Since my Newsletter only lasted 3 issues, I’m sharing some of the articles here. There will be a Newsletter again soon, once I get Mailchimp sorted! – for now, some tips on how I approach reducing the overweight dog. (No, it doesn’t involve green beans). 🙂
Reducing the Pudgy Pooch – My Approach
Obesity is a serious problem for canines, as it is for our own species, linked to a range of health problems such as cancer, diabetes and joint disease. It may seem a simple equation – reduce calories and increase exercise – but it can be frustrating with dogs, if you take those measures and don’t see results. When I work with a client who has a dog that needs to lose weight, we see the best results working with precision (as always!) Your first step with your dog is to carefully ascertain how many calories you are feeding – including treats of course. And then, assess how much he or she should be getting to maintain weight. Calories DO count, but there’s more to the art of helping your dog lose weight than just cutting back food. Often, a home made diet provides a feeling of satiety, while you cut back the calories – and carbs. Dividing meals into smaller, more frequent portions may help some dogs as well. While many dogfood companies increase carbs for their weight loss formulas, my experience suggests that cutting down on them is the better way to go, in most cases. I always evaluate each dog individually, and find the caloric goal, ideal carb/fat/protein content, and go from there.
Can herbs and supplements help with weight loss? In one sense, I feel they can. While I prefer not to rely on much more than diet and exercise to help our furry friends slim down, an anti-inflammatory and joint support regimen, where indicated, may be very important. Your dog will not want to walk more, play more and move around more if he’s feeling sore; I often start clients off with the diet and a supplement protocol designed to ease stiffness as I have them increase exercise. We might think about a basic protocol using fish or krill oil (always with additional VitaminE; 100IU for small dogs, 200IU for medium and 400 for large, unless there is a bleeding disorder, in which case I would not use any fish oil or E) proteolytic enzymes (I like bromelain, straight up, but there are many good formulas on the market today) and a quality glucosamine/chondroitin supplement – yes, preventively! Herbs can help with stress, digestive upset and nutrient absorption, as well as ease the discomfort associated with carrying extra weight. We want your dog to feel great while she loses the extra pounds.
But to start – I cannot overemphasize the importance of using calories to track how much your dog is eating. This means, careful measurement of the food – use a scale! So you can tell exactly how much your overweight friend is actually eating. Try doing this for a week and you may well be surprised at how much more you are feeding than you had thought. We need to do a little basic math to figure out how much he needs – bear with me, this is easily done and so important.
Nutritionists use a specific and precise formula to ascertain your dog’s “metabolic weight” – it involves using your computer calculator, set to Scientific. All you need do is enter your dog’s weight in KILOGRAMS, then click on the icon that looks like this: x^y and voila! You have the MW (metabolic weight). This is the number you can use to calculate all your dog’s nutritional needs, but for now we’re focusing on energy – or, the calories he or she needs to eat to maintain ideal weight. You will be comparing the amount of calories in your dog’s daily diet with a range of caloric requirements, and this will give a lot of insight.
Now – with calorie requirements we have not a fixed number, but a range. And this range is pretty wide – usually from 90 to 130, for adults. What that means is, if your dog is geriatric, sedentary or seems to have a really slow metabolism, multiply the MW by 90, the very low end. A very active, well muscled dog might need the 130. Most dogs fall somewhere in the middle! But the key to deciding which number you will use is to contrast it with what he’s currently eating. S0, it goes something like this:
1) Keep a food diary, and let’s say you find that you feed on average, 1000 calories a day
2) Ascertain your dog’s metabolic weight, and multiply it by 100. If that number comes up around 1000, you need to go lower. What you want to do is reduce your dog’s total caloric intake by about 25% per day. So you’ll be aiming at 750 calories for your dog who is overweight at 1000.
3) Calorie reduction is the basis of weight loss, but it’s by no means the only part. Further analysis of that food diary will give you a much better idea as to the levels of macronutrient – that’s protein, fat and carbs – your dog takes in. Some dogs can benefit from adjustments in these levels but it is not always the same adjustment – what you do depends on what your dog has been eating. So, a high carb diet should be switched to feature more protein and possibly fat, and get those carbs down to 20% (on average). With these changes, you will need to go on poop patrol, and make sure the additional fat/lower fiber isn’t bothering the bowel. If you see loose stool it’s time to default to the original levels and go more slowly (or stay there!) It can take some experimentation to find the macronutrient levels that work best for your individual – keep an open mind and good notes, and you will see what works.
4) Additional exercise is as we all know, key to weight loss, whether human or canine. But just as we get sore and unmotivated if we overdo it, so will your dog. Be brutally honest with yourself – time your walks and see how much he or she is really getting. Then add 15 minutes twice a day, providing there is no orthopedic issue that contradicts an increase. If you feel a vet check is in order? Have one before you start. Your healthy dog should be able to easily handle a 25% calorie reduction and 30 minutes a day of walking. If he seems sore, cut back to 20. But remember it will be the two aspects that help, far more than one or the other alone.
5) If your food diary suggests you are in fact, not feeding too much, or worse still are feeding under the low end of the calorie range, it’s time for a full panel thyroid. If your vet balks at the idea, INSIST. I believe that all dogs should have these tests periodically – and a susceptible breed, or a dog who is overweight without cause, all the more so. Low thyroid can make life a misery for an animal and is easily treated. I wrote more about this on my blog here: https://thepossiblecanine.com/check-that-thyroid
6) Some of the soreness associated with additional exercise can be offset with supplements such as fish oils and turmeric, that help reduce inflammation and can contribute to an overall sense of wellbeing. If your dog is older, consider a joint support supplement as well, if she’s not already on one. Not going to list brands here, but there are many good ones, and a simple supplement protocol can go a long way to keeping your dog healthy and reducing stress on the joints. Experiment, and see what works.
7) Lastly: I don’t like the “green bean” method at all, as it radically reduces not only calories but the nutrients dogs need to feel well and be healthy. A 25% reduction is much less stressful – and you can still give cooked carrots, green beans and other veggies as treats in between meals. Don’t despair – but do get that test and do keep good records. Watching calories and exercise times will empower you to take control in a way that guesswork never will. Your dog will enjoy the additional time you are spending outside together – and the pounds will start to melt.
In conclusion – I believe in a home made diet wherever possible for reducing overweight dogs. Cooked or raw, you can control the total calories in the diet, while ensuring that your dog’s nutrients are adequately supplied. If you simply cut back the dry food to reduce calories, you are also short-changing him or her on the essentials; vitamins and minerals, that over time can become contribute to a number of health issues. If you try reducing the kibble for a few weeks, adding some anti-inflammatories as recommended above and your dog is not losing – and if the full panel thyroid test has come back normal – I highly recommend a consultation with a professional who can develop balanced recipes for your dog. It may be a investment that adds years to his life and saves you vet bills over time, too.