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How to Manage Your Dog's Weight

Over the years we have seen the important roles dogs can play in our lives, from being a canine athlete and personal trainer to assisting with therapy and helping us on the job, but one of the most important roles a dog can play in our lives is being a member of the family. There is no question about it, we love our dogs.

One of the many ways we demonstrate this love is by rewarding our dogs with treats. Treats are a great way to express how we feel, reward them when they do something good, and can also provide them hours of enrichment. Surveys have shown that 56% of dog owners admit to giving their dog treats as a form of affection*, however, there is a downside to providing too many treats in our pet's diet, and that is the added calories. 

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There are many reasons a dog can become overweight and we have already mentioned that too many treats can be a leading cause, but here are some other reasons.
  • They eat more calories than they burn (especially if they eat large amounts of human food).
  • They don't exercise enough.
  • Their metabolism slows (especially true following surgery to spay or neuter).
  • Predisposition and genetics
It is important however to remember that dogs are not people, and so they require a diet tailored accordingly, a little weight gain can for certain types of dogs can end up being a lot, for example, a one kilogram gain for a dog could be the equivalent of up to eight kilos for us. Weight gain in pets can become a serious problem, it is already estimated that up to 59% of dogs are overweight yet only one-quarter of dog owners believe their dog is overweight.

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Do you notice that your dog seems to be getting puffed more frequently after exercise, struggles a little to get up from a resting position, or might need a little more help getting in the car or panting a little more. These could be some signs that your dog has put on a little more weight than usual. Sometimes it is not always as easy as looking at your dog to determine if they are overweight and so for any weight assessment it will be important to do a general body condition score.

Place your hands on the sides of your dog's rib cage and carefully run your palms down to their sternum. If the ribs are protruding out, your dog is likely too thin. If you can feel their ribs individually and their abdomen is slightly tucked up when you view them, they are at a good weight. If you can't easily detect their ribs, they lack a waist and/or their belly drags, they need to lose weight. If you ever have any doubt, it is important for a veterinarian to do a general body-condition score at your regular check-up.

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Obesity comes with several risk factors including.
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiavascular complications
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Reduced activity
An ideal weight is essential for long-term health so it will be important to talk to your vet about putting your dog onto a weight management plan right away.

How to help your dog lose weight safely

The most important step about going onto a weight-management plan is discussing the program with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the body-fat percentage your dog currently has and the required percentage your dog will need to lose over an extended amount of time. It is important to remember that patience is the key, and your dog should only be losing between 1-3% body fat per week, in a ten-kilo dog, this could be as little as 100 grams.

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As much as we love our dogs, owner compliance is the key to a healthy weight loss plan. It is about creating a healthy change, those added treats and leftovers from dinner have to stop, and this is where a well-balanced diet will lead to success.  Your vet may recommend your dog to go onto a weight loss diet, and these are some of the nutritional benefits you should look out for.

Firstly, it is always important to remember that the diet you are feeding is complete and balanced, ensuring that your dog is getting the right nutrients they need to stay healthy.

Fats play a crucial role in any pet's diet, they provide important vitamins and minerals, energy, and fatty acids, however, when looking at a weight loss diet, look for a diet that is lower in fat and lower in calories compared to a maintenance range. A diet high in proteins can also help support weight loss while maintaining a healthy balance of muscle tissue.

Look for a diet with optimal fibre to help to promote intestinal health and a tailored carbohydrate blend to assist with sustained energy to help keep them going. 

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An added bonus to any weight loss diet is an amino derivate called L-Carnitine. L- Carnitine is used in diets to assist with fat metabolism, it helps turn fat into useable energy in your dog's body and helps to reduce weight in your overweight dog.

The risk of weight gain is then the added risk of pressure on the joints of your dog. Look for a diet that contains glucosamine and chondroitin to help maintain healthy joints

If your dog currently receives one large meal per day, try dividing it into two or three smaller meals. Remove any uneaten food 30 minutes after each meal. These smaller meals will sustain their appetite longer. Instead of treats, give them an extended amount of affection or reward with toy-based play. If you do wish to treat your dog, use the weight loss kibble as a reward, however, and ensure this is included in your dog's daily calorie amount.

At your vet’s recommendation, increase their exercise routine to burn more energy. Play fetch with a new toy or go for an extra-long walk after work. However, don't push too hard at first. Just like people, dogs need time to get used to a new exercise routine. Another option is to consider swimming for your dog in a controlled environment. Swimming is a great way for your dog to burn those calories while minimising the stress on their joints.

Get the entire family on board. Explain how treats are harmful, and ask for everyone’s cooperation. Putting your dog on the right management plan can help lead to a long and healthy active life.