Every day in my practice, I encounter overweight pets. And year after year, when these dogs and their owners return for their health and wellness check-ups with me, these animals have never lost a pound – or in most cases, have gained even more weight.
The majority of the time, the clients will look at me sheepishly and remark, “I know what you are going to say,” or “Am I in trouble again for the weight?”
My mind races…..
- What is going on here?
- Are my clients not listening?
- Do they just think it’s not all that important?
- Do they realize that even being mild to moderately overweight can strip years off their dog’s life?
- Do I care more than them?
- Am I missing something?
- Are their dogs cooking and feeding themselves?
- Or is it because my delivery and communication skills stink?
- Why am I not getting through to them?
Maybe I am simply not scaring them enough. So, let me be clear: If you are overfeeding your dogs and allowing them to become obese, you are killing them…maybe a bit harsh.
For years, I have referenced the Purina Lifespan Study, which in my mind is a slam-dunk, as far as proving that keeping your dog at their ideal body weight will essentially add years to their life, helping them live longer and remain healthier.
Maybe the statistic that clients only retain 15% of what their doctors say is true. But in my situation, there is no way this could be true. My clients love me. They hang on my every word. YEAH RIGHT!
Over the last few years, I have thought long and hard about how I can do a better job at communicating with my clients on this topic, and finally, I was able to come up with a step-by-step plan… so here it is.
Just for fun let’s pretend you are my client, sitting in the exam room with me and your overweight pet.
Here are the seven steps I would take to help you get serious about your dog’s weight loss.
Step 1: I Teach You How to Evaluate Your Dog’s Weight
Here are the three markers we would use to tell if your dog is indeed over their ideal weight:
- Feel the ribs: There should be only a slight covering of fat over the top of the ribs, and I mean slight.
- Look at the waist: You should be able to appreciate your dog’s waist.
- Check the abdominal tuck: For this, you need to look at your dog from the side, and appreciate that just behind the ribs, the abdomen should go up at an angle. If the belly is straight or flat without a rise, then they are carrying too much weight in their abdomen.
Step #2: I Ask You the Pooping Question
Now, don’t go crazy here criticizing me on this generalization, but commonly speaking, dogs who are at their ideal body weight (just like people who are at their ideal body weight), should poop once to twice a day. This excludes those individuals with GI disorders.
If your dog is pooping three to four times then you need to ask the question, am I giving them too much food.
Remember poop is waste, therefore simply put, if you’re eating more than your body needs to function, then your body is going to get rid of this excess – i.e. poop.
Step #3: I Get You to Admit There Is a Problem
If it helps people with addictions, then it has to help for something as simple as someone who is feeding their dog too much.
Therefore, if in Steps 1 and 2 we find there is a problem, now you need to acknowledge that your dog is overweight.
Honestly, this is a critical step because if you don’t acknowledge or see that your dog is carrying too much weight then things will simply never change.
The next step is to find the average weight for your breed of dog.
Keep in mind that just like people, dogs come in all shapes and sizes and are all individuals. Therefore, you need to come up with an idea of what the ideal body weight for your dog is – taking into account if they are big, small, or about average size for their breed, etc.
This will give you a clear goal to work towards.
Step #4: I Teach You the Hungry Dog Paradox
When it comes to dogs’ eating habits, there are two types of dogs, and you need to define which type your dog is. Defining this lays the groundwork for how to feed them.
Here are the two types:
Dog Type #1: Dogs who love food, live for food, are constantly looking for food, dream about food, begging for food… you get the point. These dogs are in the kitchen when you are cooking. They inhale their bowl of food and then are at the table when you are eating. They love their treats no matter if they are cheap or expensive and want more, more, more.
Dog Type #2: These are the dogs who have a take it or leave it relationship with food. They eat the food they are given, but without any real gusto. They even may or may not like their treats depending on what it is.
If your dog fits into Dog Type #1 then there is something you need to accept:
If they are in perfect body condition……They are hungry!
If they are morbidly obese…..They are hungry!
Stop and dwell on this for a moment. YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO SATISFY THEM.
Once you accept this, you will understand the power of this concept and realize that it is easy to get your dog to lose weight and live a healthy life.
All you have to do is simply feed them what they need and no more because it doesn’t matter to them…. they are STILL HUNGRY :)
Step #5: I Help You Figure Out How Much to Feed Your Dog and Explain Why You Should Never Stop Giving Them Treats
People always want to know how much to feed their dog. The answer is not black and white by any means. There are so many variables that need to be taken into account, but below you will find my foundation with which you can start.
1. As a rule of thumb, do not believe what the guidelines or instructions say on your bag of dog food. I don’t know where they came up with these amounts, but in today’s society with the average dog’s lifestyle, these pet food manufacturers are recommending way too much food.
2. I know that I am going to be criticized for this until the cows come home, but what follows is the calculation that has worked for me for years and years and years. First off, be aware that in animal nutrition, we use Kilocalories (kcal) instead of calories. Don’t ask me why, because I have no idea, I just accept it. On average, an 8oz cup of dog food has 350kcals. This is an average, so make sure to look on the bag and find out how many kcals per 8oz cup your dog food contains.
3. Here’s the equation, and I break this down by lifestyle:
- The Average Domestic Lifestyle: These dogs belong to one or two-family income households. They get “exercised” on average once to twice a day, which is defined as being let out into the yard or walked around the neighborhood.
*Note: Make sure that you take into account the kcal value of all your dog’s daily food intake, which includes food plus treats.
The Calculation: Your dog’s ideal body weight (in lbs.) x 10-15 kcal = average total kcal requirement per day.
- The Canine Athlete: These dogs are being exercised a lot. They are active working dogs or involved in sports such as agility, flyball, hunting, etc.
The Calculation: Your dog’s ideal body weight x 15-20 kcal = average total kcal requirement per day.
4. As for the treat factor: One thing I do that might surprise you is telling my clients to never stop giving their dog treats. This ritual is so important to the relationship the client has with their pet.
- That said, I am a fan of breaking the treat in half or into smaller pieces. Again, the dog does not care at the end of the day how big the treat is; remember they are going to want more no matter what size it is.
- Also, you should know that their stomachs are not even feeling the whole treat you typically give them. You would have to feed them ten treats for their stomach receptors to feel it.
- Here is a quick analogy to demonstrate my point: Several years ago, the candy bar industry started making those tiny candy bars… bite-size Snickers. If you eat one of these, do you even feel it? No way…so what do you do? You eat five more or even seven, to get any stomach satisfaction. Holy cow, did they fool us? For some reason, we feel guilty buying a full Snickers, but we feel better about eating five tiny bars.
- My point is, at the end of the day, break the treat into pieces, but never stop giving them treats.
Step # 6: I Teach You About the Exercise Factor
There’s no doubt that just like a human who exercises is a healthier human, a dog who is exercised is also a healthier dog.
Here’s a bonus incentive for you: For years, celebrity dog trainer, Cesar Milan has said that a tired dog is, by default, a well-behaved dog. There is no doubt in my mind that he is right about this… so get off the couch, get outside, smell the fresh air, and go have fun with your dog.
Step #7: I Encourage You to Stick to the Plan, Tell You Not to Feel Too Bad About It, and Promise That If You Do, You Will See Results
Now is when I tell you not to beat yourself up.
The fact that you’ve let your dog get overweight doesn’t mean that you don’t love them.
Maybe the epidemic of overweight pets is due to all of the increased stress in our society. Maybe it’s due to the quality of the dog foods we have available to us on the market. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because we love them so much and when we give them food, treats, or “human food,” we get joy from how happy this makes them in the moment, so we do it more.
Whatever the reason, if you truly want to show your pet love and make them happier in the long run by giving them a longer, healthier life, please start with getting them back to their ideal body weight, and keeping them there.