Help your overweight dog slim down

We spoke to Fulham vet nurse Rosie Martin and found out her most essential tips to help your overweight dog and how they can slim down.

As winter rolls around every year, thousands of people across the country join gyms, take up exercise classes and resolve to stick to a healthy-eating diet in an effort to get fit and tackle the those unwanted bulges. Sadly this flurry of slimming excitement often wanes by February, but this is no reason not to keep an eye on your dog’s weight to ensure he is fit, healthy and happy.

Pet obesity is a national epidemic, with around 35% of dogs classed as obese*. Often this is a case of ‘killing with kindness’ – owners who adore their pets and want to show their love with treats, titbits and scraps from the table. Other reasons for pet obesity include lack of knowledge about portion size and dogs not getting enough exercise. Older dogs with joint issues such as arthritis often have reduced ability to exercise but are still fed the same amount they were when they were active dogs.

overweight dog
Obese dogs suffer many of the same problems that overweight humans do, including:

  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Increased risk of liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Joint issues (e.g. arthritis)
  • Skin problems
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Urinary tract disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Poor quality of life

Overweight or obese dogs are also at higher risk of complications under anaesthetic, and unfortunately you can never tell when your dog might require an emergency operation.

If you’re concerned your dog is overweight or obese, there is a simple test which can be done every day at home as part of your dogs’ health check:

  • With your dog standing in front of you, feel his ribs using both hands. With gentle pressure, you should be able to feel his ribs through the skin. If you find you’re having to press fairly hard, or can’t feel the ribs at all, then your dog is carrying too much weight.
  • Feel your dogs spine from his shoulders to above his hind legs. With gentle pressure you should be able to feel the spine. If you can’t feel the spine, your dog may be carrying too much weight.
  • Look at your dogs waist (the area where the stomach meets the hind legs). He should have a tuck underneath (the stomach curves upwards to meet the legs) and from above there should be an obvious dip in towards the hind legs. If you can’t see or feel a waist, then your dog could be overweight.

A useful and detailed body condition score chart can be found here:

overweight dog

With weight gain comes a reduced ability to exercise. You may have noticed your dog isn’t as interested in playing or going for walks and spends more time resting or sleeping. He may also become out of breath more easily and pant excessively even when at rest. Thankfully, as with humans, there is something that can be done if your dog is overweight or obese. The first port of call if you think your dog is carrying too much weight is your vet or vet nurse. They can weigh your dog and check his weight against previous measurements and perform a more in-depth analysis of your dog’s overall health. If your dog does have a weight problem, your vet may recommend a special weight-loss diet or the quantity of his current diet be reduced. Your vet or nurse will also help you establish an exercise plan which takes into account any existing health conditions.

overweight dog

Some tips to help your dog stay slim and trim:

  • As with humans, your dogs weight fluctuates slightly throughout his life. Perform the body condition check daily and you can keep on top of any extra padding if he develops it.
  • Avoid treats and extras for the sake of it. Only reward your dog when he has genuinely done something good for you, such as coming back to you in the park when you call him. He will value the treat more this way and you’re actually feeding him less.
  • If you do want to give your dog treats, compensate by taking some of his daily meal allowance away.
  • Don’t feed your dog scraps from the table! This encourages begging behaviour as well as giving him more calories than he needs.
  • Encourage your dog to run around in the park. If you can’t let your dog off the lead, consider a long training lead so he can run around but you still maintain control.
  • Take up power walking! Walking your dog at a constant, fairly quick pace will keep his heart rate elevated which burns more calories than a regular, plodding walk.
  • Be sure to investigate the calorific and nutritional contents of your dogs food. Many supposed premium brands often contain wheat and corn fillers and high levels of fat. Most of this information can be found online. Some foods also contain unnecessary additives and colourings.
  • Let your dog play with his food – I don’t mean let him throw it around the kitchen! Dogs are natural scavengers; they love to sniff out tasty treats. Try hiding your dogs food in different places around your house and let him sniff it out. He’ll be getting exercise while eating his dinner and he’ll also be mentally exercised as well!

overweight dog

There is some debate as to whether neutering your dog causes obesity. While it is true that neutered pets have a lower calorific requirement than un-neutered pets, there is little evidence to suggest that the removal of the sex organs causes weight gain. There are specific diets commercially available which are designed for neutered dogs. They are calorie and fat-controlled while still delivering all of your dogs daily nutritional requirements. As with any diet, it’s important to stick to the feeding guide and speak to your vet if you‘re at all concerned.

Obesity is a disease, but it is curable. Be under no illusions; it takes time and effort from both you and your dog, as with any human diet. He may beg you for food which can be heartbreaking, but don’t give in. He may decide to finish the walk early, or not really want to go out in the rain (who does?), but persevere. The reward of getting your dog to his target weight and knowing his quality of life is vastly improved and that he will live a longer, happier life is immeasurable, for both you as the owner and us as his veterinary team!

* PDSA, 2010

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