Recognising and Helping Overweight and Obese Dogs
We’ve all been there. Our dog looks at us with those big, cow eyes, and guilt trips us into giving them just a little tidbit because we love them so much and don’t want them to look so sad. But it doesn’t take long, for those treats to add up, and before we know it, we’re getting a talk from out vet about our beloved buddy being obese and needing to go on a diet. But how do we know that our dog is fat and not just ‘big boned’ or covered in ‘puppy fat’?
What to Look for in an Overweight Dog?
There are three key ways to tell if your dog is overweight.
- Does your dog have an obvious ‘waistline’? If your dog doesn’t then he or she should have one. You can tell if your dog has a waistline by viewing him or her from different angles. From above, the waistline is what marks out the front half from the back half of your dog, it should come together a little, rather like an hourglass. From the side, you should be able to see your dog’s abdomen rise up towards the underside of his or her hind legs.
- Can you feel or see your dog’s ribs? If you can’t feel or see your dog’s ribs, then your dog is certainly overweight, they should be visible and easy to feel.
- When your dog sits down, does their back look to be straight, or do they have any so called ‘love handles’?
How to Help an Overweight Dog
Unless your dog has an underlying health problem, then helping your dog to lose weight should be fairly straightforward, at least in theory. More exercise, and less calories. You are the one in control of both of these things, so your dog is relying on you to keep them fit and healthy! Consult your vet for advice and support as needed.
Diet: what are you feeding your dog each day? Dried food, raw diet, canned food, human food, snacks, and treats?
Snacks are the easiest way to fatten up your dog, so try to reduce the number of treats you give them each day, or switch to lower calorie, healthier options. Why are they getting treats, and can these be replaced with love and affection or a squeaky toy or play as a reward, instead of food? Can you break the treats up to make them smaller, or give individual treats instead of multiple treats at once?
Meals: rather than guessing how much food to feed your dog, try switching to a lighter or diet version of the same food, and use a measuring cup to weigh out your dog’s food. Use scales to weigh out the food, and to keep your dog entertained for longer, try hiding the food inside a Kong or similar toy, so that your dog has to work for their biscuits.
Scraps from the Table: If your dog is a canine hoover that follows your kids around or likes to help out in the kitchen or under the table at teatime, try to avoid giving them the scraps, or allowing them to hoover up the food. Cut down on giving them dishes to lick clean and restrict access to any crumbs they might find.
Exercise: are you walking your dog twice a day, or giving your dog the exercise he or she really needs? Perhaps life has been more stressful than usual, or you’ve got a new baby at home, are getting home from work later, or are struggling to walk as far as you used to due to your own ill health? If you are struggling to give your dog the walks they require, then try to find a trusted friend, neighbour, family member, or pet sitter who can walk your dog for you on a regular basis. You might find that you have a friend who would desperately love a dog of their own, but whose landlord won’t allow them to have a pet, you could both benefit from them walking your dog, even if it is just a long walk on a weekend.
Swimming: if your dog is very overweight or has arthritis or other difficulties with movement, then you could try swimming as exercise. Ask your vet about places to swim with your dog, or specialist hydrotherapy facilities. Could you put up a paddling pool in your garden and supervise your dog for regular swimming sessions? Or have them swim in the sea each day, even just for a few minutes of throwing a stick for them to fetch from the water, to strengthen their legs.
Toys: are there are games, toys, or enrichment activities that you can do, to get your dog more active through the day? Can you stuff a Kong with treats, or use a ball thrower to fling a ball and have them run for it? Can you play tug at home with them once or twice a day, instead of watching tv together? Or try our fantastic Tether Tug Dog toy with indoor and outdoor options?
Join a Group: sometimes it might just be harder to walk your dog, especially in the winter when it is dark and the streets don’t feel so safe, or the weather is miserable. Are there are groups or classes near you, like fly ball, agility, or dog shows? Or perhaps you could find a group on Facebook of other owners who share your love for the breed and like to meet up for play dates? Not only is this great stimulation and social time for your dog, but it’s time for you to get out and have some fun too.
Helping your dog to lose weight doesn’t have to be a huge challenge. Lots of small actions can really add up. Adding a few more minutes to a walk each day, or taking stairs instead of the lift, or cutting down the number of biscuits in their bowl at meal times.
You might start to find that your health and weight improves too, and that you both start to have a new lease of life!
Written by Sarah Weldon
Sarah is a British explorer and ice swimmer, who loves nothing more than hikes in the mountain with her Italian Greyhound and cosy nights by the fire with her three devious cats.