In 2017, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that approximately 56% of dogs in the US were either overweight or obese. Obesity can limit a dog’s mobility, put added stress on hips and joints, and exacerbate pre-existing health conditions. Obesity also puts dogs at increased risk for certain types of cancer.
Given the health impact, it’s in the best interest of pets to maintain a healthy weight. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help manage your dog’s weight safely.
Start with a Checkup
A visit to the vet not only will allow you to document your dog’s baseline weight, it will let your vet rule out certain potential medical causes for your pet’s obesity—such as hypothyroidism, arthritis, elbow and hip dysplasia, and insulin-secreting tumors called insulinomas. Once these possible causes have been eliminated, your vet can help recommend a diet and exercise regimen that will allow your pet to shed those unwanted pounds safely.
As with humans, some dogs gain weight because they take in more calories than they work off. Add advanced age or a sedentary lifestyle, and you may have a recipe for pet obesity. If you’ve already discussed your dog’s weight issue with your vet, the doctor may already have provided a healthy goal weight for your dog. Try to keep track of your dog’s daily calorie intake—including treats and table scraps—and gradually decrease the caloric intake by removing the least healthy items from your pet’s diet. Weight loss in dogs should be slow, not exceeding 1% of the animal’s weight per week (or 3-5% per month).
If your dog is a “gobbler” you may need to restrict portion sizes. There are actually pet food dispensers that offer a high-tech way to meter your pet’s food at a rate you choose, as well as bowls designed to make “gobbling” nearly impossible, forcing your pet to eat at a more measured pace. As always, limit less healthy treats and snacks first, and consult your vet about the kibble your pet eats. Brands high in protein and lower in carbs and fiber can help your pet feel full longer and reduce those trips to the food bowl.
If your dog is healthy enough to exercise, even a half-hour a day can promote weight loss and heart health. Most dogs are eager to get some outdoor time, and a walk or run with your pet is good for you too! Dogs whose activity is limited by health conditions other than obesity can still benefit from exercise. A dog with hip dysplasia, for example, can be assisted in walking using a towel slug under the hips. If your dog has mobility issues not related to weight alone, ask your vet to recommend some safe exercises.
Editor’s Note: Our dogs certainly fill our lives with love and companionship—but they can also help us get off the couch and be more active. Here are ways you and your dog can stay fit together.
Don’t Look for a Quick Fix
Weight reduction pets is most successful when approached as a lifestyle change, rather than as a quick fix. If your pet is otherwise healthy, a program of slow and measured weight loss should help renew its interest in exercise and play.
We hope these tips help your pet live a longer, healthier life. Remember that pet insurance can help to ease the financial burden of veterinary care.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.