It happens. Just like with us, before you know it, those few extra pounds have added up and now you have to deal with them.
Obesity is one of the biggest (no pun intended) health problems our pets are facing. It is estimated that about 40% of American pets are overweight. Obesity can lead to arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory troubles and a host of other problems. A few extra pounds on your pup is so much more dramatic than a few on you. Think about it: 3 lbs added to a 25 lb dog is the equivalent of 150 lb person gaining 18 lbs. Yikes! If your dog is overweight, you need to tackle this problem immediately. Here’s a chart that shows you examples of five stages of weight on dogs. Where does your dog really fit in?
If your vet is the one who told you Fido needs to slim down a bit, they may have recommended a “prescription” food to help. Let’s take a moment to look at the ingredient list of one of these “diet” foods before we talk about what you should really do to drop the weight. I’m focusing on the first 10 ingredients (remember, ingredient labels read in order of weight, so the first ingredient is the ingredient you’ll find most of in the bag, etc.).
Whole grain corn, corn gluten meal, soybean hulls, soybean germ meal, soybean meal, pea fiber, wheat gluten, poultry by-product meal, animal digest, powdered cellulose, tricalcium phosphate, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), salt, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, calcium carbonate, copper sulfate, brewers dried yeast, calcium pantothenate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B-12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin D-3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.
- Whole grain corn – difficult to digest, low nutrient value, possible allergen
- Corn gluten meal – the tiny fragments that are left after all of the nutrition is pulled out for other uses
- Soybean hulls – the shell of the soybean
- Soybean germ meal – inexpensive by-product of human food processing, rich in protein but sadly often used as a booster in poor quality foods
- Soybean meal –low-quality protein substituted for real meat, possible allergen
- Wheat gluten – inexpensive byproduct of human food processing with almost no nutritional value left, serves mostly as a binder
- Poultry by-product meal – unidentifiable source, what’s left of a slaughtered “poultry” after all the prime cuts have been removed
- Animal digest – rendered animal parts sprayed on dog food to “enhance” taste, sources unidentifiable
- Powdered cellulose – an insoluble fibrous residue obtained by extraction of wood and straw pulps
Now, does that sound like anything you’d want to feed your Fido? I hope not. Now let’s take a look at what you can actually do to help out your dog.
1. How much are you feeding? Are you using an actual measuring cup or scale? And are you following the manufacturer’s guidelines for the particular food you are feeding? If not, you should be. Feeding recommendations can vary greatly from one food to another. Don’t just assume that because you’ve fed 2 scoops in the old food that you need 2 scoops in the new food. And invest the couple dollars in an accurate measuring cup, not just the scoop you got with something else.
2. Are you feeding an appropriate diet? Truly, the best way to manage your dog’s weight is to feed them a diet that is species-appropriate…meaning a raw diet. If you’re not willing to do this, then at least feed a kibble that closely assimilates the ingredients they would eat in the wild. This would be comprised of moderate to high meat content, moderate fat content and low carbohydrate content. Cut out the “junk food,” human and doggy.
3. Are you “free-feeding?” If so, stop. This encourages overeating. Feed Fido 2-3x/day (divide the total daily feeding amount by the amount of feedings), and pick up the bowl if he doesn’t finish it within 20-30 minutes. Then feed the normal amount at the next meal.
4. Look for a food that is lower in calories. Calorie content is printed on the label, just like it is with human food.
5. Be careful not to get a food that is too low in fat. A lot of times people think “low fat” is the secret, but it’s fat that makes the dog feel satisfied. If it’s too low, they’ll think they are hungry and beg for more. You’ll cave and give them more thinking that they are starving…counter-acting the entire point of the diet. Plus, they actually need fat to help them absorb and utilize certain nutrients.
6. Cut down on treats. And change the type of treats you’re giving. Green beans are a great, tasty snack that will fill your dog’s belly! Coconut chips are fantastic too (plus they give the added benefit of needed Omega 3s).
7. Exercise. Start walking your dog more. If they’re extremely overweight or have difficulty walking, take it slow and easy. Even a walk to the mailbox helps. Increase the distance and frequency when possible.
Remember that this is a slow and steady process. Just like with us, rapid weight loss is not the answer. Consistent, patient, diligent.