Excessive weight gain has become the most common preventable disease seen in dogs throughout the United States. As of 2020, the number of dogs in the U.S. that are overweight or obese (56%) surpassed the number of dogs at an appropriate weight (44%), and this stunning statistic continues to rise each year. Obesity is a major concern in dogs because it can increase their risk of getting a variety of serious medical conditions: diabetes mellitus, joint damage and arthritis, kidney and pancreatic disease, cardiovascular issues, bladder, and urinary tract disease, skin problems, and cancer. Fortunately, losing weight can help these patients reduce that risk and even reverse some of the effects of these conditions.
Weight gain in our four-legged companions can occur for a variety of reasons. Some diseases can lead to an increased risk of obesity in dogs, which is why it is always important to consult your veterinarian so they can examine your dog before recommending any dietary changes. In an otherwise healthy dog, weight gain is often due to an imbalance between the amount of calories they are eating and the amount that they are burning in their daily activity. This means obesity is one of the few conditions that plague our pets that we as owners can have some control over. To ensure that our dogs are maintaining a healthy weight, we need to focus on choosing an appropriate amount of a quality food, promoting exercise, monitoring weight changes, and adjusting the amount of food that they receive based on those changes. Whether you are trying to get your overweight dog back down to a healthy weight or prevent your dog from becoming overweight in the first place, here are some simple steps that you can follow to help you and your dog meet your goals.
Determining Ideal Weight
When it comes to helping a dog lose weight, the first step is determining what their ideal body weight should be. Consult your veterinarian, as they can assess your dog’s body condition score (BCS) on a 9 point scale to help you understand your starting point. Your veterinarian can then use this BCS to establish an ideal weight for your dog and give you a reference point to track weight loss goals and progress. Dogs are considered overweight if they weigh 10-20% more than this ideal weight and obese if they are over 20% above it.
Dog On Scale
Photo courtesy of Depositphotos.
A BCS of 4-5 is considered appropriate, so anything greater than 5 is overweight and anything less than 4 is underweight. Every 1-point increase or decrease from the ideal BCS score (4-5) is about 10-15% of their weight. For example, if your dog has a BCS of 6, they need to lose 10-15% of their body weight, whereas a dog with a BCS of 9 would need to lose 40-60% of their body weight. With this ideal weight in mind as the overall goal, you can set smaller weight loss goals for your dog of losing 1-2% of their body weight per week. It is important that dogs do not lose weight too quickly, as this could mean that they are missing out on essential nutrients, which could lead to other health problems.
Maintaining Goal Weight
Once you have your goal weight, your veterinarian will also help you determine your dog’s current food intake; this includes the type of food they eat, the amount they receive, how often they are fed (2-3 times per day, free feeding, etc.), and the amount of treats or extra food they are given. Feeding your pet’s daily ration over 2-3 isolated meals throughout the day is a great strategy to make it easier to monitor their intake.
Also, eliminating treats, especially human food, is another easy way to cut out unnecessary calories. We know treats can be important for training and bonding, so you can use some of their daily ration of dog food as treats throughout the day if this is something that you do not want to give up. Many veterinarians will also recommend switching to a therapeutic weight loss diet that is designed to ensure that your dog still gets all of the nutrients that they need but with fewer calories.
In addition to regulating their food intake, making some lifestyle changes to increase your dog’s daily activity is another important step in the weight loss journey, as it will help them burn some extra calories. Simple activities like short walks, play dates, romps in the dog park, and throwing fetch in the backyard a few times a day can be extremely beneficial for meeting your dog’s weight loss goals and keeping the weight off in the future. Once your dog has returned to their ideal body weight, it is important to maintain some of these lifestyle changes so they can maintain that weight that you both have worked so hard to obtain.
Now that you have established your dog’s ideal body weight, adjusted their food intake, and determined what lifestyle changes you are going to make, you are ready to put your plan into action. Your veterinarian can help you calculate the number of calories that your dog should be consuming each day and determine what type of food would be most beneficial for your individual dog. Somewhat severe calorie restriction is often necessary to achieve the goal of losing 1-2% of their body weight in a week, so veterinarians will typically recommend decreasing their food intake by around 15-20% per day and monitoring their progress by weighing them at the clinic every 2-3 weeks. Monitoring your pet’s weight is one of the most important parts of this process, as you may have to further decrease their intake if they are not achieving their goals in an appropriate amount of time.
Although it may seem somewhat minor due to the large number of dogs that are affected, obesity is a serious disease that can lead to a lot of other major health problems in our four-legged friends. Fortunately, as owners, we can make some simple dietary and lifestyle changes to help our dogs maintain a healthy weight that will increase not only the length but also the quality of their life. Some of these changes can be difficult for both you and your dog to adjust to, but if you stick to your plan and work with your veterinarian, it will certainly be worth it
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.