Tips to Help Your Dog Lose Weight
This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian,
Is your dog suffering from a bit of extra 'pudge'? Perhaps your 'Bulging Bella' is looking a little rounder around the middle, or 'Megatonne Max' is struggling to run up the stairs like he used to. Or maybe your vet has pointed out your pet's body condition and advised that changes need to be made.
As adorable as pudgey pets may be, obesity is no laughing matter. Being overweight can have serious health consequences for your dog including increased risk of osteoarthritis, diabetes, respiratory problems and anal gland issues. In addition, obese and overweight dogs can suffer from heat intolerance, constant discomfort, and are likely to have a reduced lifespan compared with their lean counterparts.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do at home to help get your dog into shape. And it's not just about dieting and exercise! We've put together some handy tips to help make pet weight loss easier and more fun for both your dog and you.
1. Weight Loss Diets: Which is Best?
Of course, just like with humans, diet is the first place to start when commencing a weight loss journey. But which diet should you choose? If you haven't noticed, there are a lot of weight control diets available for dogs and the choice isn't always clear.
Is a weight loss dog food necessary? Many dog owners query whether a weight loss diet is necessary, and wonder whether they can just feed less of their dog's regular diet. There are two issues with this: firstly, it requires strict compliance. Can you be sure that everyone in the house is going to resist your dog's pleading eyes? Secondly, even if you can comply with a reduced daily portion, your dog may experience hunger and reduced satiety due to the smaller amount of food in their tummy. A specially formulated weight control diet generally provides a lower calorie, higher fibre recipe which means that you can feed a larger portion size - so your dog will feel fuller and more satisfied.
What is the difference between a 'prescription / veterinary' weight loss diet and a 'regular / retail' weight loss diet? This is a topic which causes a lot of confusion. If you haven't noticed, there are basically 2 different types of weight control diets:
The two different types of weight control diets:
- "Prescription / veterinary" diets: traditionally sold in vet clinics only, but are available online nowadays. These require a recommendation from your vet. Examples include Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic or Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Satiety.
- "Retail / general" diets: available from pet stores. No recommendation is required from your vet. Examples include Hills Science Diet Perfect Weight or Royal Canin Maxi Light, or Advance Weight Control.
The difference comes down to the level of research completed on the individual food - for example, Hills Prescription Diet Metabolic has undergone a number of studies to prove its efficacy - and it also contains extra beneficial ingredients. A veterinary diet may contain fewer calories and higher fibre content than a retail diet. Some manufacturers advise that 'veterinary diets are for treating a disease, whereas retail diets are for preventing a disease' (however there are exceptions to this, as most weight control veterinary diets are appropriate for weight management as well as weight loss).
Still confused? We recommend asking your vet about what works best for your dog.
Our Top Weight Loss Diets for Dogs
Royal Canin Satiety is formulated specifically to 'satiate' your dog's appetite. With varieties including small breed, all breed, and wet cans, it's the perfect option if your dog never seems to feel full.
Available in varieties with extra joint care, extra urinary care, wet cans, and even treats, Hills Metabolic is formulated to speed up your pet's metabolism and is highly palatable.
One of the only 'super premium' weight control diets which is Made in Australia, Advance's weight control lines has varieties for all breed, large breed, and small breed.
A great option if you're after something grain-free, Savourlife Lite is natural, Australian-made, and highly palatable. Plus, Savourlife donates 50% of their profits to support shelter dogs!
When feeding a weight loss diet it is crucial to stick to the amount recommended by your veterinarian. Even an extra ten pieces of kibble a day can cause a small dog to gain an extra half a kilo of fat over a year!
2. Plump Up Their Meal: Fibre is Your Friend!
If you've swapped to a weight loss diet and your dog still seems hungry, you can trick their tummy into feeling 'full' by adding a little extra fibre to their food. This helps 'plump' up the meal and leaves them feeling fuller and more satisfied.
3 Safe Ways to Add Fibre To Your Dog's Diet
- Sprinkle some natural, unflavoured psyllium husk onto their food. Give approximately 1 teaspoon per 10kg bodyweight and watch for any diarrhoea.
- Add some soft, mushy cooked pumpkin into their food.
- Add some soft, mushy cooked zucchini into their food.
Just like for humans, exercise helps your dog burn off some extra calories and kick-starts their metabolism. But what method of exercise is best?
1. Walking and running.
This one goes without saying! Every dog needs a daily walk, regardless of their breed. Walking is important for their physical and mental health. Not only will your dog benefit from the physical exercise, but they will also love the one-on-one time with you! The required walking time per day depends on your dog's breed and fitness level. Severely obese small breeds may benefit from just fifteen minutes of walking per day, but relatively healthy working breeds may require 2-3 hours of daily walking and running. To be sure, we recommend checking with your vet.
Tips for increasing dog walking (for busy pet owners!)
- Invest in some new walking gear. Ever noticed how buying some new activewear motivates you to go to the gym more often? The same will happen to your attitude to dog walking! Why not invest in a new retractable lead, walking harness, or a pet fitness tech product like the Pet Kit Fit P2 Activity Tracker or smart lead.
- Take your dog with you on errands. If you can take your dog along to pick up the kids, to the shops, or out to lunch - do it! This will make dog walking feel like less of a chore (not just something EXTRA you have to fit into your day!) and your dog will love the extra time with you.
- Consider a dog walker or reach out to your community to see if any dog lovers would like to walk your dog. You'd be surprised how many milennials-in-sharehouses are unable to own a dog due to rental restrictions. There may be houses full of milennials dying for some pupper contact!
Did you know that 1 minute of swimming burns the same amount of calories as 4 minutes of running? Plus, swimming is a form of non-weightbearing exercise which is perfect for protecting your pet's joints - AND the cool water prevents overheating in high Aussie temperatures. It's as if swimming was designed for overweight pets! If possible, get your dog swimming regularly.
Tips for swimming your dog:
- Get them a doggy life jacket to help keep them safely buoyant in the water. This can really help decrease stress for them.
- Hold them in place while they paddle with their legs. This is only really possible if you're happy to be in the water with them, and if your dog is small enough to hold without getting yourself scratched! Be sure to only hold them for short periods of time so that they don't exhaust themselves or suffer from a cramp.
- Ensure the experience is as stress-free as possible. Many dogs enjoy swimming - especially if it's with their master! - but some dogs may find the experience stressful. Don't let your dog feel that they are unable to get to the edge of the pool if they need to, and give them regular breaks.
- Dry and clean their ears afterwards, if they have at-risk ears. Many floppy-eared breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, or small-eared breeds such as Pugs, may suffer from ear infections if water enters their ears and isn't dried afterwards. We recommend cleaning with a good ear cleaner such as Epi Otic.
The Best Exercise Products for Overweight Dogs:
Perfect for dogs who like to chase a ball, The iFetch will continue to shoot tennis balls as long as your dog fetches them and returns them to the top of the chute.
Allowing your dog to walk with a little more freedom, an extendable dog lead is a handy contraption. Use with caution in vet clinics or hard-to-control dogs.
Encourage non-weightbearing, stress-free swimming with a doggy life jacket. Available in multiple sizes, this life jacket will keep your dog comfortable and reduce stress while splashing about.
Keep your dog running and playing - while reducing the strain on your shoulder - with a handy ball launcher. Available in multiple sizes, this handy toy is perfect for ball-motivated pups.
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3. Interactive and Puzzle Feeders
If your dog is constantly begging for food and gobbles up their meal in 5 seconds, you may want to reconsider your feeding method. Rather than feeding their meal all at once in their bowl, try slowing down their eating with a brain-teasing feeder like the Kong Toy Wobbler, the Rogz Treat Tumbler or the or Ruff Play Foam Treat Cube. (See these products below). As well as slowing down their eating, these toys help to keep your dog mentally stimulated and physically active.
4. Treat Them the Right Way
Even a small amount of treats can send your dog's weight loss program off the rails. But that doesn't mean your pupper has to miss out on their favourite nibblets. There are plenty of ways to 'treat' your dog without adding too much to their calorie load.
1. Kibble for thought
As an alternative to high calorie treats or human food, you could set aside a few of your dog's kibble every day as a 'treat ration'. (Just make sure not to give extra - just use kibble from their daily portion!)
2. Bake your own 'straps'
You can easily make some 'strap' treats from your dog's existing weight control wet food. Simply spoon some wet food onto a baking tray, align in thick strips, and bake at 200 degrees (fan forced) for 20-25 minutes. The dehydrated straps may not stay together as well as storebought ones, but they'll be a heck of a lot healthier!
3. Low Fat Dog Treats
4. Fruits and Veggies
Don't overthink it; dogs benefit from healthy veggies and fruit just like us. Some excellent low-calorie treats that most dogs love to munch on include carrot, apple, pear, blueberries, and strawberries. If your dog is exceptionally food motivated, try them with raw zucchini, cauliflower, or cucumber for some ultra-low calorie treats.
5. Ice cubes
If the weather is hot, why not make some icy treats for your pooch? For some extra flavour, simply make some dilute chicken or beef stock, freeze in an ice cube tray, and serve as crunchy cold nibblets!
WARNING: Avoid Human Foods!
Be especially careful of 'human' food, as the calorie load is a lot more significant to your dog's smaller-sized body. For example, 1 cup of milk might not seem like much to us. But to a 5 kg dog, 1 cup of whole milk is the equivalent of three hamburgers for an average sized woman! For more treat conversions, check out this great chart from Hills Pet Care:
5. Compliance: Tips to Get The Whole Family On Board
It's important to realise that like all good things, weight loss takes time and consistency. For your dog's weight loss program to be a success it's important to ensure every family member is on board. This can be incredibly difficult; not only is feeding an integral part of the human-animal bond, but your dog may ramp up their 'pleading puppy dog eyes' if they're on a diet. Our top tips include:
1. Discuss pain.
Have a talk with everyone in the family describing just how uncomfortable and in pain your dog is in their current state. Human psychology can have trouble comprehending the severity of chronic illness when symptoms aren't outwardly visible. It may help to talk about panting. Fat dogs struggle with the heat, and consequently pant a lot. Make your family aware that when your dog is panting, they aren't "smiling", (you'd be surprised how common this incorrect anthropomorphic association is made!); rather, panting means they are hot, uncomfortable, or stressed.
2. Discuss Finances.
This works better with adult family members - (particularly stubborn, treat-dispensing husbands!) Ask your vet to draw up a mock estimate for the cost of treating diabetes, osteoarthritis, pancreatitis, and cruciate ligament surgery. (hint: it ain't a 3 figure bill!). These bills can easily equate to the cost of an international holiday or months of mortgage repayments. You might be surprised how effectively this can motivate some family members to comply with your dog's diet!
3. Create a Weight Loss Chart
A weight loss chart displayed in a prominent location like the fridge can help to remind the whole family to stay committed and think twice about sneaking your pooch an extra treat. Make it fun with some stickers, weekly goals, and points for good behaviour (for example - 10 points for every walk!).
4. Don't forbid treats - substitute instead!
Breaking any habbit 'cold turkey' can be hard - even if the habbit is feeding your dog table scraps! Rather than forbidding your family from giving your dog treats or scraps, keep a ready container of carrot pieces, apple slices, or zuchinni strands for them to draw on. If your dog's puppy dog eyes are too hard to resist, your family will have something healthy to grab, instead of sneaking a chunk of fat off their lamb chops!
5. Take your family along to your dog's weigh-ins
When embarking on a weight loss journey, most vets recommend free weekly weigh-ins to chart your dog's progress. Taking your kids or partner in with you to these appointments can help them understand your goal with more clarity. Plus, seeing your vet's response (and hopefully their praise!), will help them appreciate a sense of achievement. It is, after all, a team effort!
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