Many dogs are in great shape, they are athletic, healthy and within the weight range recommended for the breed. There are many dogs, however, that are simply obese based on both their individual size as well as their ability to be athletic and active. Obesity in dogs is more common than most owners think, and is not usually due to how much the dog is eating at meals, but rather due to the amount of human food, table scraps and even treats that the dog is receiving between meals or on top of the dog food they are eating.
A good rule of thumb is that treats and snacks, designed specifically for dogs, should only make up 5% of the total daily food intake for the dog. This five percent should also be subtracted from the total food amount for day, so the total food amount stays the same, it is just spread out more. Obese dogs are often fed 10-20% of their daily food intake amount in high caloric treats that contain sugar, lots of carbohydrates in various forms, and very low fiber. In addition these dogs then receive 100% of their food ration at meals, and often some table scraps added in for an extra treat.
How to judge if your dog is obese
Basically looking at your dog honestly is the best way to tell if he or she is obese, overweight, ideal, or underweight. The first test is to look along the backbone. The backbone should be well fleshed over, but with gentle pressure the bones of the spine should be easily felt. Dogs that are too thin will have a highly visible backbone, while with obese dogs it will be almost impossible to feel the backbone, even with some slight pressure.
The ribs of an overweight or obese dog will be well-fleshed over and usually cannot be felt unless there is a fair amount of pressure applied. The skin is often very tight over a thick, heavy layer of fatty tissue. In a healthy and in shape dog the ribs should be easily felt and slightly seen without being prominent as would be noted in a very thin dog.
When viewed from above the obese dog has a pronounced bulge over the abdomen and the body appears pear shaped from the front shoulder to the hindquarters. Sometimes the dog just appears very rounded and thick all over the body when viewed from the top. A well proportioned and in shape dog will have a very elongated type hourglass shape when viewed from above.
Finally a truly obese dog will have folds of fat that are solid and often restrict the dog's natural movement. The overweight or obese dog will be rather lethargic, may prefer to sit and watch rather than to play, have difficulty with breathing when exercising, and may also have digestive problems and other health related problems such as muscle and joint stiffness and pain.
There are many different commercially available dog diets on the market that can be very helpful to get your dog to lose weight. Unless, however, you completely cut out snacks, treats and table scraps these foods and specialty diets will not be effective.
For most dogs simply eliminating any and all treats and table scraps and reducing the daily food ration by 1/4 will be all that is needed to get weight loss started. Owners must resist the temptation to give treats and snacks or to add a bit more food to the dish, no matter how sorrowfully the dog gazes at you. It may also be possible to switch to a higher fiber food that will make the dog feel fuller for longer periods of time. Avoid any foods that are high in carbohydrates and you may wish to feed more proteins in the form of meaty bones. Talk to your vet if you have any concerns about changing diets or if your dog has any health conditions such as diabetes or digestive conditions that may be complicated by changing foods.
Weight loss and exercise
As with any type of diet there is more to it than just changing food intake. Exercise levels need to increase to really have a big improvement in the overall fitness level. If your dog has been obese for a while, remember that he or she will need to become more active slowly. A dog can actually become stiff and sore if exercise is too intense or prolonged at the beginning of the program. Start by just an additional 5-10 minute moderately paced walk on a leash once in the morning and once at night. Gradually increase the amount of time that you are walking in addition to the speed of the walk. Once the dog is back into moderate shape you may want to start jogging with the dog or even taking him or her to the dog park for some exercise with other dogs. This is always great to get dog's running and active, especially if they are in a single pet home.
Make exercise a part of your structured routine with the dog. Find a few minutes in the day to go out in the yard and run around or play a game of fetch or hide and seek. The more active you are with the dog the more active they will become even when you are not around. You may also want to consider getting your dog involved in some type of event or competition that keeps you both working towards a specific goal. Events or classes such as obedience, agility, herding, tracking or retrieving can be a fun and rewarding way to add both mental and physical exercise for the dog and owner.
Keep evaluating your dog's weight loss success by checking in with the vet or weighing the dog yourself. In most cases the weight loss will be visible in a few weeks if you stick to the diet and add exercise to the daily routine. If the dog does not lose weight and you are following the plan consistently, get the dog to the vet for a full check up to ensure that the weight loss is not due to an underlying health condition.