Is my dog fat? Nobody wants to admit it but over half of us have an overweight pet!
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) recently released their 2016 clinical survey survey where a whopping 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the U.S. were classified as overweight (Body Condition Score of 4) or obese (BCS 5) by their veterinary healthcare professional. This equals an estimated 41.9 million dogs and 50.5 million cats that are too heavy. Not only are the shear numbers staggering but these numbers continue to rise each year. Yikes!
Obesity in our pets is a serious issue. According to APOP, being overweight or obese is one of the primary causes of decreased life expectancy for our pets. Excess weight can also lead to other progressive diseases and conditions such as osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory diseases, kidney disease and many forms of cancer. If that is not bad enough, as owners, we then spend millions of dollars in avoidable medical costs. That is the bad news. The good news is that obesity is entirely preventable!
Know the Facts, Accept them and Take Action
What is your dog’s ideal weight?
Often we do realize our dog is overweight but don’t think it is that big of a deal. What is a few pounds? It is not such a big deal for humans, but for dogs - carrying a few extra pounds can be a big difference.
Think about it in terms of humans – a 5’4” woman with a Body Mass Index (BMI) in the 18 – 25 range will weigh 108 – 145 pounds. This same woman is considered overweight at a BMI between 28 – 31, which corresponds to 163 – 181 pounds. A BMI in excess of 34 on this same woman indicates obesity with her weighing 200 pounds.
If we translate this into an overweight pet… the Yorkie with an ideal weight of 6 – 8 pounds is considered to be overweight at 9-10 lbs and obese at over 11 pounds! That means that a 12 pound Yorkie is carrying around the same weight as the obese 5’4” women weighing 218 pounds!! That is a LOT of extra weight to carry!
This Pet to Human Weight Translator that will really open your eyes to the impact of just a few extra pound on your dog.
Take a Good Look
The veterinary community has a benchmark called the Body Conditioning Score (BCS) to assess a dog’s overall weight and body condition. It gives you a great visual and description of what any breed of dog should look like at a healthy weight (and what under or over weight looks like too!) What is your dog’s BCS?
The ideal score is 5. Download it, print it, share it, pin it up on your refrigerator!
It’s Not your Dog, It’s You
I tell this story all the time. When we brought our overweight dog into the vet he asked us who feeds the dog… it was me. As I quickly began making excuses for what she needed and wanted etc, he cut me off and asked if she fixed her own food. Well… no she didn’t, it was me. He then said, “It’s not your dog, it’s you.” He went on to explain to us that if we didn’t get her back in shape and soon she wouldn’t have too many more birthdays.
We got the message and made a change for our dog. No change in her food or wild exercise plan, just a gradual cut back to get her intake level back down to what it should have been to maintain a healthy weight. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. She was 3 at the time and went on to live to be a grand old girl of almost 16 with very few health problems in her long life. I’m convinced that we would have had a different outcome had we not gotten the excess weight off of her when we did.
I tell this story because it is really a matter of having a clear understanding of our dog’s weight, how much we are actually feeding, and how to bring it back into a normal and appropriate range.
I will preface this all with saying you should always consult with your vet before starting a weight loss program as there could be other things causing the issue. With that said, most of us are just over feeding our dogs, plain and simple.
Where Is Your Dog Today?
After you looked at the BCS chart and then your dog, what is your number? Is she ideal? Just a little over, maybe a 6? Way, way over at an 8 or 9? Weigh your dog, give her a BCS score and create your chart back to fitness.
Crunch the Numbers
The gold standard for determining how many calories your dog needs each day is a Metabolic Energy Requirement (MER) calculation. Use your dog’s current weight to determine how many calories she needs now to maintain her current weight. Then use the calculator to determine how many calories she will need each day to start losing weight, just a little at a time.
You can now go about the business of making that first daily reduction. Start small and reduce your dog’s daily caloric intake gradually over time. Re-assess your dog every week to week and a half to see if you are ready to make another change.
Next, calculate your dog’s new serving size based on his first k/cal goal and the number of k/cals in each cup of his food. This dog food calculator makes quick work of it! Reference the label or website for your dog’s food to get the k/cal per cup.
Tips for Success:
Measure, Measure, Measure!!!
If your dog should be getting a cup at each meal and you just eyeball it, or give a heaping cup instead of a level cup you are most likely overfeeding your dog by 50% each day in just regular meals!!! Use a measuring cup or get a food scale and set up a system so that you can give your dog the correct portion at every meal.
Cut back a little each week until your dog gets to the desired weight and serving size. Weight loss isn’t going to happen in a week – make a plan and gradually cut back over time.
Chart Your Progress
Track your dog’s weight and food intake. Make a plan for a gradual weight loss over an extended period of time. Celebrate your success!! Every few weeks take their serving size down a notch to get them closer to their ideal serving size and weight over time.
Make Regular Walking Exercise Part of Your Routine
If your dog is overweight, exercise is difficult. If necessary, consult your vet and just get your dog moving a little bit at a time. The more weight they lose, the more they will feel like going for a spirited walk. When you walk your dog, set a brisk pace on the way “out” and then slow down, take time to sniff, etc on the way back. Gradually increase your frequency and distance. Both you and your dog will feel better!
Healthy Treat Choices
I’m all about rewards and positive reinforcement for my dogs. If you buy packaged treats - know how many calories are in each one and how they fit into your dog’s daily calorie budget. Switch it up to low-calorie choices like little pieces of fruits or vegetables that your dog likes. Mine LOVE squash – summer or zucchini squash diced up in tiny pieces makes for a great reward. Be ready and keep a little zip lock of already chopped up low cal treats in your refrigerator.
Don’t Feed From the Bowl
Using your dog’s regular food as a training reward is a common practice among those that train for canine competitive sports. Rather than setting a bowl of food down for your dog at each meal, you are asking your dog to “work” for their regular meal by doing sits, downs and other training exercises. It takes about 8 – 10 minutes per dog to do this – but it does give your pal a good mental and physical workout while eating their breakfast! Sits, Downs, and puppy pushups are all great core strengthening exercises for your dog. Change it up once in a while!
It isn’t going to happen overnight, but these simple steps can help your dog get back to their ideal weight over time. All the medical conditions, pain and suffering and medical expenses caused by obesity can be prevented, but it is up to you.
If you recognize that your dog is overweight, you are not alone… over 41 million of us have overweight dogs that we love with all of our hearts. Let’s take a step in the right direction today to get them back in shape.
Are you in? I am.
Kathryn Durno’s passion is canine sports, nutrition and fitness. She is a freelance writer, the owner of Dog Mamma’s Organic Dog Treat Company and is owned by three Brittanys – Biddy, Tristan and Nate. Visit her on the web at www.dogmammas.com