loss per month, or about 1% weight loss per week, no more. For example, a 50-pound dog should lose a maximum of 0.5 lbs per week, anything less than 0.5 lbs is ok, but more than that means you’ve reduced too many calories and should scale it back.
Once his weight loss has tapered off, meaning the 10% deduction in calories is no longer causing any weight loss per week, you can further reduce calories by 5-10% until he reaches his target weight. Continue monitoring his weight weekly and keeping within the target weight loss per week.
Treats. Treats are tricky because a lot of dog owners feel guilty for not spending more quality time with their dogs, and shower them with treats to make up for it. The treats your dog gets every day should count toward his daily calorie intake. And not just the treats you feed him, but also the treats he gets from everyone else in your house. Yes, it’s gonna be hard, especially with your pooch always making his puppy-dog eyes and begging for more. Just remind yourself that your dog has no self-control, he will always want more & more treats; in this case, you act as his self-control.
A few ideas for healthy treat-giving:
- Have a pre-determined number of treats per day in a bowl, have all household members give treats from that bowl only. Bowl gets replenished once a day.
- Set aside some of his regular food to be used as treats.
- Give healthier treats (fiber or veggies).
Other Tips For Preventing Obesity In Your Dog
- Start them off as puppies. Puppies that are obese have more health problems and will likely grow into obese dogs too.
- Stick to a schedule. Having a regular exercise and feeding schedule will condition your dog to expect these things and even look forward to them. It will also be easier to monitor for any unexpected changes in food intake or activity.
- Consult a vet. If you’ve followed all the above recommendations and still aren’t seeing the results you should be seeing, your dog may have a medical condition that’s causing him to gain weight. Hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease are uncommon but are worth checking out.