It's not always easy to spot your pooch being overweight and when you do have an overweight dog, how can you help them? Here is our guide...
Lintbells’ top tips to help overweight dogs lose weight
According to the PDSA, one-in-three dogs are overweight – and being too heavy isn’t good for health, happiness and longevity. So how can you tell if your dog is getting too chubby, and what do you need to do to help overweight dogs lose weight?
Spot the overweight dog
Weight problems often begin because – as owners – many of us don’t know what ‘just right’ looks like. Let’s see if you can spot who’s overweight, who’s underweight, and who’s just right from the dogs below:
Scroll to the end of the article to see which ones you got right!
Didn’t do as well as you thought you might?
Unfortunately, many of us are so used to seeing overweight dogs that we don’t actually recognise that our pets are carrying a little extra weight. As our dogs are all individuals, with different body shapes and types, it’s not as simple as just googling a breed/weight table. Just like us, dogs can be fine boned or heavyset, naturally muscular or more inclined to put on fat… even within their breed. That’s why you need to take a more individual approach.
3 ways to tell if your dog is overweight
Look from above All breeds and mixes should have a clearly defined ‘waist’. Look between their ribcage and the back legs – healthy dogs are, to a degree, an hourglass shape. There should be a clear curve inwards after the ribs end and before their hips.
Look from the side Does their belly tuck up neatly, or run straight on from the end of the rib cage? Maybe they even have a little pot belly? All breeds should show some definition here, so if your best friend is sausage-shaped – even if they’re a dachshund! – it’s time for a diet.
Touch-test Gently run your hands over their sides. If your dog is just right, you should feel their ribs, but not too much. The ‘knuckle’ test is a handy way to check. Start by making a loose fist with your hand. Run your fingers:
- Over the back of your hand
- Over your knuckles
- Over the back of your fingers near the knuckles
Now feel your dog’s ribs – which feels most similar? If their ribs feel ‘well cushioned’ like the back of your hand, they could be overweight. If they feel like your knuckles, they may be underweight. If the ribs are like your fingers near the knuckles (padded but clearly evident), they’re in good shape.
The PSDA provides a good video guide here, too.
Always check with your vet
The first place to start when it comes to finding your pet’s perfect weight has to be your vets. They’ll be able to give you an accurate idea of what’s healthy for your dog. They may even have a weight loss clinic you can join together!
Why worry about excess weight?
It’s easy to think that a few extra pounds just make your pet more cute and cuddly, but unfortunately, it can cause problems too. Dogs and cats didn’t evolve to lead the sedentary lifestyles many do now, and used to spend much more of their days hunting and scavenging, keeping lean and trim naturally.
Lazier days – and more accessible, nutritious food – can see numbers on the scales quickly creep up, and with them, vets are seeing more health worries. There’s a good overview of the concerns excess weight can lead to, and the prevalence of podgy pets at the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
Did you know?
Excess weight puts serious extra strain on:
- Joints and ligaments
- Circulatory system
- Internal organs
There are clear links between weight and lifespan too, so for happiness and healthiness in the long term, it’s kinder to say no when they beg, however cute those puppy dog eyes!
Practical tips to help dogs lose weight
Keeping track of eats and treats
The biggest cause of pet obesity is sneaky treats and extra portions – so the first step to help your overweight dog get trim is being really honest about what they’re eating.
A good way to do this is to have a food diary that everyone in the family contributes to. Make a shared online document, set up a whatsapp group, leave a piece paper on the fridge… whatever works for you. Just be sure to write down everything your dog consumes each day. It’s also really important to properly measure their food by weighing out portions.
The simple action of keeping a shared food diary can reduce excess treating and doubled-up meals. Clever dogs learn to act ‘unfed’ in busy households, sneaking extra breakfast and supper from different family members.
Get the whole family on board
Another factor in pet podge is our own lack of understanding. Sometimes younger – or older – members of the family don’t consider the consequences of sneaking Fido a sausage. But it’s really important to get everyone on board… it’s OK to feel sorry for the hungry dog and distract him or her with cuddles, games, toys and walkies, it’s not OK to break the diet.
A good way to communicate this without blame is to research the long-term consequences of being overweight together, so your secret feeders understand for themselves that sneaking extra food to the dog is actually cruel, not kind.
Just like in humans, weight loss isn’t rocket science. You simply need to balance the calories ingested with the calories your pet burns. To help them lose weight, they’ll need a deficit, so their body starts to burn off excess fat. Working out the right number of calories for your dog’s breed, age and exercise level is a job for your vet or vet nurse. However, there is a formula you can use to get a general idea:
- Divide your pet’s ideal weight by 2.2.
- Multiply this figure by 30.
- Add 70 – now you have a general idea of how many calories to feed a spayed or neutered dog
However, we recommend taking expert advice as one size doesn’t always fit all – there are lots of additional factors at play, like whether your pet is neutered, whether they have a fast metabolism, whether they have specific nutritional needs because they’re doing lots of exercise or growing fast. Once you’ve discovered exactly how many calories your dog should be consuming, you can cross-reference with your doggie food diary and start making changes.
Top tip - Always take treats out of your dog’s calorie allowance. Chews and nibbles can quickly add up!
What about human food?
There are some human foods that can be good for dogs on diets – think fresh fruit and veg as treats, fragments of rice cakes for training, or perhaps some lean protein like chicken breast chunks.
However, naughty treats (for us) are extra naughty for dogs. The Blue Cross have been doing the sums, and reckon:
- A sausage to a Staffie is the equivalent of one and a half chocolate bars to a person.
- A slice of buttered toast to a cocker spaniel provides about a sixth of the daily calorie requirement – or two bags of crisps for a person.
- A chocolate digestive to a Jack Russell is almost the same as a portion of chips to a person – and chocolate is poisonous to dogs.
Different dogs need different diets
Now you understand what’s caused your dog’s weight gain, and how much food they should be getting to help them slim down, how do you help them stick to a diet? It all comes down to their foodie personality…
Is your dog a Sneaky Snacker or Ever-Hungry Hound?
There tend to be 4 types of overweight dog. Identifying what’s going on with your podgy pooch can help you make the best lifestyle changes for them:
The counter-surfing, bin-buffet-seeking, snack-seeking missile in canine form. These are the dogs who will do anything for a little extra, and hoover up anything you (or your little ones) drop, and scour the park for lost chips!
As well as controlling these dogs’ regular diet, you’ll need to change your habits too, and become super-vigilant about the extra snacks they sneak. Little things like keeping your bin in a cupboard, popping your dog in a different room whilst you feed the kids, and keeping a close eye on what they eat out on walks can make a real difference.
These dogs seem to ‘barely eat a thing’, turning their nose up at their doggy diet and waiting instead for treats and human food snacks.
Thankfully, with a bit of tough love, Picky Pooches are the easiest troublesome eaters to manage. Simply stop the extras and provide only dog food. If they don’t eat it within 30 minutes, take it away until the next meal time. If you choose to feed a Picky Pooch dry food, a good way to tempt them to eat their own food is to add a little warm water to release the smell. You might also consider a more tempting mix of wet and dry, again with a little warm water.
Remember that dogs can skip odd meals without adverse effects, and they will eat when they get hungry enough – though if they don’t eat anything for more than 24 hours, have a chat with your vet about what to do next.
Some dogs, like some people, are unlucky when it comes to metabolism, and simply don’t burn as many calories as others. Though you may be feeding no excess treats, and following the pack instructions to the milligram, they still seem to put on weight.
For these dogs, it’s really important to chat to your vet to decide the right amount of food to give to help your dog lose weight. It might also be worth discussing diet foods, and bulking your dog’s food with healthy veggies to add fibre. This can help your dog feel more full, even if they’re on a smaller ration – there’s even something called the ‘green bean diet’ for dogs! In some cases, there are medical ways to help, too.
Like all dieting dogs, you should gradually up the Ever-Hungry Hound’s exercise, and think about ways to be more active wherever possible. Though dogs don’t tend to lose weight through exercise alone, increasing activity and level of intensity will burn more calories – so if your dog is fit enough, consider running together, or adding lots of active games into their routine. From fetch and hide-the-toy to doggie sports like agility and flyball, there are so many great ways to get active.
There are lots of gentle ways to increase their activity around the home too, including toys you can fill with kibble from their daily allowance. Have a chat with your vet or vet nurse about the right exercise plan for your best friend, and ask for suggestions about what’s ideal for their age and breed.
This is more about humans than your dog, and can actually stem from your own relationship with food. Do you always reward good behaviour with snacks and treats? Maybe you compensate for a missed walk or a long day at home with chews, treats and a big dinner?
If this all sounds familiar, it’s a good idea to start thinking about other kinds of reward, like games and walks. Though dogs are naturally quite active and don’t tend to lose weight through increased exercise alone, by swapping the way you reward your dog, you’ll reduce excess calorie intake whilst cherishing your bond.
Measure and stay motivated
Dieting’s tough – whether you’re a person or a pooch – so it’s really important keep track of progress and celebrate milestones together. Your dog may not understand what all the fuss is about, but it’ll help you (and your family) stay motivated.
Have a weekly weigh in – or join your vet’s ‘fat club’ – and celebrate each successful week with a special walk together to celebrate the pounds dropping off.
A photo diary can help boost morale too. Take a photo every week with your dog in the same place and pose, and you’ll soon seen how small changes add up to a happier healthier pooch.
Healthy ways to reward your dog
There are lots of healthy ways to reward your dog without using food. Cuddles and stroking, games like fetch and tuggy, walking to new places, and simply spending time together are all better than sausages, snacks and chews in most dogs’ minds. Keeping active stops them focusing on food too, which can be helpful if your dog tends to beg and scrounge.
As they become fitter and healthier, you might consider trying some new activities together – from CaniCross to dog agility, scent work to qualifying as a PAT dog, build your bond without too many naughty treats!
So that’s our guide to dieting for dogs – we hope you find it helpful. Did we cover everything you’d like to know? If not, just ask! Or maybe you have some tips, ideas or ‘before and after’ pics to share? We’d love to hear how you keep your dogs trim, so why not leave a comment, or join in the chat on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Answers - 1. Underweight 2. Slightly overweight 3. Good weight 4. Slightly overweight