Obesity is a common and growing problem among our dogs. The dog's weight matters not only for its physical health, but also for the dog's quality of life, mental state and lifespan. This is an area many pet parents struggle with. As such, in this article we want to help you and share some information that we hope will be of value. The topics we will cover are:
Why is it important to keep track of your dog's weight?
Obesity is directly linked to various health problems that can affect your dog. An overweight dog is at significantly higher risk of developing diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and skin conditions. Maintaining your dog in a healthy body condition is one of the most important things you as a pet owner can do to prevent diseases, improve the quality of life and extend the life of your dog. Yes, it is proven - dogs in good body condition live longer!
For some dogs, the overweight comes later in life, for example after a castration, while some individuals become overweight already when they are puppies and brings this with them into adulthood. Even when you have a puppy, it is important not to overfeed it but to follow the specific feeding recommendations (and remember the additional treats you give throughout a day also add up). It can be more difficult to assess your puppy's body condition, and many pet owners like their puppy's to be a bit "round", but an overweight puppy often brings the excess weight up into adulthood and can be more difficult to get in normal weight as an adult. Many pet owners can also worry that the puppy will not get enough nutrition to grow and therefore give it a little bit extra, but as long as your puppy is healthy, alert, playing and obviously not thin, you can be sure your puppy gets the nutrition it needs if you follow the feeding recommendations.
All dog breeds are at risk of getting problems associated with obesity, but some dog breeds are at higher risk and it is therefore even more important to think about their dog's weight. If you have a dog breed that often suffers from joint problems as they get older, such as large breeds, it is of utmost importance to keep your dog normal weight throughout life. It almost goes without saying - carrying around an excess weight is a big, unnecessary strain and wears on the joints. If you have a short-nosed dog, being overweight can aggravate or cause problems with the airways, and among other things make it more difficult for the dog to regulate their body temperature in the summer.
How do I know if my dog is overweight?
It can be difficult as a pet owner to determine if the dog's weight is normal, or if it weighs too much or too little. Some dog owners might also have read or heard recommendations regarding what their breed should weigh. However, bear in mind that there are large variations within most breeds, which makes the general (and ideal) weight recommendations difficult to follow. An example is the chihuahua, where normal weight can be anywhere between 1.5 to 4 kg - because it differs so much within the breed! In other words, a 3 kg chihuahua can be both underweight, overweight or in normal body condition, depending on how big it is. Within certain breeds, e.g. rottweiler, the weight also differs greatly between the sexes, where a small, lightly built female can weigh 30 kg and a large, powerful male 50 kg.
Body Condition Score (BCS) - how do I rate?
Instead of staring blindly at the scales, it is good to learn how to assess your dog's body condition by looking and feeling the dog's body shape. There is a tool used in veterinary clinics called the Body Condition Score (BCS) which is a scale between 1-9, where 1 is severely underweight and 9 severe obesity. To rate your dog on the scale:
You start by looking at the dog's body shape both from above and from the side. Regardless of breed, you should be able to see a waist on your dog from both sides. This can of course be harder with fluffy breeds with long or thick fur.
Then feel the dog's body from front to back with one hand on each side. When you feel with your fingers over the dog's ribs, you should be able to feel them with a light pressure, without having to "dig in" your fingers.
If you then feel further back, you should clearly feel that the waist narrows where the chest ends, and then widens again over the hips. You should feel the hips, but they should not be excessively sharp.
See above what the scale looks like and take the opportunity to assess your dog's body condition. A healthy dog should be around 4 or 5 on the scale - if your dog ends up higher, this means an increased health risk and the dog should lose weight. If you find it difficult to determine your dog's body condition score yourself, ask for help from your veterinary clinic and let a veterinarian or nurse assess your dog's condition. At the clinic you can also take the opportunity to weigh the dog and get a personal recommendation of what your dog should weigh.
What causes obesity?
In the vast majority of cases, obesity is due to a simple equation: too much food and too little exercise - but in some cases, obesity can be due to an underlying disease in your dog. If you have a dog that has gained weight quickly or become more tired without you having changed anything in the dog's feeding or exercise routines, it is wisest to see your veterinarian to rule out there is not an illness behind the weight gain. If, on the other hand, the dog has been away at grandma's place for two weeks and received liver pate for breakfast and licked off the leftovers from the dinner plates - yes, then you have an easy explanation of where that extra kilo came from.
It is also common for dogs who have been spayed or neutered to develop problems with obesity. It is due to several factors, but above all a reduced metabolism in the dog, which applies to both female and male dogs. It varies at the individual level, but the energy requirement can be reduced by 20% after the castration. In other words, it is then necessary to reduce the dog's energy intake. The most important thing after the procedure is to carefully keep track of the dog's weight - if it starts to increase the least, it is time to immediately make adjustments in feeding and exercise, as it is much easier to prevent a weight gain than to make the dog lose weight. There are several options, either to adjust the amount of calories the dog eats per day, or to switch to a feed for neutered dogs. If your dog already eats petgood, you can reduce the dosage if the dog starts to gain weight after castration - read more here about how you can adjust your dog's feed. If you have a dog that is already at risk of being overweight, it is best to adjust the energy intake immediately after castration.
In addition to this, dogs that have joint problems also often gain weight. The natural explanation is simply that they move less. If the dog has undergone surgery, a period of rest, reduced activation and rehabilitation often follows thereafter, and then it is also easy for the dog to gain weight if the feed intake is the same. For these dogs, it is more important (than perhaps for someone else) not to gain weight - obesity burdens an already ill joint even more. It is easy to end up in a vicious spiral where the joint problem leads to obesity, the overweight makes the joint problem even worse, which in turn makes it even harder for the dog to move, and the weight keeps increasing, and so on.
How do I get my dog to lose weight?
Getting your overweight dog to start losing weight can feel difficult. Many pet owners experience that the dog does not lose weight despite having reduced the amount of food or extended the walk by an extra kilometer. And when it feels like nothing is happening, it is easy to give up.
Quite frankly, there are two ways to make the dog lose weight - reduce the dog's calorie intake or increase its calorie burn. Increasing the dog's exercise to a level that makes a difference on the scale is difficult for most pet owners - it is limited how many miles you can walk with your dog every day. Therefore, check the list below and ask yourself - where is it easiest for me to start?
1. What does my dog actually eat per day?
The dog's morning and evening food is usually not everything a dog eats in one day: Breakfast, some treats during training on the morning walk, some leftovers after lunch, a piece of cheese from your sandwich and so on ... It is easy to think that what is given between feedings does not matter, but in total it can add upp to a whole meal or even more.
🍬 Treats & rewards
In other words, how many treats or extra leftovers the dog receives plays a role, and must be limited or changed to healthier alternatives. Many dogs think petgood's food is so tasty that you can have it in your pocket when walking and use it as rewards when training - but remember to pick out the amount from the dog's usual daily ration of food, do not add an extra handful. Our insect based dog treats are low in fat and calories, to also suit dogs that are sensitive to fat, or that gain weight easily.
If you have a dog that begs and always acts hungry, this can be hard for you as a pet parent, but remember that a begging dog does not always have to get a treat. Many times it can be just as rewarding for the dog to have a play time with his favorite toy or a cuddle time with you. In one study, researchers took MRI scans of dogs' brains to see how they reacted when they saw a piece of sausage or their owner - and it turned out that the sight of the owner activated reward centers in the brain more than the sight of the piece of sausage!
🦴 Dental sticks
Chews or dental sticks are often forgotten as a contributor to the calorie intake - but some types and brands contain a lot of fat and energy. The calorie content between petgood's dental sticks compared to another common brand of dental sticks is at a lower level. The other brand contains 312 kcal / 100 g, while ours is 257 kcal / 100 g - almost 20% lower. As already mentioned - these are also calories and each calorie counts in the dog's total energy intake. Fun chewing toys can also be a good tip for the doggy to get an outlet for its chewing needs, without adding extra calories.
2. How much can I reduce the amount of food?
For some slightly overweight dogs, it may be enough to review the point above and improve or remove everything extra the dog gets - but for many, the food amount must also be reduced for the dog to lose weight. Then it may be difficult to know how much to reduce without the dog being hungry or not getting enough nutrition.
Step 1 is of course to double check that you give the dog the right amount of food based on the recommendations for that specific dog food. If you are already giving a little too much, start by going down to the normal amount or something below, and make sure you actually give the dog the right amount of food each day. If you are already careful about measuring your dog's food based on the recommendations, you can start by lowering the daily ration so that you give 80% of the recommended amount per day.
Weight loss takes time and should go slowly, and the dog should lose weight with 1-2% loss of body weight per week. If you have a dog of 15 kg, the dog should therefore not lose more than between 150-300 grams per week. If after a month or so the dog has not lost weight despite a reduced food supply, you can reduce the supply further, but not more than to 60% of the recommended amount. If nothing still happens on the scales even though you are careful with the feeding, it is time to look at changing your dog's diet, or book a veterinary visit to be sure that nothing else has caused the weight gain. If, on the other hand, the dog loses weight a little too quickly, you can gently increase the amount slightly to achieve a healthier and more sustainable weight loss.
3. When is it better to seek the help of a veterinarian?
In some situations, the solution to getting your dog to lose weight is to seek the help of your veterinarian. This may be necessary if:
🐶 The dog is extremely overweight (BCS 8-9)
🐶 The dog has already had direct health consequences due to his/her overweight (for example, joint pain or difficulty moving),
🐶 The dog has tried to lose weight with his current food but does not lose weight
🐶 The dog is not doing well when the amount of food is reduced
🐶 You feel insecure about your dog's health and well-being and want personal guidance
If one or more of the above statements are relevant to your dog, a visit to the veterinary clinic is recommended. There you can get help with a special veterinary diet for weight loss if this is judged to be the best for your dog, a weight schedule with guidance on how much the dog should lose per month, and what its target weight is. Your veterinarian can also help you with additional measures to make your dog feel better, such as relieving joint pain.
4. What can I do to change the dog's weight with exercise?
Making your dog lose weight with exercise requires a lot of commitment from you as a pet owner - it is usually needed in combination with adjustment of food and treats. But it is also the most fun way, and can also lead to you and your dog doing more things together and getting a stronger bond!
🏃♂️ Running and walking
The dog is an animal that is built to move for many hours every day, and both you and the dog will feel good after going for a run or a walk. Maybe you can extend with a few extra kilometers, add a real long walk when time allows or replace one of the daily walks with a running workout? Another way to make the walks a little more demanding (for both human and dog), is to get off the path and let the dog lift its paws through moss and branches. Getting a proper lift of the legs is also good training for the dog's muscles and joints. If you have a dog that can run off-leash in a safe way and areas where it is allowed, this often makes the dog run twice as far as you go, thanks to all the zig-zagging across the forest or fields.
If you have a very overweight dog or a dog that has problems with its joints, it can also prevent too much exercise, as the dog quickly gets tired or painful. One solution for these dogs is to go to the nearest lake and let the dog swim or walk in water. The water resistance burns more calories but is at the same time gentle on the dog. Take the opportunity to bring the dog's favorite toy and let it play fetch in the water! Many veterinary clinics also offer to train the dog in the water walker - a kind of mini pool with a treadmill that is filled with water to different levels to give the dog resistance to walk in.
Starting to cycle with your dog is also a solution for dogs who have a great need for movement and do not have problems with running or breathing despite being overweight. It also makes it easier for you as a pet owner as it becomes much easier to exercise the dog over longer distances. You can switch between a leisurely jogging pace, and letting the dog sprint some distances. However, train gradually so that the dog in peace and quiet learns where to run and how fast, so that no accidents occur.
🐕🦺 Dog sports
Maybe it's time to try a new activity with your dog? There are lots of forms of training and activities for your dog, such as agility, tracking and pulling just to name a few. A new activity means not only more exercise for the dog, but also mental training and allows you to form a stronger bond and grow together with your four-legged friend.
How do I maintain my dog's weight?
After you have gone through all the steps and found healthier habits for you and your dog, the dog has hopefully reached its goal weight (although this will take months or in some cases years). Many dog owners are then worried that the dog will continue to lose weight. From experience, this is rarely a problem, rather the opposite when you relax and that extra treat gets added again. If the dog continues to lose weight, you can of course increase the amount of food again, and aim for the amount that is adapted to your dog's new weight. However, make the increase extremely gradual and careful and evaluate the result.
Hopefully you have now received tips on how you can get a slightly lighter doggo, and maybe also many new fun activities and habits to do together! The biggest reward is of course that your dog will be healthier, happier and live longer - and that is probably the best reward in itself 💚
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