One of the most common issues we see in our pets is sometimes a tough topic to discuss.
Obesity affects up to 45% of our canine patients and can have a significant effect on lifespan, joint health, risks under anesthesia, and can predispose them to diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. For a long time, nutritionists believed that fat was fairly inert, but now we know that fat is a metabolically active substance that is pro-inflammatory and secretes hormones, and causes oxidative stress on the body's tissues.
A lifetime study in Labrador Retrievers found that being even moderately overweight can reduce a dog's lifespan by nearly 2 years! Let that sink in...that's the difference between your dog living to 13 and passing at 11 years of age. That's major!
I find that most owners don't take it very seriously when we discuss an animal's weight and year after year, the excess weight hangs on or the number on the scale creeps up. People love their pets through food, but unfortunately, this can really lead to expensive health problems. The truth is, for most house pets, weight is determined nearly entirely by calorie intake and activity level is a very minor part in achieving weight loss goals. Exercise is always wonderful to pair with a weight loss plan, but the nutrition aspect is really key and is going to be the difference between success and long-term weight management issues.
Dogs need relatively very few calories compared to people. There is a super handy calculator for calculating a dog's calorie requirements on petnutritionalliance.org. You plug in your dog's current weight, their ideal weight, and how many calories are in each cup or can of food you feed (this is listed on the bag usually as 'kcal/cup') and it will tell you how many cups or cans of food to feed per day to achieve the ideal weight. Super easy!
The big problem for many pets is snacking and treats. A small dog may only need to eat a few hundred calories a day to maintain healthy body weight and so when we give them a small treat or a scrap of our food it really adds up. A 1 oz slice of American cheese to a dog is the equivalent of a person eating an entire hamburger. 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is about 95 calories or about 10% of what a 50-pound dog should eat per day. It all adds up and it adds up fast...and we are totally in control!
To start off, make sure you are MEASURING what you are feeding your pet- using a coffee can or a random scoop isn't accurate. You can find a cheap set of measuring cups at the dollar store and keep this in your food container. A heaping cup isn't the same as a level cup- heaping the cup overfeeds by about 10%. It's ok to let your pups 'graze' if they don't eat all at once, but again, you have to measure- they can graze all day, but they can't have more than the calculated amount per day; however, if you have multiple pets, feeding at a meal time and not allowing grazing is best so one pet isn't outcompeting with the other dogs for food.
I know it can be hard to lay off the treats, especially since many dogs have been trained to beg for food through the positive reinforcement of feeding them from our plates or giving them treats for doing simple tasks, but it is very important to factor these treats into their daily diet calorie allowance. Avoid treats as much as possible. If you must give treats, make sure to subtract the calories in these treats from the daily calorie allotment. As the calories vary so widely and can be difficult to calculate, avoiding table scraps is best. Low-calorie snacks like Cheerios, apple slices, baby carrots, and even mini rice cakes are OK in moderation- but make sure you know how many calories each of these items has. I find that most dogs just care that they are getting *something* and aren't as concerned with what exactly we are feeding them.
Need a good way to hide pills? Mini marshmallows, melon, a banana slice, fat-free cream cheese, or unflavored gelatin capsules are great ways to disguise pills. Also having medication compounded with a flavoring can sometimes be helpful and cuts down on the extra calories we use trying to get pills into our pets.
We would love to help partner with you to help your pet achieve their weight loss goals! Annual wellness exams are the best time to discuss your pet's weight concerns and as long as you know the type and calorie content of the food you are feeding, we can help you calculate a specific plan tailored to your pet's lifestyle. Keeping a food diary of what you feed day to day can also be very helpful for us to determine what changes need to be made. We want your pets to live the best and longest life, and a healthy weight is a super important part of this!