What can you do if your dog if its overweight? Here are our top tips on how to help your dog lose weight and live a happier, healthier and longer life.
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?
How to tell if your dog is overweight
First, how do you tell if your dog needs to lose weight? Weight problems often begin because – as owners – many of us don’t know what ‘just right’ looks like. Here are some simple techniques to help.
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 inward 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.
If you’re worried about your dog’s weight, it’s best to go and see your vet for more advice. They’ll be able to give you an accurate idea on what’s healthy for your dog’s type and can give you further advice and support. But, once the diet begins, there are a few ways that you can help your dog lose weight in the best way possible.
How to help your dog lose weight through diet
1) Keep 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 lose weight is keeping a close eye on 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 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.
2) Get the whole family on board
Another factor in dogs gaining weight 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 important to get everyone on board to avoid breaking the diet.
A good way to communicate this without blame is to research the long-term consequences of your dog being overweight together. This will help any ‘secret feeders’ understand that sneaking extra food to the dog is actually cruel, not kind.
3) Count those calories
Just like in humans, weight loss isn’t rocket science; it boils down to fewer calories in, more calories out.
To lose weight your dog needs a calorie deficit – that is, its burning more calories than it’s consuming. While dogs don’t tend to lose weight solely through exercise, you should try to ensure your dog is as active as possible to help this deficit.
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.
Remember - always take treats out of your dog’s calorie allowance. Chews and nibbles can quickly add up!
4) Avoid human food
Yes, 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.
But, remember – treats that are naughty for us are extra naughty for dogs. The Blue Cross have been doing the sums, and they think:
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.
So, think twice about sharing your human-treats with your dog. If it’s bad for you, chances are it’s bad for your four-legged friend!
5) Measure and stay motivated
Dog dieting is tough – whether you’re a person or a pooch – so it’s 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 when your dog loses weight.
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.
6) Remember 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; all of these are better than sausages, snacks and chews in most dogs’ minds. Keeping active stops your dog 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, you can build your bond without too many naughty treats!
Helping your dog lose weight is often a long process, but it’s one worth sticking with. After all, an overweight dog won’t be able to enjoy life to the full.
Is your dog on a diet at the moment? If you have any questions or would like to share your story, comment below or get in touch via our Facebook page. Or, if you have any photos to share we would love to see your progress!