January 7, 2016
Obesity in pets, just like humans, is on the rise in the US. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, out of the 77.5 million dogs in the USA, an astonishing 35 million of these dogs are considered overweight and 6.7 million are considered clinically obese. As a Brand Ambassador for a national pet food company, I spend hours a week talking with pet owners of said dogs and two things seem to really get under my skin.
- Vets are recommending “healthy weight” formulas to their patients with obese pets. While on the surface it may not seem like a bad idea, the reality is that a simple food change is likely not going to solve the issue. Case in point, just the other day I was talking to a pet owner whose dog has been on a “healthy weight” formula for two years. When I asked about the current weight of their pup, they stated they were still overweight but imagine what they would weigh if they were on the “regular formula. Typically, “healthy weight” dog foods are only 50-100 fewer calories per cup than their regular adult counterparts. To lower the calories, extra fillers or carbs are added to lower the “per cup” calorie count. In fact, one well-known grain free dog food company actually replaces a meat ingredient tapioca starch (starchy & sugary) in their healthy weight formula. This is equivalent to an obese human patient being told by a doctor to eat 100 calorie oreo packs because the calories are lower.
- My dog is refusing to eat. This is the most common issue I address with pet owners. While I understand the owner is looking for assistance in finding the “miracle food” and often seeking sympathy for their situation, I am struck by how many of these pets are overweight. When I ask what they are NOT eating, the usual response is “breakfast or dinner”. We humans live in a world of schedules. Starting at a very early age we are told that we must eat three meals a day at set times, therefore, we expect our pets to follow the same schedules. In the wild, our pets would be hunters and gatherers. They would seek food when they were hungry or spend their time storing up food for when supplies would be short. They are much more tuned into the needs of their bodies than us humans. Refusing to eat may have less to do with the food offered than the actual needs of the pet.
So, you have an overweight dog and you need to help them lose some weight. The following are some healthy options that may assist you.
- Know the Calories/Cup – Most higher quality pet food companies are now adding calorie information to their nutritional information. If your dog is overweight or obese, start by first understanding how many calories per day you are feeding him. Slowly reduce the number of calories and monitor to see if you dog gains, maintains or loses weight. This will give you a better sense of his calorie needs. DogFoodAdvisor.com suggests products must meet three conditions. They must contain above-average protein, below-average fat and 250 to 350 calories per cup of kibble… or per 13-ounce can.
- Use a Measuring Cup – Feed a consistent amount of food at each meal. Simply pouring some food in a bowl will allow for too many inconsistencies in feeding.
- Treat Wisely – Not all treats are created equal. As with food, understand the number of calories in each treat you give. Dogs really thrive on routine. If your pup is used to getting a treat midday, still treat but choose a lower calorie option or break the current treat into smaller sizes.
- Increase Activity – Losing, gaining or maintaining weight is simply managing the calories in/calories out formula. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. Conversely, if you burn more than you eat, you will lose. Take a few extra minutes of your day for an additional walk or some play time. If you are time strapped, try out some puzzle toys like treat balls with a few pieces of their kibble inside, just subtract this amount of kibble from their meal. Staying active is important for all.
- Weigh In Often – It will be important to keep track of your progress. Many pet owners don’t know how much their pet weighs until they go for their annual vet visit as it is hard to weigh many pets at home. Today, many vets and vet clinics, as well as, pet stores have scales available for owners to weigh in.
Just remember, slow and steady will win the race. Increased activity and fewer calories will lead to weight loss. Once the weight is lost, continue to monitor and maintain needed calories. Choose foods that are nutritious for your pet and take the time to understand whether changing to a healthy weight formula is the best option. You may find by reducing calories and changing your lifestyle is a better option for a happy healthy life.
Final tip: Don’t know if your pup is overweight? Check out this cool Pet Weight Calculator.