Creating a Weight Loss Plan For Your Dog
You’ve officially determined that your dog has packed on some extra weight so now what should you do? Creating a weight loss plan with the help of your veterinarian can be a great next step to help your overweight pet shed those unwanted pounds and get back on track to a healthier weight and a healthier life.
Does My Dog Need a Weight Loss Plan?
If your dog has only a few pounds to lose it may not be necessary to put together an official weight loss plan. However, if you have an obese dog, a weight loss plan can serve as a structured road map to a healthier weight.
The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention is an organization that researches and spreads awareness about pet obesity levels in the United States. In their 2018 research on pet obesity, they found that an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese.
Older dogs are more prone to obesity than younger dogs due to an increase in inactivity as they age. All dogs can be obese, but dogs between the ages of 5 and 12 are more likely to experience obesity according to Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC’s chief veterinary officer.
We suggest making a vet appointment to help tailor a plan specific to your canine pal’s unique situation. Different breeds of dogs have different needs and can be more prone to obesity than others. It’s important to discuss with your vet to determine an appropriate target weight for your dog. This number will serve as the end goal to your plan.
In addition to nutrition, exercise and adopting a more active lifestyle will also be important factors to help shed those pounds and get back to a healthier weight. If your dog doesn’t get out much and are rather sedentary at home, they might not be burning the calories necessary to offset their calorie intake, which can contribute to weight gain. Getting your dog out of the house more often, even if it’s just for a daily walk around the block, can do wonders when it comes to helping them lose weight.
How Much Should I Feed My Dog
Knowing how much to feed your dog is always important, but it’s even more important when you are starting a weight loss program. Your dog may need to be eating fewer calories to accomplish your final goal. A great place to start is by learning how to read the dog food label on your dog’s bag of food.
All dog food labels should include dog food portion charts, or feeding charts, to give you an idea of how much of that particular food you should be feeding. The charts will include food portion sizes by weight and, if the food is formulated for puppies, also a food portions chart by age.
Use the feeding chart as a guide, adjusting as necessary to maintain optimal weight. Portions will vary according to nutritional needs, metabolism, stage of life, breed, temperament and your dog’s environment, which is why it’s super important to discuss how much your dog should eat everyday with your vet–especially if weight loss is the goal. Overfeeding is the number one cause of weight gain in dogs and it most commonly happens when pet owners take the feeding charts on their dog’s food and run with it. Working with your vet to determine exactly how much your dog should eat in a day is essential to not overfeed and hinder weight loss progress.
Please know that the charts normally recommend a daily amount of food. Depending on your feeding schedule you may want to split the amount up between 2-3 meals a day.
Switching to Weight Loss Dog Food
Finding healthier alternatives to your pet’s current food doesn’t have to be stressful. There are a lot of different recipes that are formulated especially with weight loss or weight management in mind and can easily fit into your dog’s eating plans.
Our Weight Control dry dog food recipe is specially crafted to help keep your dog healthy and fit by reducing fat without reducing the necessary nutrients your pup needs. This weight management dog food recipe features lean meats such as turkey meal and Pacific whiting meal and is perfect to help your dog lose some extra pounds. Enriched with Taurine for heart health, Weight Control is crafted without peas, lentils, or legumes. An added blend of superfoods like pumpkin, blueberries, carrots and apples are the perfect addition to this low fat dog food recipe.
Be sure to consult with your local vet or veterinary specialist when switching your dog’s food. Find out if the food is a good fit for your pet’s weight loss plan and then proceed with switching gradually. In the next section we discuss the proper way to transition your dog to a new food.
Also, it’s still important to keep portion control in mind with your new recipe, even if it’s a weight management dog food. Too much of a good thing is still too much and can cause unwanted weight gain. Use the feeding chart on your pet food packaging as a starting point and split your daily feeding amount into 2-3 smaller meals throughout the day.
Switching Back to Normal Dog Food
You may be wondering how to switch dog food once your pup hits their target weight! Even though you may be tempted to switch your dog’s food cold turkey, a quick change can lead to many adverse reactions. After changing dog food too quickly, symptoms can be vomiting, diarrhea, and a decreased appetite.
When switching dog food, charts can be very helpful to learn how to properly change food without issues. We recommend that the transition period should take about seven days:
- Days 1 & 2 – 25% new food, 75% old food
- Days 3 & 4 – 50% new food, 50% old food
- Days 5 & 6 – 75% new food, 25% old food
- Day 7 – 100% new food
This gradual change allows your pup to grow familiar with their new food and it helps alleviate issues that come from switching dog food and side effects like stomach upset.
Referencing a fecal score chart can also be a helpful way to know if your dog’s system is adjusting properly to the new food by analyzing your dog’s poop shape and consistency. While definitely not the most glamorous task, it is a great way to determine if your dog is adjusting to the new food or if you need to switch them over to their new food more slowly to avoid stomach upset.
Behaviors That Lead to Weight Gain
Weight gain can be caused by multiple factors and identifying those behaviors is an important step in stopping weight gain and preventing it in the future.
Too Many Treats
Just like snacking for humans, it’s not good for your dog to snack on too many dog treats each day as well. As we all know, calories that come from snacking unfortunately add up very quickly. According to the AKC, “One study found that with people spending more time at home, treats were often given as a form of love, and more than half of people say they’ve been giving their pets treats for no apparent reason.”
When you are implementing your weight loss plan, it’s important to determine how many calories your dog needs to eat each day. Once calculated, it’s suggested that treats do not account for more than 10% of a dog’s daily caloric intake.
For example, if your dog eats 500 calories a day, you shouldn’t feed more than 50 calories from treats in a day. All of our Earthborn Holistic crunchy biscuits and soft treats have calorie information readily available on the back of the bag.
Our EarthBites Cheese Flavor soft treats, a good low-calorie treat option, are 5 calories per treat, which means you can feed your dog 10 of these delicious treats each day (450 calories in food + 50 calories in treats = 500)!
Having an inactive or sedentary lifestyle is another contributing factor to weight gain. With people spending more time at home during the pandemic, this has also most likely affected your dog’s activity level as well. In addition to weight gain, if your dog isn’t getting enough exercise they may also be exhibiting signs of boredom, frustration and also destructive behaviors.
Guessing or Free Feeding
If you are a fan of the “guesstimate” approach and do not measure out the food you feed your dog, you could very well be overfeeding your pup at mealtimes. Instead, use the feeding charts available on your pet food’s packaging as a starting point and consult with your vet on how many calories your dog should be consuming each day. Using portion control can ensure your dog is getting the proper amount of calories without the worry of overfeeding.
While those puppy dog eyes might be staring back at you when you’re eating your own dinner, it’s best not to indulge your pup with any leftovers from the table. Table scraps, while very tasty, are a source of additional calories and can sometimes even be dangerous for dogs to ingest. A lot of human foods can be toxic or contain seasonings like garlic that dogs should not eat and could cause additional health problems in addition to weight gain.
Wet food can make a great and safe alternative to table scraps! If you want to combine or top off your dog’s favorite kibble, be sure to feed less kibble to make sure you’re not going over your dog’s daily caloric intake. For example, when feeding our K95 canned dog food recipes with dry product, one container of K95 dog food replaces approximately 3/4 cup dry pet food.
What Should Be Included in a Weight Loss Plan?
Diet and exercise are the best ways to help with weight loss but let’s get into more of the specifics on what should be included in your dog’s weight loss plan to ensure success.
To avoid the guesswork on how much to feed your dog, it’s important to have a dog food measuring cup available to measure out your dog’s kibble at dinner time. The feeding charts on our recipes are broken down by how many cups to feed your dog per day so a standard measuring cup like the one you would use for baking at home works just fine.
There are also several pet food measuring cups that are inexpensive and can be a little more user-friendly when scooping out your dog’s food from their food packaging or bin.
Slowing Down Meal Time
Does your dog like to inhale his/her food at dinner time? Or are you cutting back on the amount of food you are feeding your dog? If you answered yes to either of those questions, you may be looking for a way to make mealtime last just a little bit longer.
Utilizing a slow feeder dog bowl or a puzzle feeder can help your pup slow down and enjoy dinnertime. Most of these bowls feature mazes and ridges within the bowl that can help keep your dog engaged for up to 10 times longer! Plus, it helps prevent overeating and lessens the chance of bloat.
You can also hide kibble in a snuffle mat as a different meal time option. Snuffle mats, like this one from Boredom Buster™ are a great way to engage your pup’s natural foraging instincts. Simply take kibble (or treats if allowed) and stuff them in the different flaps, pockets and all the other nooks and crannies available on the mat. Then let your pup sniff out the goods!
Snuffle mats come in various sizes and colors and can provide a lot of entertainment and mental stimulation in addition to extending meal time for all breeds and sizes.
Nutrition is a key part of a weight loss plan, but exercise plays an integral part as well. It’s best to start off slow and increase exercise intensity gradually as your dog becomes more physically active.
The good thing about exercise is that it can be done anywhere and everywhere! The easiest way to start is to exercise at home. If you have access to a fenced in yard, you can start simply by playing fetch, throwing the frisbee, engaging in tug-of-war with a rope toy or playing hide and seek!
Another good first step is to implement a walking program. The benefits of walking your dog can include losing weight, helping with cardiovascular health and meeting other health goals for both you and your dog. Routine exercise such as walking or swimming can also be very beneficial for maintaining dog joint health and helping to delay or prevent the onset of arthritis when they become a senior dog!
Beyond the physical benefits, there are several mental health benefits as well! For you, walking can serve as a way to unplug and enjoy some quality time outside. For your pup, they get to interact with a new environment that may have different people to greet, new animals to interact with (and not chase), unique smells, different sounds, etc. All of these provide valuable mental stimulation which helps with overall doggy behavior and even healthy sleep patterns.
How Long Will a Weight Loss Plan Take?
The length of the weight loss plan will vary depending on several factors including your dog’s breed, temperament, environment, and how much weight they need to ultimately lose.
Celebrate milestones in the short term and don’t get discouraged if the plan takes a little longer to get to your dog’s goal weight than expected. As with humans, slow and steady wins the race when it comes to weight loss for dogs. Just keep at it and don’t give up and your dog will be well on their way to a healthier lifestyle.
The main focus should be progress which is why a progress tracker is helpful during your diet and exercise plan. There are even dog activity monitors such as FitBark that can help track your dog’s activity level, calories and sleep patterns. This information can be very helpful when discussing your dog’s weight loss progress with your vet.
It’s important to make a vet appointment for a monthly check in so your pup can weigh in and the vet can make sure everything is on track and your dog is losing weight in a healthy way. These check ins will help you decide if you should stay the course or if your dog’s plan could use a few little adjustments to help them lose weight faster or slower (because losing weight too fast isn’t healthy, either).
Feeding With Multiple Dogs in the House
Feeding multiple dogs in one household can be a little tricky especially if only one of them is on a weight loss plan or eating a special diet recipe. So what do you do?
Direct supervision will be important starting out if all the dogs eat at the same time and you are introducing a new recipe to only one of them. You’ll need to ensure your dog sticks to their own bowl and doesn’t try to get second helpings from his other furry family members. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your other dogs don’t try to sneak a delicious bite from your dog’s bowl with the new weight control food, especially if their own food has a different protein source, as this could cause stomach upset if it happens too often.
Some dogs also exhibit a trait called resource guarding when it comes to food. According to AKC, “Dogs find a variety of things valuable, from food to your favorite sweater. But, some might growl, stiffen, lunge, or bite when you go near or try to retrieve something from them. Resource guarding, as it’s called, is a valuable instinct for feral dogs, because it allows them to survive on limited means in the wild. But it’s not such a great trait for domesticated animals.”
If your dog exhibits resource guarding it may be best to set up a safe space with physical barriers to keep possible conflict at a minimum. Then, be sure to bring this up at your next vet appointment to get some advice on how to help improve this behavior in the future.
If you are eliminating treats altogether during your weight loss plan, you’ll have to get a little creative in rewarding your canine family for good behavior.
According to PetMD, “Dog treats are not the only types of rewards that our furry best friends appreciate. In fact, the best dog handlers use a variety of “creative rewards” that tap into their dogs’ drives to help keep them motivated, responsive and ready to work.”
Some ideas for non food rewards can be additional praise, special toys, petting and playing some of your dog’s favorite games! It’s important to know that we can reward our furry friends in ways that don’t always involve food. If your dog doesn’t necessarily get as excited for less-yummy rewards, you may need to spend some time building their toy drive to get them used to their new system.
Identifying the behaviors that cause weight gain, finding the right food and amount of food to feed, and implementing a good exercise routine are all key factors in establishing a healthy weight loss plan for your dog. As with any plan, human or canine, it’s important to stay consistent, set realistic expectations and celebrate the progress along the way until you reach your final goal.