Before starting any weight management program for your dog, consult your veterinarian to ensure your dog is healthy and to determine if there are any underlying medical conditions contributing to their weight gain.
Once your overweight dog is cleared by the vet, you can begin developing their weight loss plan. It can be as simple as following these ten steps!
Step 1: Determine Your Dog's Ideal Weight
Your dog’s actual weight isn’t as important as their body condition score. Every dog is different, even within the same breed. What’s normal for one dog may not be right for another.
A body condition score is primarily determined by evaluating five different areas of the dog:
- Ribs: The rib cage should be easily felt but not seen
- Waist: There should be a tuck behind the last rib and before the hip
- Back: The spine should be straight, with no bumps or bulges
- Abdomen: Should be firm and smooth, with no distention or visible fat
- Thighs: Should feel muscular and firm
If you are hoping for an actual weight to use as a guideline, your veterinarian can help you determine your dog's ideal weight based on their breed, age, and size along with a target weight to aim for in the weight management plan for your individual dog.
Step 2: Calculate Your Dog’s Daily Caloric Needs
As a general guideline, the following can be used:
- Dogs up to 5 pounds: 130-150 calories
- Dogs 5-10 pounds: 200-275 calories
- Dogs 10-20 pounds: 275-400 calories
- Dogs 20-30 pounds: 400-500 calories
- Dogs 30-50 pounds: 600-700 calories
As you can see, there is quite a range in caloric needs for each weight category. This is because each dog has different needs. If your dog is extremely active, they will need more calories than a dog that is more likely to be found snoozing on the couch most of the day.
If you want an exact caloric intake number, your veterinarian or a canine nutritionist can help you calculate your dog's daily caloric needs based on their ideal weight, age, activity level, and any specific dietary requirements.
Step 3: Choose a Suitable Diet to Help Your Dog Lose Weight
Select a high-quality, nutritionally balanced diet that meets your dog's caloric needs. Raw feeding tends to be the ‘go-to’ recommendation for dogs who are obese to get a hold on their weight and improve their health. Kibble is full of carbohydrates, which dogs do not need and which can have detrimental health effects, including obesity. If you have ever gone on a diet, it’s unlikely you incorporated high carbs into your diet plan.
A raw diet is composed primarily of protein and fat, which are used by the body for energy rather than carbs as a traditional kibble-based diet would. Raw diets also balance the gut microbiome, which aids in weight regulation. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s fairly simple to create a raw bowl.
Step 4: Measure and Control Portion Sizes
Your dog's daily treat allowance should never go over 10% of their daily caloric intake. You should also provide appropriate portion sizes and feed your dog several times per day.
If you feed your dog once per day, they are more likely to scoff down all their food because they will take the opportunity to fill up on what they can. Dogs that are fed multiple times per day are more likely to take their time rather than overfill their belly because they know more food is coming soon.
Step 5: Increase Physical Activity
Gradually increase your dog's physical activity with regular walks, playtime, or other forms of exercise. Start with short, low-intensity activities and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your dog becomes more fit.
Of course, activities should be based on your dog’s breed. For example, you shouldn’t take a Dachshund on a 5-mile hike through the woods. Tailor the activities to the ones they can successfully accomplish and that they aren’t likely to give up on.
Step 6: Monitor Progress
Take note of your overweight dog’s progress every two weeks. Seriously, jot it down. You can also take pictures every two weeks. You may be surprised at the difference if you’re comparing progress notes and photos along the journey. While you may not visually notice the difference just looking at your dog, you may notice it in photographs.
Step 7: Provide Mental Stimulation
Dogs require mental stimulation as much as they need physical activity; it keeps them happy and healthy! Dogs that don’t get enough mental stimulation tend to be bored and restless, which often leads them to find ways to entertain themselves, usually by eating!
Mental stimulation can come from lots of different sources:
- Brain games: Brain games, like hide-and-seek where your dog searches for a particular toy or small treat, can be helpful in keeping their mind entertained.
- Puzzle feeders: If you feed your dog with a puzzle feeder or a snuffle mat, they are more likely to not only be more engaged, but take their time eating.
- Chew toys: Chew toys can help keep your dog engaged and their mind off of eating.
Step 8: Utilize Probiotics for Overweight Dogs
Probiotics, like Daily Dog, can play a role in managing your dog's weight by promoting a healthy gut microbiome, which is essential for overall health and optimal nutrient absorption.
Although research on the direct relationship between probiotics and weight management in dogs is still limited, several potential benefits have been observed:
- Improved digestion: Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help maintain or restore a healthy balance of gut bacteria. This balance is crucial for proper digestion and nutrient absorption, allowing your dog to feel satiated and potentially reducing overeating.
- Enhanced immune system: A healthy gut microbiome is essential for a strong immune system. Probiotics can help support your dog's immune system, which can contribute to overall health and reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases.
- Reduced inflammation: Obesity can lead to chronic inflammation, which may exacerbate weight gain and related health issues. Some probiotics have been shown to reduce inflammation, potentially mitigating these negative effects.
- Regulation of metabolism: Probiotics may influence the metabolism of dietary fats and carbohydrates, which can impact weight management. A well-functioning metabolism can help your dog maintain a healthy weight.
- Appetite control: Some research suggests that certain probiotics may help regulate appetite by affecting hormones that control hunger and satiety.
Step 9: Communicate With a Professional As-Needed
Keep your veterinarian informed about your dog's progress and any changes in their health or behavior. They may recommend adjustments to the weight management plan as needed.
Step 10: Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Once your dog reaches their ideal weight, continue to provide a balanced diet, regular exercise, and mental stimulation to maintain their weight and overall health. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian will also help ensure your dog remains in good health.
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