It’s all too easy to eat more and move around less over the winter months – and that goes for our pets, as well as us. So how do you know if your pet needs to be put on a diet? And how do you help a dog lose weight safely? Our veterinary expert Brian Faulkner has the answers.
Around half of UK pet dogs are considered to be overweight or obese. So how do you know if your pet is one of them? Dogs come in many shapes and sizes, and it’s not always easy for owners to tell whether their pet is carrying extra weight. As vets, we use a technique called body condition scoring to assess pets’ body fat. For example, in a healthy dog you should easily be able to feel their ribs and distinguish their waist.
The body scoring index we use in veterinary practice goes from one to nine; where one is extremely thin, nine is morbidly obese, and the ideal is somewhere in the middle. If we find your dog to be overweight or obese, we can recommend some changes to his diet and exercise routine to help him lose weight.
Should I put my dog on a diet?
It’s always a good idea to consult a vet about putting your dog on a diet. As well as confirming whether your dog is overweight, your vet will be able to screen him for any underlying medical issues that could be causing this. In some dogs, for example, an underactive thyroid gland can lead to weight gain.
If your dog does need to go on a diet, your vet will be able to recommend a suitable calorie-controlled dog food. Bear in mind that dog food formulations branded as ‘light’ are better for avoiding extra weight gain rather than shifting the flab.
How important is exercise for supporting your dog’s diet?
It’s extremely difficult, however, for an overweight dog to burn off all those extra calories through exercise alone. This is particularly the case for breeds that are not suited to massive amounts of exercise, such as the Miniature Dachshund; or with either young puppies or older dogs, who shouldn’t take part in too much strenuous, high-impact activity.
And it’s important to note that around 80% of weight issues in dogs relate to diet. So calorie control is likely to be more important than exercise if you want to help your dog lose weight.
How much weight can a dieting dog safely lose?
Slow and steady is best when it comes to weight loss. Ideally dogs shouldn’t be losing more than 2% of their current body weight per week. Aiming for 1% a week is safe and reasonable.
Will putting my dog on a diet affect his behaviour?
A dog that has become used to overeating may resort to begging or scavenging for extra food. Inevitably, some owners will find their pet’s entreaties very hard to resist!
Bear in mind, however, that treating your dog doesn’t always have to involve calories. Non-food rewards, such as giving him attention or playing a game, are a good way to distract or comfort a dog pining for his next meal.
What sort of mistakes do owners make with dieting dogs?
A common trap that dog owners fall into is that of only counting what they put into their dog’s feeding bowl towards his daily calorie intake. It’s easy to overlook all the other little treats and snacks they’ve passed to their pets along the way! But these can add up to a surprising amount of extra calories.
If you’re serious about helping your dog lose weight, you need to stick to a strict daily ration of veterinary-recommended, calorie-controlled dog food. And any treats need to come out of that ration, not on top of it.
I weigh out my dogs’ food allowance every single day. If you only measure their food by eye, it’s far too easy to make mistakes. For example, if you aim to feed your dog an 80g cupful of kibble, but scoop up 100g instead because you are judging it by the eye, that’s a whopping 25% extra calories!
If you want more advice on daily food rations or other dog diet tips, veterinary nurses are well placed to help you track your pet’s weight and advise on your own dog’s diet plan.
And however hard it is to resist your dog when he’s pleading for treats, remember that helping him lose weight is one of the best things you can do to ensure his future health and quality of life.