Canine obesity is a serious concern among the pet population. Within the working dog population, it limits both the quality of life for the canine partner, as well as the length of service they provide to their human handler. Dogs that become overweight are more likely to develop diseases such as diabetes. Just 10% weight gain (or 6 pounds for a 60 pound dog) can cause arthritis. Reaching 15% over ideal weight (9 pounds in a 60 pound dog) can shorten a dog's life by up to 2 years.
How do we correctly address weight gain? If your canine partner is over their ideal weight range, slow and steady weight loss is best; this will be more likely to result in long-term success. Work with your veterinarian and Can Do Canines staff to create a weight management program. A successful weight management program will greatly improve the health of your dog, reduce the potential for future health concerns, increase the level of activity of the dog and ultimately improve the bond between owner and dog.
The weight management program will include reductions in the amount of calories consumed daily by your dog. It is vital to reduce the amount fed gradually rather than making drastic changes. Cutting the amount of food too dramatically will change your dog’s metabolism, making it harder to lose weight and easier to gain it back. Your vet may suggest a new food to ensure the dog receives the nutrients needed but does not receive more calories or fat than they can use.
With the reduction in intake you will need to ensure the dog ONLY receives their kibble- no additional treats to guarantee the dog eats only the amount of calories they need. Measure out a day’s food ration and use dog’s own food to treat and train throughout the day. Have the dog work for their food in fun ways:
- Hide a portion of the dog’s meal around the room for them to “find”
- Use a puzzle toy, muffin tin, rolled up towel, box, basket, etc. to help food last in a fun way
- Train skills and tricks
Remember, “begging” is an attention seeking behavior. While they may “always seem hungry” they really just want attention. Either ignore, or offer your dog an alternative when they beg like play, grooming, a walk, fetch, an outing or affection.
You will also need to follow a regular weigh-in schedule to ensure your dog is losing weight at a safe rate. Ideal weight loss should be 1% of body weight per week, or .6 pounds per week for the 60 pound dog. At the beginning of a weight management program, weigh the dog every two weeks and discuss food adjustments with your vet or staff.
The weight management plan will also include increasing exercise gradually. Your veterinarian and Can Do Canines staff can help you make an exercise plan for your dog. You will need to start the exercise program slowly and work up gradually. A healthy approach for an overweight dog with no orthopedic restrictions is to start with a 5 minute walk three times a day. Increase gradually with a goal of 30-45 minutes of walking a day. For more ideas, view the Conditioning Exercises guide.
When the goal of the program is met, it is essential to continue regular weigh-ins to avoid weight regain. Weigh the dog monthly- one trick is to weigh the dog each time you buy dog food. Your dog’s metabolism can change once the ideal body weight has been achieved, resetting at a lower rate. This will necessitate an adjustment in the dog’s maintenance diet, and again may require a food change. Just like people, doogs may regain excess body weight if healthy lifestyle habits are not maintained. Continue monitoring the overall caloric intake, encouraging your dog to work for all their food, and keeping up the exercise.
Healthy habits for a healthy team:
- Have the dog work for every piece of food
- Use play, toys or affection as occasional rewards too!
- Use their food for rewards instead of buying treats
- Make food last through slow feeding puzzle toys or other hide and seek games
- Develop a reasonable exercise routine for the days you can’t get outside
- Put a reminder in your phone for weigh-in day
- No great change happens overnight- take it slow and steady
- Rate your dog’s Body Condition Score every time you brush them