A recent survey indicates over 50 percent of America's pet population is overweight or obese. If you or your veterinarian feel that your pet would benefit from a reduction in body weight, this discussion should help you to understand how to help overweight dogs lose weight. Weight loss for obese cats, however, is more complicated and should not be done without a veterinarian's supervision.
Very simply put, if your pet is overweight it is taking in (eating) more calories than it needs. Set all excuses aside ... excessive weight in an otherwise healthy pet is a direct result of consuming unnecessary amounts of food. If your pet is overweight it should be examined for heart, thyroid or other metabolic disorders. A detailed history should be taken with emphasis on frequency of exercise, amount and type of food being provided and other parameters relative to calorie requirements.
To begin let us set the record straight on some common misconceptions regarding obesity. Healthy dogs and cats do not necessarily need to eat every day; the pet food industry has painted the picture for us of the "eager eater." The impression is that a happy, healthy pet will eat every meal with gusto. Please do not try to entice your pet to eat if it isn’t interested. If you provide a good quality food and a liberal amount of water, your pet will eat when it wants and do better than having to eat when you want.
Another common myth maintains that spaying or neutering causes obesity. This is absolutely false (see other myths about spaying and neutering here). Any pet, neutered or not, will gain weight if it is over fed relative to its energy requirements. The surgical procedure may slightly slow the pet’s metabolism, as will normal aging, and it will then burn calories off more slowly; therefore, it may require less food. Keep in mind the surgery doesn’t cause the weight gain, eating too much does and you have control over that.
Let us explore four typical settings we veterinarians encounter when presented with a dog that is overweight. See if any of these sound familiar! The quotes are the usual responses pet owners give us when we politely suggest that "perhaps your pet would benefit by losing some weight" …
Type I: THE NIBBLER: "But doctor, she hardly eats a thing."
This dog probably has food out for him/her all day and nibbles a little at a time. When dinner time comes and the pet picks at the leftovers, it will take the choicest morsels, leave the rest, and still appear not to have eaten very much. However over a 24-hour period "THE NIBBLER'S" total calorie intake is excessive and it gains weight. Hardly eats a thing, eh?
Type II: THE BEGGAR: "But doctor, this rascal won’t keep quiet unless she gets her treats. And she won’t go to sleep at night until she gets her little dish of ice cream."
What has happened here is that the pet has discovered that the more noise and fussing it produces the more likely it is to be rewarded for this behavior. The owner finally "gives in" to keep the pet quiet and the pet sees the food as a reward. In effect the owner is training "The Beggar" by rewarding his/her behavior. It turns into a fun game but the dog’s health may suffer if obesity is the result.
Type III: THE GOOD DOG: "But doctor, s/he’s such a good dog we don’t want her to go hungry."
This dog became overweight because the owner’s signal of affection for their pet has focused on feeding. (Usually each family member secretly offers treats to the pet … and doesn't know the other family members are doing exactly the same thing!) It is an understandable trait but unfortunately for the dog it can be a case of too much of a good thing. The owners' method of showing affection should be directed more toward physical activity than feeding. Think "FETCH" not "FOOD"!
Type IV: THE GOURMET DOG: "But doctor, s/he just refuses to eat dog food." In this case the dog has trained the owners to feed him/her such things as chicken, liver, ice cream, cookies, etc.
Although most table scraps are just fine to feed (remember, stay away from bones of any kind!), this dog has been given a choice of what to eat and has chosen certain people food. If a child is given a choice s/he would probably choose cake and candy over vegetables, and their health would suffer. The Gourmet Dog usually overeats because s/he isn’t getting a proper balance of nutrition, plus everything tastes so good there is a reward factor in eating. The solution is … you choose, not your pet.