February 17, 2012
Is your 4-legged companion at a healthy weight? Before I go on I must confess, I have an overweight dog. I am working on Piper’s weight but it is a challenge as anyone who has tried to lose weight or has tried to trim down an overweight dog knows. But I am not alone. Today in the USA about 17 million+ dogs or 40% of the dog population is overweight. Right now cats are facing an epidemic of obesity as well. So don’t forget to look at your cats with a discerning eye too.
One of the reasons for the ever increasing waist lines of our 4 legged friends is their owners’ perception of their dog’s proper weight. When dog owners are asked if they think their dog is overweight only 17% of dog owners believed their dog had a weight issue vs. approximately 40% who do have an overweight dog. It is important that you talk with your Veterinarian to determine your dog’s ideal body weight and then weigh your dog(s) frequently to make sure it is maintaining a healthy weight. As with people, weight gain in dogs can occur slowly and go unnoticed until you have a real health issue. Do not compare your dog to other dogs you see because 40% of them are overweight!
Why is our pet population experiencing such a rise in obesity? There are many reasons but a simple way to look at it is calories in versus calories out. We are over feeding our pets with food and treats and not exercising them enough. Did you know that one pig ear is the equivalent to six 12 oz. sodas for a 40 lb. dog? That little piece of pizza crust that you fed to your Chihuahua could be the equivalent to 3 slices of pizza for you! We need to make smart treat choices for our pets. For many dogs a piece of carrot is a very welcomed treat.
We all know the effects of excess weight on people. Many of these health problems will also occur in dogs. Heart Disease, Diabetes, Respiratory Disease, Back & ACL problems, Premature Arthritis and Cancer are just a few of the more common problems. Unfortunately, they are with us for far too short a time. We should do all we can to help them live a long, healthy life.
Exercise is also important. To start burning fat a dog needs to have an elevated heart rate, from activity, for a minimum of 20 minutes. Just think about how much he/she enjoys taking a long walk or chasing a ball. I know I would be a lot healthier if I enjoyed exercise as much as they do. The next time you feel the urge to feed them a treat, take them for a walk instead.
How do you determine how many calories your dog needs in a day? Again, your Veterinarian can help you with this and should be consulted before any big changes are made in their diet and to make sure that their weight issue is not the result of a medical condition.
As a very general guide I tell people that most adult dogs with moderate activity need about 17 calories per day per lb. of ideal body weight. This varies by age, breed, activity level, not being spayed or neutered and many other factors. So with this general guide in mind if your dog currently weighs 50 lbs. and should weigh 40 lbs. , you would multiply 40 lbs. x 17 calories = 680 calories per day. You would then divide the 680 calories by how many calories are in each cup of dog food you are feeding to determine how much to feed each day. You must also make sure to subtract food to compensate for any treats that you are giving throughout the day. Keep in mind that this is a guideline only, every dog’s need will vary and you will need to adjust it accordingly. Unfortunately dogs that are overweight are becoming the norm in this country. Do your best to make sure that yours is not one of them. Below are a few tips to help you on this path.
- AAFCO requires all pet foods to have a feeding chart based on weight of the animal on all labels. These are guidelines and for most pets are far to generous. (The AAFCO guidelines are for unaltered dogs/cats which is not the case for most pets in this country.)
- Carefully measure the food you are feeding with a real measuring cup. Not a coffee mug, McDonald’s cup or anything else.
- Feed the amount of food your dog needs for its ideal body weight, not its current weight.
- Measure out all of their food in the morning along with the treats they will get throughout the day. This helps you to better control how much they are getting.
- Tough love – they may look at you like they are starving but you need to make smart choices for them.
- Watch the treats. Everything you feed them has calories.Exercise – dogs need to raise their heart rate for 20 minutes to get in the fat burning mode.
- Weigh your dog on a regular basis.