Like many people in North America, there are also many dogs that are overweight.
When this excess weight gets out of control, it is called obesity. And although talking about weight can sometimes be taboo, the fact remains that it is one of the most important criteria in the health of your pet.
Did you know that a dog with a healthy weight will live an average of 2 to 2.5 years longer than the same dog that is overweight (1). If we consider that a dog will live 10-15 years, this difference is really significant.
So let’s draw a parallel with weight loss for us: there is no miracle way to lose weight, and generally speaking, you will have to tackle the problem from several different angles to achieve a certain result.
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Dr. Franck, my neighbor says that his dog is not fat, but I think he is really overweight, who is right?
Well my dear friend, it is true that this question seems very simple, and yet it is not so simple!
Indeed, there is often a problem of perception on the part of pet owners (2), because they often do not see the reality in front of them. We understand them a little too: it is easier to hide from the problem than to deal with it. A simple way to proceed is to weigh this dog and compare its weight to when it was a young adult. If there is a significant difference (say more than 10-15%), then it is probably overweight.
If there is no weight comparison because the dog has never been weighed, you can always compare with breed standards if possible. Of course, these standards are quite variable so they are not always usable.
Finally, you can consult a health professional in a veterinary clinic who will be able to give you the right information.
Dr Franck, you will be proud of me, I finally managed to convince him! His dog is big!!! What’s next?
First, I must congratulate you, because the first step is the most crucial.
As long as the acceptance is not done, we can’t move forward.
Now, you have to take all the information about the nutrition of this dog. And when I say all, I mean ALL! Because it is sometimes in the small details that we get lost. You need to know what he eats, how much, when, how often, etc.
Also, if he is taking medication (because some of them make him gain weight) or supplements, a few treats by chance?
Also, are there neighbors who can feed him from time to time? We will also need to know about his exercise and activity habits, the other animals in the house, the number of people interacting with him, etc…
Okay, I get it, we need to take a complete history! Then, how do we proceed?
Obviously, as you will have understood, it is necessary that all the people in contact with this dog agree to get involved.
If three of them make an effort and the fourth one doesn’t, then we’ll sabotage the good results. Fortunately, if everyone has already realized the problem and is willing to take action, then we can begin the first real steps of the plan.
Yes, the plan, I want a plan to help my overweight dog lose weight!
Of course, here it is (3):
- take your dog’s weight on a sufficiently accurate scale
- determine the ideal weight for your dog (or goal weight)
- choose whether or not the current food is adequate to reach the goal. Here’s a tip: standard adult diets rarely lead to weight loss. Specific foods are often needed (usually available in veterinary clinics)
- avoid treats, or at least give some that are very low in calories
- exercise regularly – if possible, a little bit every day is better than one long session on the weekend
- monitor your dog’s weight every 2-4 weeks (on the same scale as not all scales are created equal)
- be patient because it can take time
Great, I think this is all very realistic!
Another thing I need to know?
If you realize that it is more difficult than you thought, consult a clinic because they can help you with the rest of the plan. As I said at the beginning, there is no one way to go about it and there are different strategies/ideas that can be used to achieve our goal.
Another idea, especially useful if you have an atypical schedule, is to know that there are food vending machines. They can even recognize your pet’s microchip, so you can be sure to give the right portion to the right pet! Pretty smart, huh?
Then, to help the most recalcitrant person in the family: there is nothing better than listening to what he has to say. They will be much more likely to cooperate if they feel heard, and they may even have some very good suggestions to help your dog lose that weight.
One last detail: it is suggested to aim for a weight loss of around 0.5-1% per week. This may not seem like much, but it is often better (and more sustainable) to do this strategy than to lose too much (as this can be more problematic and less sustainable).
So there you go, I think that’s a good start!
Tell me, I’m curious: have you ever undertaken a weight loss program for your dog? If so, how did it go?
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Source 1 Citation: Carina Salt, Penelope J. Morris, Derek Wilson, Elizabeth M. Lund, Alexander J. German. 2018. Association between life span and body condition in neutered client‐owned dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1111/jvim.15367
Source 2 Larsen JA, Villaverde C. Scope of the Problem and Perception by Owners and Veterinarians. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2016 Sep;46(5):761-72. doi: 10.1016/j.cvsm.2016.04.001. Epub 2016 Jun 2. PMID: 27264053.
Source 3 Brooks D, Churchill J, Fein K. et al. 2014 AAHA weight management guidelines for dogs and cats. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2014;50(1):1-11
Francis Lagacé has been a member of the Ordre des médecins vétérinaires du Québec since 2004. He practiced for 16 years in several veterinary clinics across Canada. He treated animals of all types, mainly cats, dogs and exotic animals (rabbits, rodents, ferrets, birds, reptiles). Since 2020 he has been working in the field of veterinary pharmacovigilance. You can find him on LinkedIn.