By Dr. Tracy Dewhirst for Exceptional Canine
Cute, chubby, roly-poly dogs -- we all know one. They might make us smile and sometimes laugh, but these dogs are often left behind while their owners and other dogs enjoy outdoor activities. Carrying excessive weight makes dogs sluggish and contributes to serious health problems. Check out our recent feature to learn how to tell if your dog is overweight.
Overweight dogs are more likely to suffer pain, develop metabolic diseases and need surgery on damaged joints or herniated vertebral discs. They also have difficulty breathing during routine activity, and when temperatures are hot and humid they have trouble effectively cooling themselves via panting.
The good news, however, is that your dog’s weight loss is achievable if you devise a plan and stick to it. My patients who have successfully lost weight have restored mobility and renewed energy. Their owners often say their dog acts like a puppy again.
Access Your Dog’s Health and Calorie Needs
Weight control should be a simple equation. The number of calories consumed must be equal to, or less than, the number of calories burned. However, the equation does not take into account your dog’s activity level, age, breed, reproductive status, or medical condition.
Some metabolic diseases can cause weight gain, and some diet foods might not be appropriate for dogs with underlying medical problems. This is why assessing your dog’s overall health and getting a proper energy requirement and calorie count from your veterinarian is important before beginning a diet.
Do not rely on feeding charts for dieting. Know the exact kilocalories per cup in your dog food, and feed for your dog’s individual needs and desired weight. Pay attention to extra calories. It is easy to feed 100 kilocalories (or more) in snacks and treats -- and these calories add up to pounds over time.
Consider a Specialized Weight Loss Food
Weight loss is often easier to achieve when your dog is fed a specialized food designed to help reduce calories, maintain nutritional balance and produce satiety. Foods that contain L- carnitine, an amino acid derivative, have been shown to help promote lean body mass and improve weight loss.
Get Your Dog Moving
Daily activity should be a part of any comprehensive diet program. Start inactive dogs off slowly; moderate walks are good. Outings can become more strenuous as your dog’s stamina builds. Also, metabolism rate increases with regular activity, making weight loss more rapid. Weigh your dog periodically and make necessary caloric adjustments during a trial diet.
Don’t Yield to Temptation
Another major factor in managing your dog’s weight is addressing begging. This learned behavior contributes to dogs being overweight because owners simply cannot refuse their dog’s innocent, hungry stares. Be strong. Remind yourself that the goal is to make your dog healthier and happier. Never reward begging. This only perpetuates the problem.
Dieting does not mean completely eliminating the joy of giving your dog a treat. But it does mean feeding healthy, low-calorie snacks when and only when your dog has earned it, not begged for it.
Dogs that live active lives are content and fulfilled. Don’t waste another day. Start turning back the clock by encouraging your dog’s weight loss, so you can enjoy his new-found energy and second puppyhood.
Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a graduate from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, practices small-animal and equine medicine in Knoxville, Tenn. She is a long-time columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Dewhirst also sits on the East Tennessee Peer Review Board.