Dogs gravitate towards treats just as we gravitate towards the dessert table. Much like humans, dogs are at risk of becoming overweight or obese at some point in their lives. It’s estimated that nearly 56% of dogs are overweight, which increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, puts unnecessary strain on their bones and organs, and decreases their overall life expectancy. As veterinarians who are also dog owners, we know those extra rolls are ripe for belly rubs, but we also want your dog to be at peak health every time we see them for their wellness visits. Since it’s far easier to prevent excess pounds than to shed them, the following are seven proven nutrition, fitness, and other tips to make sure your dog doesn’t head down the perilous path towards obesity.
1. Know Their Ideal Weight and Monitor
It’s critical that you know the ideal weight for your dog based on their size, breed, and age. Your veterinarian can give you a healthy weight range to target, which you should monitor on a regular basis. If you have a small breed dog, you can use your bathroom scale to weigh them precisely as you would weigh yourself. If you have a larger breed dog, you can weigh yourself first, pick up your dog, weigh yourself with the dog, and subtract the difference. Most veterinarian offices welcome regular weigh-ins free of charge for large breeds that cannot be picked up to help you monitor your dog’s weight.
2. Choose the Right Dog Food
Your veterinarian can help you choose a dog food that is appropriate for your dog. Puppies need food formulated for their early life stage, which should change as they enter adulthood and then again when they become a senior dog. Serving your puppy an all-purpose dog food can mean extra calories at a young age, making obesity more likely.
3. Don’t Overfeed
Portion control is a significant factor in ensuring your dog maintains a healthy weight. You should also choose specific meal times and stick to them, and your dog will quickly learn when it’s time to eat and when it’s not. This will minimize begging and the tendency to overfeed based on the assumption your dog is hungry. Also, avoid keeping their bowl full at all times — often referred to as free-feeding — which will result in your dog eating more and gaining weight.
Clients often tell us that their dog is always hungry. Most dogs will eat way more calories than they require if allowed, but this does not mean they need it or are hungry. It is just their instinct to eat food when it is available in case food will be scarce at a later time.
4. Avoid Table Scraps
It’s tempting to give your begging dog the leftovers from your dinner plate, but best avoided. Dogs consume unnecessary extra calories when they’re fed table scraps in addition to their regular feedings, so it’s best to stick to their dog food and occasional dog treats. Not to mention, human foods are often cooked with fatty oils and/or contain added seasonings, which aren’t healthy for your dog. If you want to treat them to the occasional table scraps, make sure they’re low calorie, low salt, and low fat.
5. Give Them Plenty of Exercise
A daily routine that involves a long walk is ideal for your dog’s overall health and maintaining a healthy weight. Just like humans, dogs need to burn calories to avoid weight gain. Plus, every dog loves outside time and fresh air. In addition to walks, other calorie-burning activities include swimming, a long game of fetch, and running alongside you. Just be sure to ease your dog into something more demanding like running, as they need to build up endurance just like we do. Walks are also good for mental stimulation and can help to avoid boredom-related behaviors at home.
6. Consider Interactive Feeding Toys
Interactive feeding toys are a great way to make your dog work for their food, burning calories while consuming calories. They force your dog to eat more slowly while providing mental stimulation and making mealtime even more enjoyable for them. Interactive toys include slow-feed bowls that force your dog to follow maze-like barriers to eat their food or toys that dispense food and entertain them in the process.
7. Remember That Not All Treats Are Created Equal
As veterinarians, we don’t expect you to cut treats out of your dog’s life. Giving and getting treats is a part of your relationship’s beautiful and reciprocal nature—and this starts early with using them as part of obedience training.
Ask your veterinarian for tips on healthy store-bought treats, or consider these treats that the ASPCA recommends as healthy alternatives:
- Apples and raspberries (without the seeds)
- Green Beans
- Kibble (you can fool them into thinking this is a treat!)
- Popcorn without the butter or salt
Also, make sure to refer to their list of potentially toxic foods for dogs to avoid an emergency situation.
Being proactive about your dog’s weight will spare them medical issues and prolong their life. The bonus is that some of these preventative measures — including exercise and interactive toys — are enjoyable. However, we should also point out that weight gain can be related to a medical condition such as hypothyroidism. If you’re following these recommendations and still noticing that your dog is gaining weight, please give us a call.