Weight management tips for your overweight dog

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Timothy Hair
  • U.S. Army Veterinary Service
Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part series about healthy lifestyles for pets

Bottom line up front: a pet with a well maintained diet, weight, and body condition is more likely to live a happier, healthier, and longer life. An overweight pet is subject to many of the health risks that can affect overweight people, including but not limited to: arthritis, joint pain, spinal problems, diabetes, liver disease, and heart problems. Weight management for your pet is definitely a good start to overall health, and we will be providing some helpful tips in a three part weight management series, starting with part one: tips for your overweight dog.

First, you should start of by getting a current weight on your dog, but more importantly, evaluate their body condition (i.e. how they carry their weight). An excellent evaluation guide for your dog's body condition score (BCS) can be found at:

If your dog is overweight, a proper diet and exercise program should be initiated. Walking and playing ball are excellent activities to increase your dog's exercise. Remember, that if your dog is overweight and out of shape, you must start out easy and slowly increase activity - just as you would for yourself. Many overweight dogs may not have the endurance and muscle strength to start out with a 5 mile walk or even a mile run. For the diet portion, here are a number of steps to get you started:

1. Start by measuring exactly how much you are feeding your dog. Use an actual measuring cup that is clearly marked in ¼ cup increments.

2. If not already doing so, feed the dog twice per day. This allows their caloric intake to be spread out and helps keep their metabolism going. Free feeding (just filling the bowl for them to eat on throughout the day) is rarely recommended. It makes it very difficult to know exactly how much they are eating and when. If in a multi-pet household, make sure that one pet is not stealing food from the other.

3. Once the dog has become accustomed to the new feeding schedule, you can start making adjustments. Start by decreasing one meal a little bit. Depending on the total size of the dog, this may be ½ cup for large and giant breeds, ¼ cup for medium breeds, or a 1/8 of a cup for smaller breeds.

4. Allow approximately two weeks for the dog to adjust to the new amount of food. This should provide enough time to see some changes. Evaluate the dog's BCS. If they still need to lose some weight, decrease the 2nd meal by the same amount. Wait another two weeks and reevaluate.

5. Repeat steps 4 and 5 if the dog still needs to lose weight.

6. If after a couple of diet reductions, the dog has still not lost the weight, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to see if there might be a medical reason for the dog's inability to lose weight. The most common cause for obesity in dogs is overfeeding and lack of exercise. The second most common cause is a thyroid condition; therefore, your veterinarian may recommend doing a complete blood analysis to insure that everything is working correctly. The blood analysis may also help insure that your pet's weight is not causing other health problems, like those listed above.

7. If your dog is obese (BCS 8 or 9), then larger diet changes may need to be made more quickly than those listed above. A change to a lower calorie food or possibly a prescription weight loss diet may be needed. Consult your veterinarian for advice.

While making the diet reductions, here are some additional tips to consider:

1. Eliminate table scraps. Dietary indiscretion, as we like to call it, can certainly lead to overweight pets as well as increasing the risks of food allergies, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.

2. Watch the dog treats. Remember that treats have calories, too. If there are a lot of treats in your dog's diet, then that must be accounted for in his daily food intake and his regular meals may need to be lowered further or some of the treats eliminated.

3. Canned green beans (preferably low sodium) are an excellent dog treat or dietary supplement. They are high in fiber and low in calories. As you are reducing your dog's diet, you may want to add green beans to their food (add an amount of green beans equal to what you have taken away of his regular food). This will allow your dog to feel full without getting as many calories. This may help avoid behavior problems (like digging in the trash or excessive begging for food) as the dog is becoming used to the reduced diet.

4. Most bags of dog food have a recommended serving size. This is only a recommendation. Every dog's metabolism is different and their caloric requirements may not be the same.

5. Feed your dog a high quality (which often means higher cost) dog food. The higher the quality, the better the ingredients. This means that the dog is able to properly digest and use the nutrients in the dog food. Generally, you will find that the dog needs to eat less to meet his caloric needs. The added benefit is that there will also be less mess to pick up in the yard. There are many good brands out there and they will normally be found in pet and feed stores, not at the grocery store. If changing food be sure to make the change gradually (over a week) to allow their digestive system time to get used to the new food.

6. Consider using toys that dispense the dog food. Place a portion of the dog's daily food in a commercially available toy that requires the dog play with it to get food out. This is great exercise for your pet, physically and mentally. These toys can be found in pet stores and online.

Remember these are just some suggestions that we routinely make to our clients here at the Veterinary Treatment Facility on F.E. Warren AFB; it is always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian regarding the specific needs of your pet.

The Veterinary Treatment Facility is located in BLDG 288 on the corner of Frontier and 5th Cavalry. We share a parking lot with the Independence Gym. Our current hours of operation are Monday through Thursday from 0800-1200 / 1300-1630. We are closed on Fridays, weekends, and Federal holidays. Hours of operation are subject to change due to military obligations and mission requirements. All pets are seen by appointment only, and appointments are normally available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Please call (307)773-3354 for more information or to schedule an appointment.