If your dog’s waistline has started expanding, it’s time to take action. Excess weight can be as damaging to your pet’s health as it can be for ours, with experts warning that mobility problems, diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers can all arise from obesity. Fortunately, there’s a host of things you can do to bring your pet’s weight back under control, from counting calories and increasing exercise to introducing careful supplementation and distraction techniques. Get your pet fighting fit with these top ten weight-loss tips for dogs that work.
1. Count Calories
The first step in bringing your pet’s weight under control is to start counting calories. Simply calculating how much to feed them by eye isn’t enough, especially when you consider that calorie count can vary widely depending on the pet food brand. Even going strictly by the guidelines provided at the back of the pack isn’t always sufficient: most brands base their feeding guides on the needs of active, un-spayed and un-neutered pets. If yours is elderly, sedentary, or “fixed”, it’s likely they’ll need a very different amount than the one advertised. A good starting guide to calculating your pet’s calorie needs is to divide their weight in pounds by 2.2, multiply that figure by 30, and then add 70. The number you’re left with is how many calories an indoor, spayed/ neutered cat or dog will usually need. However, as needs can vary according to health and general condition, always speak to your vet before making any sudden changes to their daily diet.
2. Avoid the All-Day Buffet
If you’re guilty of treating your pet to an all-day buffet, it’s time to stop. Pets don’t need constant access to food, and providing them with 24/7 grazing opportunities could do their health more harm than good. While some animals will naturally moderate their food intake, others are as susceptible to overeating as us; if the food keeps coming, they’ll just keep eating. Keep their weight in check by keeping food to scheduled meal times only.
3. Be Wise with Treats
While treating your pet to the odd tasty tidbit can be hard to resist, you might need to start if they’re packing on the pounds. Given that just 10 extra pieces of kibble can add a pound of weight to a small dog over the course of a year, it’s easy to see how the scales can start to creep up – especially if you’re supplementing their diet with lots of table scraps and extra treats. Keep treats to exactly that, and wherever possible, opt for low-calorie snacks like cubed vegetable slices or very small slices of lean protein.
4. Walk off the Weight
If you’re overfeeding your pet to the point that they’re much lard than fur, it’s unlikely a quick walk around the park is going to be enough to mitigate all the damage. Diet is key to weight control, and calorie counting will always be central to an effective weight management plan. That said, a good amount of exercise is still crucial. Aim for at least 20- 30 minutes of brisk walking with your dog everyday (if they’re new to any amount of exercise, ease them in using some of the handy tips on PetMd, and around 5 -15 minutes of active play.
5. Super Supplements
While a good diet is the cornerstone of good health, supplements have a role to play as well. A daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement will not only help your pet’s overall well-being, it can also help the achy muscles and sore joints that make exercise a problem for senior animals. Another supplement believed to help support weight loss and encourage lean muscle growth is L-carnitine- although as with all supplements, be sure to speak to your vet before introducing a new regime.
6. Minimize Carbs
Look at the ingredients list of most pet foods, and you’ll be shocked at the high proportion of carbs. While carbs aren’t necessarily “evil”, they do have a tendency to pack on the pounds. As a general rule, dogs, and even more so cats, benefit from a higher protein/ lower carbohydrate diet. Look for a food that contains protein as the first primary ingredient, and avoid any carb-heavy commercial treats.
7. Put Them to Work
While we aren’t suggesting you make your pet start paying for their bed and board, there’s something to be said for making them work for their dinner. Make meal times more interesting by packing their food into a puzzle game or treat dispenser. Not only will it stimulate their mind and engage their natural scavenger instincts, it’ll also help expend some of those extra calories.
8. A Family Affair
No matter how careful you are to ration your pet’s portion sizes and treats, you’ll make little headway if your good work is being sabotaged by other members of the family. If your kids or other half can’t resist sneaking your pet little treats, bring them on board by making your pet’s weight loss a family mission. If you’re still feeding treats as part of training, portion them out to each family member so you don’t risk going over the daily allowance. Make sure everyone knows who’s responsible for the main meals so you don’t risk duplicating meal times, and encourage everyone to get involved in play times and walks.
9. Weigh in Regularly
Keep track of your pet’s weight loss progress with regular weigh-ins. Drastic or sudden weight loss is to be avoided, while a loss of three to five percent of body weight per month is around optimal. Small dogs can be weighed on a baby scales (you can even weigh them on your own scales by hopping on alone and measuring your weight first, and then repeating the exercise while holding them. Deduct the first measurement from the 2nd to calculate their weight). If your pet is too large to be weighed at home, take advantage of the walk on scales available at most veterinary clinics.
10. Chew Time
If your pet has the kind of one-track mind that keeps their nose permanently in the food bowl, distract them with a long-lasting, low fat chew. Dried tendons and steer sticks are low calorie options that will satisfy your pet’s oral fixation, without packing on the pounds in the process.