How to help your dog lose weight

Everyone can struggle with weight loss, whether you have two legs or four!

Losing weight and getting in shape can add years to your dog’s life and make that time much more enjoyable.

Helping your furry friend lose weight is easier than you think. But it requires a commitment to fitness and weight loss, attention to detail, and assistance from your veterinarian.

What is the big deal if my dog is overweight?

Dogs that maintain a healthy weight are at lower risk than heavier dogs for many life-threatening health problems, which include diabetes, metabolic and endocrine disorders, kidney disease, hypertension, and some forms of cancer.

Dogs with lean body mass have fewer injuries to their bones, muscles, and tendons than dogs with excess weight. In addition, slimmer dogs tend to live two years longer than overweight dogs.

If your dog is under a year old and is already overweight, this could cause a lot of discomfort. If you allow a growing puppy to carry a lot of extra weight on his immature bones and joints, you’re signing them up for developing arthritis at a young age.

Why should my dog lose weight?

As little as five pounds above the ideal weight can increase your dog’s risk of developing serious medical conditions.

When your dog is obese or heavily overweight, it will not be a question of if it will develop serious medical conditions; it will be how soon and how serious the medical conditions are.

These are some of the medical conditions your dog could develop:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • increased frequency of joint injuries
  • osteoarthritis
  • some forms of cancer
  • high blood pressure

Dogs that are overweight or obese usually have shorter lives than fit, healthy dogs. Heavy dogs tend to interact less with their family and are less energetic and playful. As bigger dogs tend to be lazier and just lay around, it is more difficult to notice if they are developing an illness, as you might think it is their typical laziness. Dogs of average weight usually live significantly longer than overweight dogs.

How should I begin a weight loss program for my dog?

You would think weight loss is simple; fewer calories and more calories expended equals weight loss. But, unfortunately, it is not that simple.

It would be best if you had the assistance of your veterinary healthcare team before putting your dog on a diet. There could be underlying medical conditions causing or contributing to your dog’s excess weight gain. Some of the most common diseases associated with weight gain are hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism. If your dog has these diseases along with others, eliminate them as possible causes or contributors to your dog’s weight problem before beginning their diet.

Many dogs on diets do not lose weight because their diet did not cause the problem. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination, followed by blood tests, to ensure your dog does not have any diseases causing it to gain weight.

How much should I feed my dog to promote weight loss?

To calculate your dog’s ideal weight, your veterinarian will consider its breed and size. Based on your dog’s current condition, your veterinarian may recommend a target weight higher than the goal weight to begin. When your dog loses this weight, your veterinarian will re-evaluate to determine if further weight loss is needed. The safe weight loss for most dogs is 3-5% body weight loss per month. For many dogs, feeding them fewer calories should result in weight loss. However, if this fails, the total number of calories will need to be reduced further.

For most dogs, the best way to feed them is by providing them with a specific diet. You should know the number of calories your dog needs to consume daily and how many calories are in the food you will be feeding. When using a diet formulated by your veterinarian, the calorie content of the food will usually be printed on the label, and a member of your veterinary healthcare team can help you determine how much to feed. If using a commercially available diet that is not labeled with its calorie content, you can contact the manufacturer directly to obtain this information.

How can I get my dog to lose weight through exercise?

The first step to helping your dog lose weight is increasing the intensity and length of their walks. Some dogs will naturally walk at a pace that will help generate the heart rates needed for sustained aerobic activity and weight loss.

The average pace people walk their dogs is usually 20-25 minutes per mile (12-15minutes per kilometer) which is a stroll. They also make frequent pauses for an average of 2-3 minutes to let their dog smell an exciting object or make their territory. Walking as a form of exercise is different from walking for pleasure. If you’re walking to lose weight, you should break into a sweat within 3 minutes during your 30-minute brisk walk each day.

More tips for getting your dog to exercise are:

  • Move your dog’s bowl up and down the stairs, changing its location frequently, so your dog has to walk to get to its bowl. Overweight dogs are intelligent dogs; if they notice their bowl has moved upstairs, they will go upstairs too.
  • Treat balls or puzzle feeders can slow your dog’s ingestion and help them feel fuller.
  • You can encourage games of fetch and chase by using toys, balls, laser pointers, squeaky toys, or sticks. Try playing with your dog for 10-15 minutes twice a day. You can get toys for your dogs that move randomly or make noises that may also interest your dog.

How often should I have my dog’s weight checked?

Once you put your dog on a weight loss program, it is essential to determine whether it is working.

It is important to weigh your dog monthly until its ideal weight has been achieved. Each dog is different, and some may require adjustments in their diet or routine before finding the right approach. You should modify your program if there is no significant weight loss after one month. Making a slight change can deliver substantial results.

What should I do if my dog is hungry and keeps bugging me for food?

It is usually easy to give in to the dog that wakes you up during the night wanting to eat or the dog that stares at you while you are eating or watching television.

Dogs know how to push our buttons; they have us trained to get what they want.

Here are some tips for dealing with this:

  • Do not use a self-feeder. Auto-feeders are nothing more than an unlimited candy machine for a fat dog.
  • If you are thinking of using an auto-feeder, get one with a timer. This way, you can measure the proper amount and divide it into daily meals.
  • When your dog is begging for food, pet them or play with them. Some dogs substitute food for affection, so flip the equation, and you may find playtime displaces the meals.
  • Walk your dog when he begs for food; this will distract them from the food and may make him forget about food.
  • You can feed your dog a small amount of food frequently. Give the dogs that wake up during the night the last feeding so that they do not beg for more when they wake up. Divide the total volume of calories into four or six smaller meals. Please do not feed them extra food.
  • When your dog’s bowl is empty, and they are begging, add a few kibbles to the bowl. Not a handful, only a few.
  • When more than one person feeds a dog, its food, should be portioned into separate containers. This will let everyone know if the dog has been fed and if there is anything left to feed for the day. If you like to give your dog treats, feed them several kibbles from a container rather than giving them high-calorie dog biscuits.
  • Give your dog a couple of pieces of vegetables like baby carrots, broccoli, frozen sliced carrots, green beans, asparagus, or celery. Most dogs love crunchy treats, so make them healthy and low-calorie. Do not give your dog meat treats or carbohydrate treats. Even if you give them only small amounts, it can still lead to weight gain or obesity.
  • Give your dog water instead of food. If your dog is eyeing the bowl, a drink of cold fresh water might satisfy their craving.

What should I do if I have more than one dog in the house, but only one is overweight?

It would be best if you fed the dogs separately. For example, feed the overweight dog in one room while feeding the other in another. After a certain amount of time, usually 15-20 minutes, remove any uneaten food from the room.

Do not leave food out for your pets while you are not at home. You cannot control who eats what when you are not there.

How long will my dog need to be on a diet?

Many dogs achieve their ideal weight within six to eight months.

If the process takes longer than this, there is an issue that needs attention.

A healthy weight loss for a dog is between one and five pounds per month, depending on its size and current condition. For some dogs, shedding the pounds may take longer; for others, it may be quicker.

For many dogs, the secret to weight loss is a dedicated, concerned, and committed family.

Dogs do not understand that excess weight can cause serious health problems. Our responsibility is to ensure they are healthy and not contribute to their development of debilitating disease or early death.

You and your veterinary healthcare team can help your dog reach a healthy body weight safely and successfully.

7 tips on how to help your dog lose weight

Cut back on calories

Reducing calorie intake is a step towards helping your dog lose weight. Your dog probably needs less food than you think.

The feeding guidelines on dog food bags usually overestimate portion sizes, so always cut back. Use a measuring cup for accuracy.

If you’re giving your dog table scraps, your dog could be eating more calories than you think. Even though it is hard to resist those puppy eyes, it is what’s best for their health. Eliminating human foods from your dog’s diet will help them lose weight.

After reducing your dog’s food portions and eliminating table scraps, you may also need to change the primary source of calories in their daily food.

Focus on protein, cut back on carbs

Most dog foods are made with fillers that increase calories but do not increase nutrition, leaving your dog with inefficient energy and excess waste.

Consider switching to low-carb, high-protein foods instead. Consult your veterinarian for help choosing the right dog foods for weight loss.

High-quality food can help your dog achieve maximum fitness by giving them the correct energy and nutrition while reducing the risk of obesity and malnutrition.

Add healthy fiber to your dog’s diet

In addition to concentrating on wholesome proteins, consider including high-fiber snacks and mix-ins in your dog’s diet. For example, many dogs love carrots or bites of fresh apples. Likewise, a spoonful of canned pumpkin can help soothe your dog’s tummy.

Feeding your dog fresh, high-fiber treats to replace some of his regular food is a sensible strategy to lose weight.

Keep that water bowl full

Always look out for any signs of dog dehydration. Like us humans do, dogs turn to food when they are thirsty. So always ensure your dog’s water bowl is full of fresh, clean water. 

Good hydration has many health benefits, like a shiny coat and softer skin.

Reward with fun, not food

If you feed your high-quality dog foods already and your dog is still gaining weight, it might be because you provide them with too many treats throughout the day.

It can be very tempting to treat your dog just for being cute, but it’s just not healthy for them to have that many treats, which could be why they are gaining weight.

It is OK to use treats while training your dog but use high-fiber treats and break them into smaller pieces to avoid over-feeding them. Do not give your dog a treat unless they have earned it.

Introduce non-food rewards. Try introducing a game of fetch as a reward or a belly rub in place of food. If you have a dog sitter or dog walker, let them know about this too.

Make them pant

Introduce more exercise into your dog’s daily routine. Not only will this help your dog lose weight, but it will also keep its mind active.

You should aim for 15 minutes of strenuous activity twice a day. Helping your dog lose weight can be as easy as picking up the pace on the walk.

You want to increase activity to help your dog get in shape slowly. Start by extending your dog’s daily walks by a few blocks, increasing the distance and pace.

If you struggle with mobility, try playing a game with them that doesn’t require you to move a lot, such as a game of fetch or hide and seek. Also, ensure your dog has plenty of water as they exercise.

Hydro or swim therapy is a great exercise option for dogs with joint problems brought on by aging or excess weight. Anywhere with water, like a plain old swimming pool or a lake, will do for most water-motivated dogs. Canine hydrotherapy encourages movement, takes the pressure off painful joints, and is also a lot of fun.

Slow and steady trims the waist

For dogs with extreme obesity, it will take more time and effort to achieve a healthy weight. There are no quick fixes for canine obesity, but gradual changes in your dog’s diet and exercise habits can make a big difference over time. Again, consistency is vital—the most effective way to lose weight is to integrate exercise and a healthy diet into your dog’s daily routine.

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