Obesity and Nutrition

You may have heard the old saying, "If your dog is fat, you're not getting enough exercise." As American life has become more sedentary, both humans and their dogs are getting bigger and bigger.

An overweight dog can mean health issues.

Never before in history have dogs had it so good. In earlier times, dogs had to work to earn their keep. They herded livestock or caught rats or ran rabbits for the family's hunter. Now, they have become simply pets, content to sit by the fire or lie down at the master's feet. Now that we no longer have to walk into town, chop our own wood, work our own vegetable gardens, or even get up to change the television channel, we have slowed down to the point where we get virtually no exercise unless we make a conscious effort to do so.

Number One Issue

Unfortunately, obesity is now considered the number one nutritional problem in dogs, with at least 25% of the dogs in America overweight. As owners, we are in denial about the problem. One study found that vets consider 47% of their patients overweight, but only 17% of dog owners think the same. No matter what the actual percentage is, it is vital for dog owners to realize that being overweight is just as unhealthy for your dog as it is for you.

Exercise is good. For you and your dog!

Health Problems Can Result

Obesity makes it harder for all of your dog's body systems to work correctly. It can make them susceptible to arthritis, cardiovascular disease, heat stress, diabetes, and liver disease. Being overweight also reduces the dog's immunity, leaving it unprotected from a variety of diseases. Overweight dogs move more slowly and get tired more quickly.

Restricting Diet May Extend Dog’s Life

A recent study done by Nestle Purina PetCare followed Labrador retrievers from seven different litters for 14 years. The study found that restricting a dog's diet can extend his life by as much as two years. Only three of the restricted diet dogs died by age ten, compared to seven of the dogs who were given more food. The non-restricted dogs also showed more visible signs of aging, such as graying muzzles, stiffened gaits, and reduced activity at an earlier age than the restricted dogs.

How to Tell if Your Dog is Fat?

So how can you tell if your dog needs to lose a few pounds? Pfizer Animal Health has created the Body Assessment Rating for Canines, or BARC, study to help you identify obesity. The survey emphasizes that you should consult with your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes for your dog being overweight before starting him on a diet. The survey can be found online at A Dog Owner's Guid to Healthy Weight. It includes questions such as:

  1. Is your dog's breed prone to obesity? Breeds such as retrievers, beagles, basset hounds, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, shelties, and terriers are known to have to work harder to keep their figures svelte than some other breeds.
  2. How many dogs live at your house? Dogs that live with their friends tend to eat more and eat faster than dogs that live in a one-dog house.
  3. How often does your dog get between-meal snacks? Many of us give our dogs table scraps or even dog cookies, but that can add pounds in a hurry.
  4. Does your dog get adequate outdoor play time? Most experts recommend that your dog play outside for a minimum of 20 - 30 minutes each day.

Or Just Take a Look at Your Dog

If you don't want to take the quiz, a quick way to judge your dog's weight is to simply look at him. When you look at your dog from above, you should see a waist. From the side, you should be able to see his ribs, although they should not be sharply outlined. In addition, the belly should be tucked up, not hanging pendulously. A dog that is too skinny has sharply outlined ribs, while an overweight dog has a rounded belly and no waist.

Restricting food intake may extend your dog's life.

Diet to Reduce Weight

Once you decide to reduce your dog's weight, you need to do it safely. You should aim for a loss of no more than 1 - 2% of the dog's total body weight per week. So, if your dog weighs 50 pounds, you would want him to reduce his weight only by ˝-pound each week. It is best to use food specifically formulated for weight loss to make sure that proper nutrition is maintained. Dogs require a variety of nutrients just as we do. If you want to create your own diet dog food, mix together these ingredients:

  • 12 oz. lean chicken breast or fish
  • 1˝ cups cooked long-grain rice
  • 1 cup any vegetables
  • ˝ cup pumpkin or sweet potato
  • 1 oz. liver
  • 2 tsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp calcium carbonate (grind up a TUMS to get calcium carbonate)
Apples are a good, healthy snack for your dog.

Snacks and Calorie Intake

For snacks, you can feed your dog an apple, carrots, dry popcorn, or rice cakes. The recipe above plus one apple provides about 1500 calories. A 50-pound dog that is moderately active needs about 1400 calories per day to maintain his weight. To lose weight, you should feed him about 80 - 90% of this, or 1120 - 1260 calories. Monitor the dog's weight to keep his weight loss at about 1 - 2% per week. Adjust the amount you are feeding to maintain this healthy weight loss until your dog has achieved his goal weight.


Just as with humans, dogs benefit greatly from exercise. Be sure to start slowly if your dog is generally sedentary. Walk a short distance at first to keep the dog from getting sore, then slowly build up to longer walks. Once the dog has lost some weight, you can encourage the dog to get more exercise by having him chase a Frisbee or fetch a stick. As the dog exercises, his fatty tissue will turn into lean muscle. Even at rest, lean muscle burns more calories than fat, so the dog's metabolism begins to speed up, making it easier to keep the weight off.

Get your pooch moving to help him lose weight.

Who knows, maybe you'll have so much fun playing with your dog, you'll actually drop a few pounds yourself!


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