Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, have different jobs and lifestyles, and after years of selective breeding, some of their features could not BE more different (a dachshund, a pug, and a greyhound?)! But what is one major characteristic that dogs have in common? Their love of food, of course! Occasionally, there is a pup who seems to eat just enough to survive, but the norm for dogs and their relationship with food is that they love it, never have enough of it, and if the opportunity arises, will sometimes eat enough to make themselves sick!
As pet parents, it is our responsibility as their rationally-thinking caretakers to ensure that the dog food they are receiving is nutritious, well balanced for their stage in life, contains adequate calories to match their metabolism and exercise level, and is rationed appropriately. The same goes for treats and “extras” that they are given throughout the day. Since weight gain in dogs can have negative effects, maintaining your dog’s physique and body condition is important and will have long-term benefits in comfort and health. So, if you’re wondering is my dog overweight and how can I address it, we’re here to help!
Addressing the Overweight Dog
Acknowledging the Problem
The first step, and sometimes the hardest, is acknowledging that your dog is overweight and realizing that you, as the pet parent, are the one who can change things and help them shed those pounds! Just like weight loss in humans, it takes time, dedication, and consistency. Your veterinarian is your partner on this journey as well and following their advice is key to dog weight loss success.
The Veterinary Exam
Typically, a dog’s weight loss journey will begin in the veterinary clinic exam room. Using the standard Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Chart, the veterinarian determines that a dog rates somewhere above the ideal body condition score of 5 out of a scale from 1-9 (9 being grossly obese). Along with the BCS, your veterinarian will take into account your dog’s breed and typical adult size to estimate an Ideal Weight Range that might be a healthy goal for your dog. Before any diet programs are discussed, your veterinarian will likely rule out any metabolic causes of disease and weight gain by performing blood and urine testing. These tests will look at the overall function of the internal organs. Specialized tests related to metabolism may be recommended to assess the activity of the thyroid and adrenal glands. Any health conditions should be addressed and managed, and sometimes this alone will result in the eventual return of a healthy body condition, so it is very important to rule these out first!
Daily Energy Requirements
Once your vet has determined that the weight gain is not linked to a health condition, let the real work begin! The vet will plug some numbers into a formula that calculates the daily energy requirement based on your dog’s weight, and then will make some additional calculations to determine the appropriate restriction of calories that will safely move that scale in a downward direction!
Rapid weight loss through hunger and deprivation does not a happy dog make, and is not safe for your pup. The rate of weight loss depends on your dog’s size, health condition, and concurrent health issues. For smaller dogs, a goal of just 1/2 lb per month might be a good place to start! Larger dogs can probably shoot for 2-3lbs per month, but again, safe rates of weight loss can be determined by your family veterinarian.
What About Diet food?
No, there really isn’t a Weight Watchers for dogs… yet, at least! We do have a variety of over-the-counter commercial diets that have a higher fiber/lower calorie content that can keep dogs satisfied while reducing calories at the same time. These dog diets, like Royal Canin Weight Care, and Science Diet Perfect Weight, are usually the first line of defense for overweight dogs and are especially useful if only a few pounds need to be shed. They are also designed to be maintenance diets too, meaning they are balanced and nutritious for adult dogs, and it is safe to administer them daily over long periods of time, or indefinitely if needed!
And If Diet Food Doesn’t Work?
Occasionally there are some dogs that need next-level weight management… either they are considered clinically obese, or their first diet plan did not result in weight loss (or possibly, resulted in weight gain… ahh!). The veterinarian will start out the same way, with blood and urine testing to rule out disease-causing conditions, and calculations for daily caloric intake, allowing for weight loss. Then, they are more likely to reach for the “bigger guns”– the prescription reduced-calorie diets like Royal Canin Weight Control, Purina Pro Plan Overweight Management, and Hill’s R/D or Metabolic.
So if you’re wondering, how much should I feed my dog if she’s overweight, consult your veterinarian before trying out a diet. Diets for dogs are designed to be used as a therapeutic “treatment” to get obesity under control. They are commonly used for a period of months, and once weight loss goals are reached, changing to a maintenance light/low-calorie diet for dogs might be attempted for the long term. Reaching the goal is often not the hardest part of the weight loss adventure though. It takes continued work, exercise, and regular weigh-ins to keep the pounds off too! Monitor their daily treat intake too, and try some healthy treats for dogs on diets!
Don’t Forget The Exercise!
So far, the focus has been mostly on the food aspect of obesity, but we cannot overlook the importance of getting that body moving! Staying active and burning those calories is good for the heart and mind of humans and canines alike! Your dog’s fitness level at the time they are determined to have a weight problem will define what kind of exercise routine they can handle alongside their dietary alterations. Dogs with a decent level of fitness can add 15-30 minutes to their daily routine right away, and even increase the duration or speed every couple of weeks.
Dogs that have been sedentary or have mobility issues need to be a bit more conservative and practical with their exercise regimen so as to not injure themselves. Pet parents also may not enjoy this time with their pup if they find their partner is reluctant to engage in the workouts, so it is important to design a practical workout plan that works for everyone. Starting off just sauntering down to the end of the block and back, with the intention of increasing by 5 minutes every couple of weeks is very reasonable for most dogs! Underwater treadmills found at rehab facilities or swimming can also be great alternatives for dogs that need some exercise adaptations. It is generally recommended that dogs receive 30 minutes to 2 hours of activity and exercise per day (sometimes more depending on the dog breed!). Keeping up an active lifestyle and experiencing the outdoors together is one of the best ways to bond with your dog, while also working the muscles, and burning some energy.
Weight Loss Success!
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight for a dog is one of the best things that can be done at home for their health, happiness, and comfort. Dogs tend to instinctually have an intense love for food, so it is very easy to overfeed and treat them at their request. When an appropriate diet, portion control for meals and treats, an adequate and sustainable dog exercise plan that works for the family is determined, pet parents have an excellent chance of keeping their canine buddy in the best physical condition resulting in a longer and happier life together!
Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need, such as questions about your pet’s weight, or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign in to your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!
Alexa Waltz, DVM
Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!