How to keep your dog at a healthy weight

Is your dog a healthy weight? If not, start getting him in shape with a calorie-smart diet and aerobic activity.

Did you know that more than half of all dogs in the US are overweight or obese? This sobering statistic comes from a recent survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). Even more astonishing is that almost half of those people with overweight dogs believe their canines are a normal weight!

If you’re not sure whether your own dog is overweight, you’re not alone. Many people can no longer discern the difference between a robust weight and too much weight. Sadly, so many dogs are obese these days that perceptions of body size have become distorted. The dog that once looked lean and now appears underfed. The dog that a few decades ago was clearly too heavy, now looks like the majority of his canine buddies at the dog park.

“The disconnect between reality and what a pet parent thinks is obese makes having a conversation with their veterinarian more challenging,” says APOP founder Dr. Ernie Ward, who has dubbed this phenomenon the “fat gap”. “Many pet owners are shocked when their veterinarian informs them their pet needs to lose weight. They just don’t see it.”

An overweight dog can develop many of the same debilitating health problems as an overweight human, including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems, and excessive wear and tear on joints and ligaments. Fortunately, these problems can be avoided by getting your dog’s weight down through diet and exercise.

Part 1: Diet

Determine his daily calorie requirement

Once you know what your dog actually weighs, you need to determine what he should weigh. Here’s a good rule of thumb: don’t feed the overweight dog you see. Instead, feed the leaner dog living inside him. When setting a target weight for your dog, don’t be afraid to go a bit lower. If your 40-pound dog needs to lose five pounds, shoot for a seven or eight pound weight loss.

1. Let’s say your dog weighs 50 pounds. To calculate how many calories he needs each day to stay at his current weight, use this formula:

Daily calories = (body weight (kg) x 30) + 70

First, convert your dog’s weight from pounds to kilograms (kg). One kilogram is 2.2 pounds, so 50 pounds divided by 2.2 is 22.7 kilograms.

Going by the formula, if your dog’s daily calories = (his weight (22.7) x 30) +70, then his total daily calories = 751. So if your dog eats about 750 calories a day, he’ll stay at his current weight. If he needs to lose weight, he must eat fewer calories. Let’s say you and your vet agree your dog should be 45 pounds.

Let’s shave another three pounds off that to bring him down to a nice, lean 42 pounds. All we need to do is apply the above formula using 42 pounds instead of 50 pounds. Convert 42 pounds to kilograms (19.1). Then, (19.1 kg x 30) + 70 = 643 daily calories.

2. Next, you must determine how many calories are in the food and treats you’re feeding your dog, and adjust the amount downward as necessary. If you give him packaged pet food, don’t follow the label guidelines for how much to feed. Instead, find out how many calories are in a can or cup – this will vary by brand and flavor. You may need to visit the manufacturer’s website or call the toll free number on the label to get the information you need. If you prepare your dog’s food at home, the recipes you use to make her meals should contain calorie information.

3. Along with determining how many calories your dog needs each day to achieve or maintain his ideal weight, you need to feed it in controlled portions – usually half in the morning and the remainder in the evening. Don’t forget to factor treats into the daily calorie count. Note that free-feeding – also known as the all-day, all-youcan- eat-buffet – isn’t going to help your dog lose weight.

4. Here’s another very valuable tip. Use smaller bowls when serving your dog smaller portions of food. A big bowl with a relatively small amount of food in it has a way of looking too empty – a problem many people solve by adding “just a bit more” food. Don’t fall into this trap!

5. Use the right measuring tools to portion out your dog’s meals. Grabbing whatever’s convenient, like a coffee mug or soup spoon, will not allow you to measure the portions correctly. Use standard kitchen measuring tools.

Feed him real food

Overweight dogs on restricted calorie diets still need the protein, fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients essential for vibrant good health. When cutting the number of calories your dog consumes each day, make sure not to cut back on vital nutrition in the process.

You can do this by skipping all the “low fat”, “weight control” and “prescription” processed commercial pet foods. Instead, feed your dog the highest quality, balanced, species-appropriate diet you can manage, and practice portion control with each meal.

Part 2: Exercise

Aerobic activity is crucial

Animals are built for movement. Healthy canines in the wild are incredibly muscular and fit because they live the lifestyle they were designed for. There are no obese couch potato animals in the wild. Your dog is also a born athlete, but it’s up to you to provide him with opportunities to exercise and be physically active.

Regular aerobic activity provides many benefits for your dog:

• Helps maintain a healthy weight

• Keeps muscles supple and strong

• Promotes organ health, including the heart, as well as the overall structural integrity of your dog’s body

• Cures boredom and the undesirable behaviors that come along with it

• Helps strengthen the bond you share with your dog

Your dog needs to elevate his heart rate for a minimum of 20 minutes consistently throughout the week, and the only way to do this is through heart-thumping, muscle-building, calorie-burning aerobic exercise.

Keep in mind that your dog wants to please you, so there’s really no limit – depending on his health and overall condition – to the kinds of activity you can involve him in to help him lose weight. He’ll be happy to be with you and follow your lead. Use your imagination. Dogs can learn to walk on treadmills, and many enjoy swimming, which is a very beneficial physical activity for canines. He might enjoy retrieving balls or Frisbees, or try getting him involved in some other type of canine event that gets him moving, such as agility.

If your dog is very overweight or out of shape, take it slow in the beginning and build up gradually to a good daily workout. However you decide to meet his exercise requirements, just remember that his heart rate must be elevated for an adequate period several times a week in order to move his body into a fat-burning state.

Give your chunky canine a combination of the right diet and regular aerobic exercise, and the lean, fit animal living inside him will soon be revealed!