So, you may have noticed or been told that your dog is overweight? Well firstly, you are not alone! Research from a study conducted by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ association has revealed that over 50% of the UK’s canine population is overweight and this percentage only increases in geriatric dogs.
1. Understanding why your dog is overweight
Let’s start with why dogs become overweight, it is important to note that some dogs can suffer from conditions which predisposes them to gaining weight such as thyroid deficiencies and Cushing’s disease which can cause sudden increase in weight as well as other changes in their health. A dog’s metabolism does naturally slow down at around 6-7 years old which can lead to weight gain if their feeding and exercise is not adjusted to account for this. Of course, there are also secondary factors such as developmental joint disease that will make previous levels of exercise difficult or uncomfortable which means your dog is no longer using as many calories for exercise as they once did. If you notice increased weight gain it would be prudent to either rule out the above-mentioned conditions or work to manage them first prior to starting your dog on a restricted diet. And lastly, dogs can become overweight from general overfeeding, when they look at you with those puppy eyes, a little treat can become a regular occurrence and before long contribute to weight gain!
2. Register a starting weight
It is useful to have a starting weight for your dog and a goal amount of weight to lose, the PFMA dog size-o-meter is a useful tool to help you correctly condition score your dog which is a useful addition to a simple weight measurement. By doing this you can gain an understanding of where dogs carry excess weight, what excess weight feels like and how to monitor weight loss by feeling your dog’s body. As well as a weight and condition score you may choose to take some photos (using the different views on the PFMA size-o-meter) and measurements of chest, thigh and neck circumference of your dog for reference. By having objective measures, we avoid cognitive bias- that willing and hoping that our dog is losing weight and in fact they may not be!
3. Evaluate the diet
A good place to start is diet, by reevaluating what you feed, how much and when this can help you make a plan for weight loss. Depending on how much weight your dog has to lose can influence which diet you choose, if they just have 2-3kg you may well be able to stick with their current adult food such as Autarky White Fish or Autarky Salmon. If they have significantly more to lose and/or they are approaching 7 years old you may wish to move them to a senior diet such as our Autarky Mature Chicken or Salmon- these are designed with the older dog in mind with less calories per gram fed. This means you can still give your dog a ‘good meal’ and achieve satiety, as well as a package of vitamins to support the older dog’s joints and coat condition.
4. Planning a feeding regime around burning calories safely
In order to lose weight your dog must be in calorie deficit which means they are using more calories than they are taking in via food. A common misconception when working out your dog’s daily food intake is to use their current weight rather than their target weight! This could be quite influential, if your dog is currently eating Autarky Chicken for example and they weigh 32kg and they need to lose 7kg you could be feeding 70-80g and 254 calories per day too much!
5. Managing those extras, such as treats!
Once you have calculated your dog’s daily intake it is important to consider any little extras they get, be it table scraps, the odd treat or multiple treats! Dog owners are often surprised by the extra calorie content of treats- particularly ‘human food’! If treats are required for training purposes it is worth reducing their daily meal intake slightly to account for this, you could also consider swapping calorific treats for vegetables such as carrot! Vegetables are a good source of dietary fibre and water content! Feeding method is important, advice varies but it is suggested that if you are aiming for your dog to lose weight, feeding their ration in at least 2 or 3 meals per day avoids bloat and increases satiety through the day. Puzzle feeders and other feeding toys can help prolong feeding time, increase mental stimulation and prevent rushing of food.
Next to consider is exercise, a big player when it comes to weight loss but one that needs to be carefully considered prior to increasing significantly. Firstly fitness, if your dog is used to a 20-minute lead walk per day, you will need to increase this incrementally rather than suddenly completing a 90+ minute walk the next week. Secondly, the type of exercise is important, a mooch-around off lead, whilst very important for psychological health, will not be contributing to weight loss the same way a pacey lead walk at a trot would be. Thirdly, but perhaps most importantly is the need to consider physical needs, if your dog cannot exercise for a longer period for example due to osteoarthritis or another medical condition then extending their walks significantly could in fact result in sore joints and lameness. You may need to maintain their current exercise routine or possibly split down a slight increase in exercise to ‘little and often’ to avoid joint or muscle fatigue.
In summary, weight loss takes time, especially with more weight to lose, it is important this is a gradual but consistent loss to avoid nutritional deficiencies or behavioral problems associated with a significant reduction in food intake! You can be confident that Autarky diets have been formulated with this requirement in mind along with additional supportive herbs and minerals, meaning your dog can start their journey of weight loss the right way!