- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
If you want to help your dog lose weight, you’re not alone. Does this sound familiar?
“Ralph has gained ten pounds since her last visit,” the vet said to me. “That’s not good.”
I couldn’t believe it. Ralph had always been a healthy, active dog. Sure, she had been slowing down a bit in her advancing age, and I had noticed her looking a little more robust lately, but ten pounds?
The vet reassured me that it was common for older dogs to gain weight, but I felt like I had failed my dog. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s healthy. I knew I would have to make some changes to help Ralph get back in shape. These were the vet’s top tips to help my dog lose weight:
- Cut back on calories
- Switch to a low-carb, high-protein food
- Add fiber to your dog’s diet
- Provide plenty of fresh water
- Reward with fun, not food
- Provide extra exercise opportunities
- Be patient
More than half of America’s dogs can be classified as overweight. While having a few extra pounds is not an immediate death sentence for your dog, the fact is, overweight pets have a diminished quality of life and are more susceptible to a host of health problems like diabetes, hypertension, and arthritis.
Helping your dog maintain an appropriate weight can improve and extend your life together. These tips will help you help your dog trim down the healthy way. And of course, for safety’s sake, remember to consult a veterinarian before implementing a weight loss plan.
7 Simple Tips to Help Your Dog Lose Weight
1. Cut back on calories
Too many calories in + too little energy out = one rotund doggy! The first step to help your dog lose weight is reducing calorie intake. Chances are, your dog needs less food than you think.
Feeding guidelines on dog food bags tend to overestimate portion sizes, so consider cutting back. Use a measuring cup for precise portioning.
If your dog is accustomed to table scraps, they may be taking in more calories this way than you realize. Though it might be a tough transition at first, resist the urge to give into those adorable puppy dog eyes. Eliminating nibbles of “people food,” from pizza crusts to French fries to noodle bites, will help your dog lose weight.
After considering portions and cutting back on table scraps, you may also need to change your dog’s main source of calories: their daily food.
2. Focus on protein, cut back on carbs
Most commercial dog foods are full of fillers that increase calories but not nutrition, leaving your dog with inefficient energy and excess waste. Consider switching to a low-carb, high-protein food instead. Consult with your veterinarian for tips on choosing the right dog food for weight loss.
High-quality dog food can help your dog achieve maximum fitness by giving her just the right amount of nutrition and energy, without empty calories to slow her down.
What about grain-free dog food for losing weight?
Grain-free doesn’t necessarily mean carb-free.
Grain-free dog food is everywhere these days, though there are some concerns about how it affects dog health. In general, keep in mind that a grain-free label, while often a good indicator of quality, doesn’t necessarily mean carb-free. Some grain-free foods rely on starches like potatoes and lentils to bulk up the food, which won’t help your dog lose weight.
If your dog is really struggling to lose weight despite positive changes in his or her diet, take a look at switching them off of kibble altogether. Three popular options include raw dog food, fresh dog food, and homemade dog food. Each of these requires some investment up front but can really pay off for your dog’s health.
Homemade dog food
If you’ve got the time and the energy for it, cooking your dog’s food yourself can be very rewarding (and affordable). However, it’s not a change to be undertaken lightly, as the good folks at the Tufts School for Veterinary Medicine explain here. Writing there, board-certified veterinary nutritionist Cailin R. Heinze clarifies that homemade dog food must provide all of the essential nutrients, which can be hard to come by.
She says, “The best way to ensure that your pet’s home-cooked diet is healthy is to obtain a recipe from a veterinary nutritionist and follow it to-the-letter.”
Fresh dog food
They smell like your leftovers, and they look like a hearty stew, minus all the liquid.
Fortunately, a few companies have stepped in with a happy medium: fresh dog food delivery. While this option doesn’t come cheap, it’s very convenient, and it’s nutritionally balanced. Of the companies that deliver fresh, prepared foods to your door for your pet, these are the best-known options:
How fresh are these dog meal kits? Well, they basically smell like your leftovers, and they look like a hearty stew, minus all the liquid. Packaging varies, from tear-off pouches to yogurt-like containers; some are frozen, others stored in the fridge.
Finally, what about raw dog food? Like going homemade, going completely raw is not an endeavor to be taken lightly. Many dog owners swear by it, but the veterinary community is mixed on its safety. Get the full scoop on raw feeding here, along with pro tips for how to approach it safely.
3. Add healthy fiber to your dog’s diet
Along with focusing on wholesome proteins, think about high-fiber snacks and mix-ins for your dog’s food. Most dogs love carrots, for instance, or bites of fresh apple. A spoonful of plain canned pumpkin is a known tummy soother for pets. And our office dogs here at Rover love homemade dried veggies—check out the recipe here.
Whatever you choose, replacing some of your dog’s regular treats with fresh, fiber-packed options is a sensible weight loss step.
“The answer to keeping [a] dog’s weight optimal is to feed them a fresh, whole food diet.”
Some pet owners have gone further than this, choosing to replace some of their dog’s kibble with whole vegetables, such as green beans (in particular). We asked veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter about the green bean diet for dog weight management. He agrees that replacing dry food with green beans and other vegetables can be a good option for reducing a dog’s caloric intake, explaining, “The goal is to decrease calories ingested while maintaining or increasing the volume of food eaten. This way the dog feels full but ate less calories.”
Overall, he says, it doesn’t have to be green beans—though they’re unlikely to hurt. “The answer to keeping [a] dog’s weight optimal is to feed them a fresh, whole food diet. Dry dog food is loaded with carbohydrates that contribute to weight gain.”
4. Keep that water bowl full
Like humans, dogs may turn to food when they are actually thirsty. Make sure your dog’s water dish is topped up with fresh, clean water, and keep an eye out for signs of doggy dehydration.
Good hydration has many health benefits for dogs, including softer skin and a shinier coat. Winning!
5. Reward with fun, not food
If you already feed your dog a high-quality food, and she’s still gaining weight, it’s possible you’re giving her a few too many treats throughout the day.
I know how tempting it can be to toss your dog a bone just for being cute, but as they say: “Food is not love!”
It’s fine to use food as a reward in training, but use high-protein treats broken into small pieces to avoid over-feeding. Also, don’t give your dog a treat unless she earns it. Better yet, start introducing non-food rewards. Try offering a round of fetch instead of a french fry, or a belly rub in place of some pork belly. Be sure to let your pet sitter or dog walker know about this, as well.
Of course, compromise may be necessary. My father loves to sneak bites of his steak to my dogs, and despite frequent reprimands, he will not be deterred. I can’t teach an old Dad new tricks, but I can cut back on kibble in the bowl when I know the dogs are getting extra calories under the table.
6. Make ’em pant
Change can be as simple as picking up the pace on your daily walks.
Hitting the gym can feel like a chore to us humans, but for dogs, it’s all in good fun! Introducing more exercise into your husky hound’s daily routine will not only help her lose weight but also keep her mind active.
You should aim for fifteen minutes of strenuous activity two times per day. You don’t have to enroll in a fancy canine aerobics class, though they do exist, of course. Helping your dog get in shape can be as simple as picking up the pace on your daily walks.
To help your dog lose weight, you’ll want to increase activity slowly. Start by extending your morning and evening walks by a few blocks, increasing pace and distance as you both become more fit.
If you have limited mobility, try a game that will get your dog moving while you stay relatively still, such as fetch or hide-and-go-seek. Hydration matters for dogs as much as it does for humans, so as your dog exercises, make sure she gets plenty of water.
And speaking of water: swim therapy is a great option for dogs with joint problems brought on by aging or excessive weight. A plain old swimming pool or pond will do for most water-motivated dogs, but if you have the resources, consider visiting a veterinary physical therapy center with an underwater treadmill. Canine hydrotherapy encourages movement, takes pressure off of suffering joints, and as a bonus, it’s a lot of fun.
7. Slow and steady trims the waist
As I learned when my dog Ralph was “suddenly” ten pounds too heavy, weight gain doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does weight loss. It took about six months for Ralph to reach her ideal weight again, and I have to remain mindful to ensure she stays there.
Dogs with more extreme obesity will need more time and attention to trim down. There are no quick fixes for canine obesity, but the truth is, it’s really not difficult to help a dog get in shape. All it takes is consistency and time. Remember: gradual, habitual changes have the most impact, so focus on making lifestyle changes that integrate exercise and a healthy dog diet into the daily routine.
You can help your dog lose weight! If you need some inspiration, look to our old friend Obie the dachshund. Once dangerously obese, Obie is now a trim, healthy dog with many years ahead of him. If this sausage dog can do it, so can yours!
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