If you are one of those people that sets yearly weight loss goals for yourself on New Year's Eve, maybe you might want to include your dog in your plans this year. According to results obtained by a national survey of vets, approximately 44% of all domestic pets, including both cats and dogs, are considered to be obese. Cats are actually worse than dogs with almost 57% of the cats examined by the vet clinics on the survey date coming in at obese or overweight. This same study, done by the Association of Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that in the United States alone there are some 26 million dogs that are overweight and at least and additional 7.2 million canines that would fit into the category of obese.
While every breed and mix of dog has a different normal weight range, owners can identify if their dog is considered to be overweight or has reached the level of being categorized as obese. Overweight dogs have a noticeable and detectable layer of fat over the ribcage that is definitely not muscle mass. They often have fatty deposits over the back, particularly over the hips and the top of the base of the tail. There is very little signs of an abdominal tuck and the lower line of the body is often flat from the chest through to the end of the body. There is padding across the chest that is fatty and dense and the neck may also be very thick with fat, even on breeds that are not known to have a thick, muscular type of neck.
Typically for most overweight dogs they will attempt moderate exercise but will tire very easily. They will have difficulty in moving with agility or changing directions quickly when running and playing. They will have excessively heavy breathing and panting and may become overheated with even moderate levels of exercise. They may drink excessive amounts of water and generally appear fairly lethargic after any type of moderate or mild levels of sustained exercise.
Obese dogs go beyond just being heavy. These dogs basically have no body shape at all and no noticeable waist when viewed from the sides or above. The fat padding is extremely heavy over the ribs and body, typically making it impossible to even detect the rib cage. In some cases the dog will have a noticeable pot bellied appearance and the stomach will actually drop through the abdomen. These dogs have little if any energy, rarely trot or jog and also have increased digestive problems and other related health problems such as diabetes, arthritis and chronic bowel problems.
Helping your dog lose weight is just like loosing weight yourself. You have to decrease your dog's intake of the wrong types of foods and also increase exercise and activity levels, but only gradually and in a healthy way. Dogs that are overweight or obese don't need to have dramatic reductions in healthy dog foods, but they will need to have some items completely eliminated from their diet.
The first thing that has to go is any type of commercially prepared dog treat. Often dogs that are overweight or obese get several treats a day. You can make healthy, homemade treats that use whole grains and natural ingredients, but even these should be restricted until the weight loss is under control. Very small amounts of boiled chicken that is removed from the bone and chopped can be used as a treat but only in very limited amounts.
Take all human foods out of the dog's diet. This means no cheese, milk, eggs, bread, cookies, pastry, left-overs from the table, gravy or anything else that your dog may have enjoyed. Don't put this on kibble to encourage a dog to eat, she or she will eat if she is hungry. If the dog needs to have the kibble softened because of dental issues or digestive problems, use warm water or a very small amount of sodium free chicken stock to soften up the kibble.
Feed a high quality, weight loss kibble that is available from most pet stores or through your vets. If you really want to take control you can make your own dog food or switch your dog to a completely natural BARF or bones and raw foods diet. This does need to be done carefully with obese and overweight dogs so consult with your vet before starting any dramatic diet changes.
The next step is to gradually increase your dog's exercise level. Like people, if they have been sedate and barely active this needs to be done very slowly and carefully, especially if arthritis or other health issues are already present. Many overweight dogs have problems with hip dysplasia, luxating patella or even spinal problems due to the extra pressure on the joints and skeleton. Swimming, slow walks that gradually get a bit faster and longer and even just spending more time playing with the owners and family will all help in weight loss.
Adding a bit of extra walking and exercise during the day is perfect for dogs that are just getting started on weight loss. Have the kids walk the dog once around the block when they get home from school and then do the same as a family after dinner. By gradually increasing the amount and duration of exercise you will increase weigh loss while also helping muscles and joints build and strengthen. Watch for signs of stiffness, pain in movement or difficulty in getting up and down that may indicate the dog has overdone it. Talk to your vet about massage options or heated dog beds that may help this with older dogs with arthritis.
Unlike humans, dogs won't give into cravings by running to the supermarket or the fast food restaurant. They do, however require that their owners help them out by only providing the most nutritious, balanced types of foods. In general even when dogs get back to normal weight ranges you should still avoid feeding any human foods or left-overs, rather consider a meaty joint bone or a piece of raw fruit or vegetables as a better snack or treat.