How many times has your veterinarian commented on your dog’s weight?
Have you already tried using low-calorie diets or prescription weight-loss dog foods to try to help your pup lose weight? What if he still hasn’t lost enough weight? And why should you care?
Clinical research has shown that losing just 10 percent of body weight will slow or prevent many life-threatening disease processes, including debilitating osteoarthritis and diabetes and perhaps even some types of cancers. By taking a few simple measures, you may be able to add more quality time to your dog’s life and even increase the amount of time the two of you can spend together.
Fortunately, there are ways to take pounds off your pup that don’t solely involve prescription diet foods. Many “senior” or “weight-loss” commercial diets are often higher in fiber and lower in protein and fats and may not offer the body enough protein needed to maintain or build strong muscle mass.
Here are some ways you can help your dog lose weight without fully changing his current diet.
Feed Less Food
Once it has been determined that the extra weight isn’t the result of something medical affecting the metabolism such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome, make it your goal to reduce your dog’s total volume of dry food by 5 to 10 percent every two weeks until steady weight loss is observed. Aim for a loss of 1 percent of body weight per week, or one to two pounds per month, depending on the size of your dog, until he reaches the target. Slow and steady weight loss prevents the body from going into “starvation mode,” which slows the metabolism.
Feed More Protein, Less Starch
Feed higher-protein/lower-carbohydrate foods (a 3:1 ratio); proteins and fats are converted to usable energy faster than starches and carbs. Think of this as the “puppy Paleo diet.” And even if you’re feeding a high-protein, grain-free variety, cut down on the amount of kibble. In general, all kibble has 60 percent more starch than canned food, raw foods, or fresh-cooked foods. The starch is needed to maintain the kibble’s shape when it’s baked or extruded. Too much dry food equals too much starch, which breaks down to sugars and is stored as body fat. It’s easy to overfeed dry foods, especially if you follow the directions on the packaging.
Add Water or Broth
Try mixing water or broth with kibble meals to make it nicely soupy. The extra liquid will help your dog digest his food more easily and reduce his body’s need to pull water from his system to his stomach, which can contribute to dehydration. It will also help him to feel more full with less food.
Add Fresh, Canned, and Raw Foods
To lower the amount of kibble in the diet, add fresh, canned, and raw foods. Try gradually reducing your dog’s kibble ration by half, replacing it with more moisture-based foods such as lean meats, fish, or eggs, and low-starch green and orange vegetables and fruits (but no onions, grapes, or raisins!). I’ve found that dogs do best with at least 50 percent of their diet fed as fresh foods—cooked, raw, dehydrated, or freeze-dried—mixed with a significantly reduced volume of high-grade kibble. This keeps them satisfied and helps with the faster metabolic change that promotes weight loss.
Another option is to feed him a low-carbohydrate canned food; these have less starch and more water, and, therefore, fewer extra calories to stick around. Or, transition him to a complete and balanced commercial raw diet, which has very little starch.
Decreased fat content also helps with weight loss, but do not eliminate fats entirely, as they satisfy hunger; look for 4 to 7 percent fat content in canned foods. Also if stools become soft with less fiber from the kibble, then you can add ¼-teaspoon psyllium to each meal.
Use Interactive Feeding Toys
Try making mealtime last longer with interactive feeding toys. These not only stimulate a dog’s mind, they also make him work for his supper (or breakfast or snack). Thus, dogs eat more slowly and expend more calories.
So here’s the proverbial bottom line for helping your pup lose weight and feel better: Feed your dog at least some fresh, whole foods; feed him less kibble and carbohydrate snacks; and include a variety of protein sources and “dog-safe” fruits and vegetables. He’ll have a sleeker physique and you’ll thank yourself for making the effort.
Ilana Strubel, M.A., D.V.M., C.V.S.M.T., C.C.R.T., owns and operates A Well Adjusted Pet, an integrative veterinary physical rehabilitation and aquatic fitness center within the Rex Center in Pacifica. Find more info at AWellAdjustedPet.com.
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Main article photo by: Magnus Brath-Creative Commons