It is well worth involving your vets in any weight loss program you decide to implement, especially if your dog is severely overweight, as losing weight can be a hazardous process with some health risks to be considered. The main considerations are the rate of weight loss and the ultimate target weight. The rate of weight loss is an issue because if you put your dog on ‘crash diet’ where they lose lots of weight very quickly, this can lead to health complications such as fatty deposits in the liver (although this is more common in cats), so it is advisable to stick to a moderate rate of 1-1.5% per week as a safe maximum. So this would equate to a weight loss of between 300-450g per week for a 30kg dog, meaning that it would take around 3 months for this dog to lose 5kg safely.
The issue of ultimate target weight is more subjective and should always be kept in context with the concurrent use of condition scoring as a ‘fail safe’ back up. For example, if your vet advises that your 30kg dog needs to lose 5kg to get to a target weight of 25kg, it might be that at 26kg, a condition score exercise determines that your dog is actually now at a ‘normal’ weight and the weight loss program can be stopped rather than continuing on the arbitrary figure of 25kg. Always be prepared to modify your target based on the physical evidence of condition scoring as this is a much more reliable and safe guide to your dog’s true state of weight than simply relying on what the scales say.
There are many approaches to effecting weight loss in dogs, ranging from simply feeding less and walking more, to the use of expensive ‘prescription’ diets, but whatever approach you chose to use, there are some key pieces of advice that you should consider:
Eating too much of the wrong kind of foods is the main reason that so many pets are overweight, and by making some simple changes to the way you feed your pet, you can make a big difference to their weight and wellbeing:
- Reduce the calories – the ideal way to keep your pet slim is to feed them exactly the right amount of calories, or energy, everyday. If they are overweight, then you simply need to feed less, or use a lower calorie food, and they will lose weight. Your vet will be able to give you detailed guidance, but generally reducing their total daily calories by around 20% is ideal. My new Vte;s Kitchen Light variety for dogs is ideal, containing 20% less fat and calories than our adult foods.
- Cut out the tit bits – leftovers and tit bits from the table are the number one enemy of slim pets! We tend to give the least healthy bits from our meals, such as fatty bits of meat, and these go straight from your plate onto your pet’s hips!
- Use healthy fillers – grated veg such as carrots or courgettes add bulk to food but very few calories so they are a good way of keeping your pet feeling full but not piling on the pounds.
- Small regular meals – are better than one big meal, so divide your dog’s food into 2 small meals, morning and evening.
- Choose a healthy food – avoid ‘junk foods’ containing high levels of sugars, fats and artificial additives.
Along with a suitable diet, regular and appropriate exercise is vital to keep your dog in shape.
- Build up gradually – don’t suddenly change the amount of exercise your dog gets as this could cause health problems – instead, make the change gradually over a few weeks to let them adjust to the new regime, especially if they are old or very overweight.
- Make it fun – exercise regimes are so much easier to stick to if they are fun, so choose something that you and your pet will enjoy. Why not consider joining your local flyball club, or try mountain biking or jogging with your dog as activities like this can be a great way of burning off calories as well as being fun for all concerned.
- Take it easy – if your pet is old or suffers from a mobility problem such as arthritis it’s important not to overdo it. Regular short walks are much better for older dogs than long hikes, and make sure you talk to your vet if you are concerned about any lameness or stiffness associated with increased exercise.
- General Weight Loss Tips
- Don’t give in to begging – dogs who beg will never be satisfied so even if you do give them the treat they want, they will still want more. Much better to be firm and only give them healthy snacks at set times such as just before bedtime.
- Give your pet attention, not treats – many owners use food as a reward and way of ‘buying’ affection from their pets – use attention as a reward instead by spending quality time with your pet.
- You are not being cruel by cutting down their food! A healthy, slim dog will be much happier than an overweight one.
- Dry food is much more filling than it looks – dry dog food swells up when it reaches the stomach, so what looks like a tiny portion will still fill your pet up.
- Neutering does not cause obesity! – many people worry that their pet will become overweight if it is neutered, and while it is true that neutering can slow the metabolism and reduce the amount of calories a pet needs, that doesn’t mean that this should automatically lead to weight gain, as you can easily reduce the amount of calories they eat to compensate for this.