Want an easy way to add 1.8 years to your fat dog’s life? Get out and walk 5K.

Want to add 1.8 years to your fat dog’s life? Easy. Take some weight off. In a prospective study in Labrador retrievers, overweight dogs had a 1.8 year shorter life span and greater disease morbidity than their leaner cohorts1.

Although this increase in lifespan may only apply to the group of dogs in this study or the Labrador retriever breed, there is a growing body of evidence that overweight dogs suffer from a wide range of diseases such as pancreatitis, tracheal collapse, lower urinary tract disease (overall as a disease category and calcium oxalate urolithiasis), oral disease, osteoarthritis, cruciate ligament rupture, and intervertebral disc disease.2

Your dog, however, won’t be able to shed those extra pounds without your help. Canine weight loss is really about us as much as it is about them. Following these simple strategies will get you and your dog on your way.

Step 1: Stop with the thyroid nonsense and other excuses: The first thing you need to do is to stop making excuses.  Granted, some dogs have thyroid problems and other endocrine disorders that will prevent them from losing weight, but, in the vast majority of cases, it is because we feed them too much and exercise them too little.

As a rule, canine obesity is our fault and it is time for us to take ownership of the problem. Before you take ownership, however, it is recommended that you go to your veterinarian and just make 100% sure you dog does not have an issue that will prevent them from losing weight and they will be able to handle the weight loss program we recommend.

While you are there you should also get an assessment of how many pounds your dog needs to lose. Too many times, I have seen pet owners starving their bulldogs to get them to lose weight when, in reality, the bulldog is meant to look like the canine equivalent of a professional sumo wrestler.  Be sure to ask your vet for this information. Many veterinarians do not like to talk about weight management with pet owners.

Step 2: Learn how much is too much: The main cause for obesity in our pets is that we feed them too much. Dogs simply cannot go to the fridge and crack a beer or open that can of Pringles. The only calories they get are the ones we give them.  The problem is that it is notoriously easy to overfeed our pets.

In a few minutes you are going to learn that your dog needs a remarkably little amount of food to live well and be happy.  For may pet owners, this amount of food seems like it is too little and feeding dogs the right amount makes them feel guilty they are not feeding them enough. This guilt forces them to overfeed their dogs. If you feel guilty for feeding your dog so little, my recommendation is to go see a therapist and learn about why you are carrying around this guilt. Overfeeding your dog will not make them love you more and feeding them the appropriate amount will not make them hate you.

Fortunately, all you need to do to figure out how much your dog needs to eat is to plug their weight into this handy dandy little calculator2:

Click here to go to the handy dandy calculator and calculate your dogs daily caloric needs.

For example, a 20lb dog (Dachshund size) dog only needs 342 calories/day.

To give you an idea of what 342 calories equals in human food:

  • 2.5 pieces of bread
  • 2 hard boiled eggs and a piece of string cheese
  • 15 pretzel twists
  • 2 cups of cap’n crunch
  • 3 tbsp peanut butter
  • 14 Sweedish Fish

Holy cow you say? Is that all my dog needs to eat all day? Yup.

Think about it, dogs, such as terriers, were bred to go run around all day and catch rats and varmints and then chow down on some rat guts and bones. If they caught one rat a day they would be living pretty.  They could probably share the rat with their friends and do fine. Dogs are super efficient when it comes to food.

Now you can start to see why it is so easy to overfeed your dog. If you give your Dachshund their normal amount of dog food plus 5 pretzels or 10 pieces of captain crunch or a half a slice of bread you have given them 25% more calories than they need a day.  When it comes to dog treats that is the equivalent of giving your dog one stinking little Beggin Strip or Snausage. Again – one measly little sausage will throw off your Dachsunds diet by 25%.

 

Step 3:  Don’t make an easy problem difficult: Now that you know exactly how many calories your dog needs, and you know that it is incredibly easy to over feed your dog, get some dog food and follow the directions on the bag.  Your dog wants you to follow directions. Feeding your dog is not jazz improvisation. Just follow the directions on the bag. Measure carefully. Do not estimate. A few extra pieces of kibble can throw off the entire weight loss project.

Too often pet owners just give their dog a handful or fill up a bowl. Almost invariably this will result in overfeeding your dog. If you follow the directions on the bag, you are going to be amazed at how little you need to feed your dog. Getting back to our Dachshund, that is about one cup of food a day.  That is right one lousy little cup of kibble a day is all they get. Give them 1 ¼ cup and your dog gets fat. See how easy it is to overfeed your dog? Give them a few treats and you are on the road to obesity.

There are loads of dog foods to feed your dog. The choice is up to you. One thing to consider if your goal is to have your dog lose weight is that just decreasing the amount of food you currently feed your dog may lead to hunger and begging. A better approach is to use a  dog food formulated as a “weight loss” diet. These foods have increased protein and fiber to maximize satiety.

 

Step 4: Get off the couch:  To get the most bang for your buck on any weight loss program you need to get your dog off the couch. Bringing them to the dog park or putting them in the yard does not count unless they run around. If your dog chases a ball, you are golden. Throw the ball daily and you are on your way. If, however, you have one of those dogs that just stands there staring at you at the park – guess what? Weight loss just became a team effort for you and your dog because you are going to have to get out there an exercise with them.

You might take this opportunity to set some fitness goals of your own. It is my unscientific observation that fit people have skinny dogs. If you have ever been to an Ironman triathlon  event you will find 2 things. 1. Loads of people who look like Sleestacks and 2. skinny dogs. Fortunately, you do not have to be an Ironman triathlete to get involved. Companion fun runs such as the Walk Run Wag 5K9 program by the Petco Foundation are popping up in cities all over the country. Enter one. Set a goal. Get moving.

 

 

Step 5: Remember: It is a weight loss program not a concentration camp: Don’t go overboard with all of this. Enjoy your time with your pet and do not starve them to death or put them in boot camp. I have seen too many overzealous pet owners that try to emaciate their dogs by following the rules too closely. Don’t go nuts. Aim for modest weight loss over time. Shoot for 1-2% of body weight per week until your weight goals are achieved.

Good luck.

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11991408
  2. Canine Obesity: Disease Associations and Management: WSAVA World Congress Proceedings, 2011

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