Pudgy Pets

When I met Sally, a six-year-old yellow Labrador, she tipped the scales at 105 pounds (a normal average adult Lab weighs 60 to 70 pounds). Her lifelong guardian, an 85-year-old gentleman, loved his dog dearly but could no longer care for her. The family friend who adopted Sally asked me to devise a weight loss program- no easy task given that, because of her size, Sally was unable to walk more than a few steps at a time. In addition to providing limited portions of a prescription weight loss diet, Sally’s usual dog biscuit treats were replaced with “attention treats” consisting of belly rubs and playtime with a variety of toys. The most important element of Sally’s weight loss program was time spent on an underwater treadmill that provided a means for nonweight bearing exercise. Sally worked her way up to 10 minutes on the treadmill three times weekly and, over the course of three months, she slimmed down to a svelte 67 pounds! Sally was transformed from a Labrador lounger back into a healthy Labrador retriever!

Unfortunately, Sally has plenty of company. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that over 45% of dogs and 58% of cats in the United States are estimated to be overweight or obese predisposing them to a vast array of medical issues such as arthritis, diabetes, and cancer.

When you pet your dog or cat today, take an extra minute to rub your hands along her sides. Can you readily feel her ribs? If not, your best little buddy is likely to be overweight, an almost sure forecast for trouble ahead. Talk with your veterinarian to help formulate a weight loss plan that is safe and makes sense for everyone involved.

Tips for Weight Management

Here are some pointers- many of which helped Sally go from flab to fab- to keep in mind.

Ignore the feeding instructions on pet food labels. Feeding recommendations on the pet food label invariably result in overweight animals! Your veterinarian can counsel you on how much to feed based on your pet’s age, breed, and lifestyle.

Regular weigh-ins. Because you see your four-legged family members each and every day, weight gain or loss may go unnoticed. Weigh them on a regular basis (ideally, on the same scale). Most veterinarians are more than happy to their patients “drop in” for a “weigh in” at no charge. And what a lovely, stress-free visit to the veterinary hospital for your pet.

Form a dog-walking club. This will provide health benefits at both ends of the leash.

Trade in those fattening snacks for low calorie “attention treats”. The type of treat offered is far less important than are the acts of giving and receiving.

Kitty entertainment. Enrich your cat’s environment with toys, climbing structures, and your attention to entice calorie-burning activities.

Practice due diligence. While any dog can become overweight, certain breeds (Labrador Retriever, Pug, Dachshund, Basset Hound, Golden Retriever, Beagle, to name a few) are particularly predisposed. If you fancy such a breed, prepare to be a lifelong calorie counter.

Enlist professional help. Make use of a doggie day camp or professional dog walker if you are unable to get your pup out for regular exercise. A prescription weight loss diet along with time spent on an underwater treadmill helped Sally slim down to an ideal body weight in three months. Yes, such professional help may be pricey, but it will likely save you on health care treatments and heartache in the long run.

What has worked well in your hands for maintaining health body weights for your pets?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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15 Comments on “Pudgy Pets

  1. I have to applaud you for this article. I am a firm believer that there is no excuse for a fat dog. Owners need to learn to resist those “feed me” puppy dog eyes and break the connection between food and love. Maintaining the ideal body weight on our pets is critical for their longevity, structure and overall health

    I also think it is very important to mention healthy snacks such as carrots, green beans, snap peas, apples and zucchini. Dogs love them and they are much healthier (and not just in calories) than commercial dog treats.

    I have a few dogs who are always hungry. With them I keep their portions small and then add in a vegetable filler to help make them feel full without loading up on calories. Green beans or raw, shredded zucchini are perfect fillers.

    Great article and I really hope it helps a few people get their pet’s health back on track.

  2. Our most recent gift from the vet(aka the Big Curl) tipped the scales at 96 pounds. He is now 81 and heading slowly for 75. He is on a calorie limited diet, and he walks three miles a day, plus all the excercise racing out the dog door to bark and howl at everything. His previous person had some personal problems and he, a Chihuahua, and the Big Curl lived in a van and ate fast food. The cold carrot snacks are consumed because the other gift dog likes them, ah competition. I’m thinking tuna/ice cubes might be ok. Has anyone done this, and had good results?

  3. I am absolutely disgusted by the number of overweight and obese dogs that come through the shelter where I work. IMO, overfeeding is just as abusive as underfeeding your pets. It is so sad to see the struggles that the overweight pets go through — breathing problems, gait issues, joint pain, etc. There is simply no excuse for it.

    Personally, I feel a lot of people overfeed to compensate for not spending enough quality time with their pets. The dog would probably prefer to go for a walk or play ball, but the owner doesn’t feel like putting forth the effort and gives the dog a piece of their pizza instead.

    My dogs are athletes — We compete in agility and their weight is kept very low for their own health and well being. Any extra weight they carry increases the concussion on their joints. The lighter they are, the more ground they are able to cover as well! My dogs get plenty of treats and stuff that probably isn’t good for them (we share ice cream, for example) — but because it is part of a balanced and rationed diet along with PLENTY of regular exercise, they are none the worse for wear from it.

    I only wish I had someone that structured my meals and exercise in such a way…. Then maybe I’d be half as fit as my dogs! :o)

  4. My two-year old Golden Retriever has weighed exactly 72 pounds for the last five months because of the following:
    (1) measured food, every time, no exceptions!
    (2) no begging from the table, ever. What a pleasant experience the dinner hour is! He simply smells what we’re having and then walks away and goes to sleep!
    (3) Exercise. One to two walks per day, an average of 45 minutes each, also time to play freely with other dogs (we use doggie daycare for about three hours, twice a week, just to burn off energy.
    This is such a no-brainer. The trouble for most folks is sticking with it, just like weight maintenance for people!

  5. Simply acclimate your dog from puppyhood to think veggies are treats!
    Ignore the data that dogs can’t absorb nutrients the cellulose in raw fruits and vegetables: so what? A snip of carrot, apple or broccoli is the reward, you have the pleasure of treating your dog for bringing in the paper, or sitting nicely. And the dog wags just as enthusiastically for the lettuce core than for a store treat full of horrid things. (I know some vets will frown but yes, wash, remove celery and pea pod strings , etc).
    The plus side :you don’t have to reach down to pick up salad ingredients that fly off the cutting board!

  6. My dogs (a whippet and small sheltie mix) were flyball dogs and their weight is good. People think they are too thin, when they are not. I also have people thinking I am starving my dogs because I don’t feed them cups and cups of dog food a day.

    When my clients have overweight dogs, I am amazed that the number of them that did not realize their dog is overweight. I try to do a little counseling about how to tell their dog is overweight and the benefits (not only weight) of NOT free feeding their dog.

  7. My vet advised a while ago not to go by the pet food labels, and I have been following that for over 20 years. I split the feedings into morning and afternoon. My two little folks are not fed “table scraps”. My vet also recommended adding green beans if they still seem to be hungry. That worked well too! On rare occasions, I give a biscuit (only half) as a treat but they do just fine with apple or baby carrots instead.

    That’s my routine and with regular walks, my dogs are able to maintain a proper weight.

  8. Fat pets confuse me, why do people let them get that way?

    I have been reading veterinary nutrition textbooks, to try to understand why board certified veterinary nutritionists routinely try to scare people who feed home prepared diets back to feeding kibble, instead of referring them to the many good sources of information, such as the recent book Feed Your Best Friend Better and See Spot Live Longer, and the site DogAware.com

  9. All of our team and rescue guests are fed, a grain free diet. Fed once a day. What I’ve learned. Fill a bowl, let them eat. If there is food left over each time, and do this for a week, measure what is left over and subtract from what was placed in the bowl and that is the feeding requirement. Adjust as needed. Junk food for us as well as our pets, puts on the pounds as well. We give yogurt as a treat, sparingly and when we want to give it.

  10. An excellent article in general, but I will take issue with the advice not to give “treats.” If you use plain meat, or a good-quality dry dog food, maybe with a bit of freeze-dried liver sprinkled on it, as food rewards for training and subtract that from the dog’s daily ration, you’re not adding calories; and you can use that food to train active behaviors like walking politely on leash, which makes walking the dog more pleasant, which can lead to more walks.

    I think it’s important to remember that people *like* giving their dogs food treats; it may be more helpful to teach them how to use food judiciously, and how tiny any individual food reward should be, than to tell them not to give treats at all.

  11. I tell you how bad the situation is. Just the other day our vet got all excited, because he had three patients in a row who had normal body weight! Sight unseen. *sigh

  12. oops I meant I added the kibble-sized bits of green beans to her kibble, though they make good treats at other times.

  13. I have only had to slim down one of my rescued cocker spaniels, and the trick I used was cutting up fresh string beans to the size of kibble to help her feel full. She loved them.

    My current dogs get carrots, blueberries, and tiny pieces of broccoli as ‘treats.’ One of them won’t eat them but the other two think they’re yummy.

  14. “Fat” dogs are fat because of “US”. They only get what “we” give them. The best tip I have is to get a real measuring cup and use it. I have 3 Labradors and they are all a healthy weight, my largest is a male at 75lbs.

    I was at my Vet clinic last month and a female Labrador came hobbling in and got on the scale, 117lbs!! The couple thought it was funny as they announced her weight to everyone in the waiting room..
    Once they sat down they made a comment about my Labrador being very thin and asked what was wrong with him… I said nothing is wrong with him, his weight is perfect and he is going to live a longer life because of it.
    It’s not funny and people are killing their dogs with kindness.

  15. It really is simple…cut down on the amount of food you are feeding, and increase exercise.

    I have a 63ish pound rottie bitch who gained 3 pounds last year – and believe it or now, it was 3 pounds too much. She has elbow dysplasia and keeping her lean and fit is important.

    I didn’t notice it – I brought her to work with me (I work for a vet) and my co-workers noted she was a little chunky – and I was shocked to see the scale read 66.5 pounds.

    I can’t exercise her too much, so I simply cut down on the food she was getting and completely cut out ‘extras’ such as treats – she doesn’t need treats – she will do anything for physical attention, which is far more healthier for her than extra food.

    We’re doing a “Biggest Loser” program at the vet where I work and have about 10 pets signed up for it – monthly weigh ins, exercise tips, and all the support the pet owners need – we’re in month two of four and all but one of the pets are halfway to their target weights.

    We have a big bulletin board with pictures of obese pets and just about everyone laughs and says, “Oh, that’s adorable!” – when in reality, their pet is overweight and if we take a picture of their pet and compare to the display – they are shocked to see the similarities – and suddenly it isn’t so adorable…