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Obesity in Dogs - Help for your dog to lose weight

by Jennifer Hanlon. K9Einsteins Professional Dog Training

Overweight Dog
Overweight Dog



Excuses are plentiful when it comes to the subject of obesity in dogs. It’s a very touchy subject as many people take offense at the mere suggestion that their beloved dog might, possibly, ever so slightly be on the overweight side, let alone obese.

The difference between humans and dogs is that humans have thumbs and can open the freezer and take out the ice cream. Dogs can only eat what they are given to them, therefore a higher responsibility is placed on the owner to do the right thing and keep them lean.

Many people subscribe to the “food equals love” theory and pass that on to their pets. The dog isn’t going to say, “No thank you, I’m trying to watch my figure,” so next thing you know the vet is telling you that you need to get some of the weight off.

Bad weather conditions can affect the amount of exercise our dogs get. We must take that factor into account when the weather is against us, be it a hot summer or cold winter. We must decrease the amount of food we give them if we are going to decrease their ability to burn it off.

The “it’s not me” excuse is a hard one. Dogs will learn very quickly exactly how lucrative a high chair can be. People might feed the dog on the sly. It is important for people to know that they are in actuality being cruel to the dog by overfeeding.

It has been proven that a lean dog lives an average of TWO YEARS longer than an overweight dog.

The emphasis of the number of pounds gained is another big one.  One or two pounds does not really sound like a lot. What people often fail to realize is that it is not the number in pounds that is important. It is the percentage of body weight that is the real issue. For example, on a ten pound dog, just “one little pound” is ten percent of his body weight. That’s equivalent to twenty pounds on a two hundred pound person.

People really shouldn’t be offended if told their dog is overweight. Society has ingrained the fact that a fat dog is normal. There are even overweight dogs used in television commercials. It’s not made obvious, however, somewhere in the subconscious mind will register the fact of what a dog should look like. So when Rover comes waddling in for breakfast, nobody notices anything wrong with him.


There have been owners of dogs whose body weight was perfect that have run into the vet’s office in hysterics because someone said their dog was too skinny because society has been trained to see a heavy dog as healthy. And healthy is the last thing that these dogs are….
How Much Should my Dog Weigh?
 This is a pretty common question. The answer is, there really isn’t always an answer. Just like people, the dog’s body structure is an important factor.

 That being said, the emphasis should be placed on the dog’s body condition score, or BCS. One of the more common scales is one to five, one being severely underweight and five being obese.  Dogs on this scale should have a BCS of three.

 An ideal BCS of three will be the following: Individual ribs can be felt easily with one finger while sliding down the dog’s body. If pressure is needed to feel them, there is a layer of fat covering them. If you can see them, the dog is too skinny.

 (While true for the majority of breeds, Breed sites state that it can be acceptable to see the last two ribs towards the dog’s back on boxers and greyhounds. Vets should be consulted when determining the BCS of these breeds.)

The other indicator is the dog’s waistline, or lack thereof. The waist should be thinner than the chest and the dog should have an hourglass shape when looking down at the dog from above. If the dog is just a straight line, then they are carrying too much weight.


Overweight vs. Obese
A dog is overweight when they are ten percent, and obese at twenty percent over their ideal weight. This can be important to know when owners and vets are implementing a weight loss program. 
It’s also a lot easier to take weight off of a dog before they become obese. The reason for this is that an obese dog may not be able to handle a lot of exercise which is a helpful aspect of weight loss.

Obesity can also be a result of numerous health issues. Dogs should be deemed healthy by a veterinarian and cleared for a weight loss regimen before beginning. Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism or diabetes that can cause weight gain.
OK I Get It. The Dog Is Fat. So What? 

Glad you asked! As mentioned, obesity can be a symptom of some medical disorders. It can also PREDISPOSE your dog for problems.  What can it do?

The most obvious problem is osteoarthritis. Every dog will get some OA as they get older. If they carry around extra weight throughout their younger life, the years of pounding on those joints will bring it on much sooner.
Obese dogs can be more likely to get diabetes. Regulating their sugar means a STRICT diet change. No telling the vet that they won’t eat the special diabetic dog food. You will be giving them insulin shots twice daily and regular trips to the vet for glucose curves to make sure you have the sugar regulated properly. If not, other symptoms can develop from uncontrolled diabetes. One example, the dog can go blind.
Pancreatitis is common is some smaller breeds like yorkies and schnauzers, but can attack any dog. It is brought on by ingesting foods that are too rich or fatty and usually come in the form of table food. A dog with this disorder needs to be hospitalized for several days on IV fluids and medications. This can be fatal if not treated.
Organ function is a big one too. It stands to reason that if the heart, kidneys, liver etc are working overtime everyday, they will give out sooner than expected. The organs develop within the dog and are meant to do their jobs for that size dog. If we throw an extra ten to twenty percent of the body weight at them…well they will do their best for as long as they can until the day comes that they just can’t do it anymore.
The next issue is a partial tear or complete rupture of the cruciate ligaments. These are the ligaments holding the tibia to the femur.

Extra weight puts extra stress on this ligament. When we see it in a younger overweight dog, it is usually a trauma or poorly judged turn. In older obese dogs, after years of additional stress it can degenerate and just snap.

Cruciate ligaments are repaired surgically and are REALLY expensive. And here’s the best part. An overweight/obese dog that has torn a cruciate is more likely to break the OTHER one! We’ve already mentioned the extra stress on the knee, but what happens after an injury?  They will put even more weight on the good leg.
 How Do I Help My Dog Lose Weight?
Well, the obvious way is through proper diet and exercise. After your vet has ruled out any potential medical issues, and has stated that a weight loss program is in order, ask his/her advice on where to start.

The single most important factor when trying to lose weight is to weigh the dog regularly. If not, you could be slowly climbing and then the next year when you see the vet you’ve added another pound or two.

If he is the same or more, you need to make another adjustment. If he is down even a tenth of a pound or so, keep doing what you are doing and continue to gradually increase exercise.
Weight Loss Options: EVERY option includes a gradual increase in exercise. When increasing exercise remember that just like people, if they aren’t used to it, they can get sore.


Eliminate table food and change treat protocol
Remember that weight gain is simply that the dog is taking in more calories than they are burning off. If your dog isn’t too overweight, most of the time the problem can be solved simply by eliminating table food and reducing the amount and changing the type of treats that you give the dog.

Would you believe that an ounce of cheddar cheese for a twenty pound dog is the equivalent of a human eating two and a half hamburgers OR one and a half chocolate bars!
And some of the dog biscuits on the market are the equivalent of us eating a snickers bar!
So changing the treats we give them will be a big help. Baby carrots, raw string beans and celery (remove the strings) make good treats and don’t have a lot of calories.
Light Dog Food or Prescription Dog Food
If that’s not enough, a diet change is in order. You also want to make sure that the food you are currently giving your dog is appropriate for the current life cycle. A dog from one to seven needs adult food and over seven needs a senior formula. Ask the vet if you should go to senior or light. The amount of extra weight involved and potential or current medical conditions may be factors in determining that.

When changing a diet, it is important to gradually wean the dog over in order to avoid gastrointestinal upset. Start with three quarters of the old food to one quarter of the new for a few days, then half and half, and finally three quarters of the new food to one quarter of the old.

As far as picking a food for your dog, your vet can help with this. Many brands do have some sort of weight loss formula. The important thing to look for on a bag is the word “light.” This means that the company has met the requirements of the Association Of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to label their food as a weight loss diet.
Labels like “reduced calorie” or “low fat” are generalized terms and open to interpretation. A diet can have five calories less and still technically be “reduced calorie.”

Your vet can also help with a starting point of how much to feed your dog at each meal. Changing to a light food won’t do a whole lot if it is overfed. The above advice about treats and exercise will still hold true.

Your dog may not be a candidate for a light diet if they are obese and per your vet at risk for some of the disorders above. They might need to take the weight off sooner. In this case the vet might recommend a prescription weight loss diet. These diets are only available from a vet. They are low calorie, low fat and high fiber. The dog will feel full and be taking in less.

You will again need to get an idea from the vet on how much to feed the dog. Keep in mind that as the dog’s weight decreases, the amount may change. Discuss the amount you are feeding with the vet at your regular weight checks. A dog can lose too much weight if the amount is not adjusted.
The use of Medication to help your dog loose weight

If you’ve tried thee above methods, or your vet feels that the weight should come off quickly for medical reasons, there is an additional option. Perhaps you are in the situation that no matter what you do, someone just won’t listen to you and stop feeding the dog. Or those big sorrowful hungry eyes staring at you are just killing you. Maybe you free feed and have other dogs. (This by the way isn’t a good idea. Dogs should be fed scheduled meals preferably breakfast and dinner.)

For these situations, or others that your vet might feel are significant, Pfizer has come out with a prescription medication called SLENTROL. You will need to discuss this with your vet to see if your dog is a candidate.
It traps some of the fat in the intestine and sends a message to the brain that the dog is full. They will eat only what they need to eat. Many owners are quite surprised to see their dog’s actual intake requirement. There are important things to know when using this medication.

First, tell your vet the food that you are feeding. I know offhand that one of the prescription diets is not recommended with this medication. The dogs might not get enough calories if using that diet with Slentrol. Your vet will be aware of this and have you adjust or switch if needed.

Secondly, you MUST weigh the dog every thirty days. This is absolutely imperative as the dose of the medication will start to change as the dog’s weight changes. The vet will have a program in their computer that will calculate the new dose based up the new weight.

And lastly, you must measure the amount of food you are giving with a measuring device. No handfuls, scoops, or coffee cups. Use an actual measuring cup. When your dog has finished eating, pour the remaining kibble back in the measuring cup and subtract.

This will tell you the amount needed for the dog. When coming off of Slentrol, the dog will again eat whatever you give him. You will need to know how much he actually needs so you don’t wind up back where you started.
This amount may also change as the dog’s weight goes down. Simply recalculate any time they consistently leave food behind.
For more on Slentrol, visit: The Slentrol website

People to realize that their dogs are in fact overweight and that it is a serious problem. Your vet must always be consulted and kept in the loop of your weight loss program. If you aren’t doing well, don’t get frustrated. This isn’t an overnight process. As a matter of fact, losing weight too quickly isn’t good either.

Your vet is always there to help you and restructure the program if needed. Keeping the vet informed will keep you on the right track and make sure that nothing is important or potentially dangerous is overlooked. 

 Author: Jennifer Hanlon.




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