We all know that helping our furry friends (and ourselves!) maintain a healthy weight is the “simple” matter of balancing what goes in with what gets used. But
it is easier said than done, and actual implementation can be difficult with busy schedules, misleading pet food labels and soulful be
gging brown eyes all working against our best efforts. Hopefully, these tips will help you prevent pet obesity.
KNOW WHAT YOUR PET NEEDS
First, get a good starting estimate of how many calories your dog needs per day (note this is seldom the recommended feeding amount stated on the dog food bag!). This will take a little bit of math. First, figure out your dog’s base resting energy requirement (RER), that is the number of calories needed simply to subsist without doing any activity. It can be easily calculated as follows:
- Multiply your dog’s weight in pounds by 13.6 OR multiply your dog’s weight in kilograms by 30. Either of these will give you approximately the same answer.
- Add 70 to the answer above.
- The total of steps one and two is your dog’s RER in calories per day.
So, if your dog weighs 50 pounds, multiply this by 13.6 to get 680 and then add 70 for a total RER of 750 calories per day.
Now one more important part. The total above is what your dog needs if it were doing no other activity for the day. Of course, we all do at least some actual activity. So one needs a multiplier to get the right estimate of calories needed for both living and moving. The following estimates should be used for healthy mostly-indoor dogs:
1.2 – Obese-prone adult (for instance if you have observed easy weight gain in the past) 1.4 – Neutered adult 1.6 – Unneutered adult
If the example dog above was neutered, the total daily need would be 750 x 1.4, or 1050 calories.
It is critical to note here that if your pet is a puppy or is pregnant or nursing, you should consult your vet for more specific recommendations. Additionally, this formula is not ideal for dogs weighing less than 5 pounds or more than 120 pounds.
KNOW WHAT YOUR PET GETS
In a much-needed and long overdue change, as of January 1, 2017, all pet foods are required to have the calories per cup listed on the package. So, once you know your dog’s approximate needs, you can determine how much dog food will satisfy the requirement. Make sure you are using an accurate measuring cup or scoop! Most drinkware is much larger than an actual measured cup and hence may result in many excess calories.
We all know people who can eat a pizza and not gain weight and others who gain a pound by simply smelling the cheese. Our dogs are similar; some gain weight more easily than others.
So remember, the calorie formula is a starting point – your own dog’s specific needs are determined by whether its weight is being maintained on that amount of food. If your dog’s weight creeps up on the calculated requirement, cut back the calories no matter what the formula says. Remember, many dogs spend a lot of time without us each day and most of them lay around a lot during that time!
KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR GUY (OR GAL!)
Monitor your dog’s weight frequently so you can adjust food as soon as you start to see a change rather than when your pup already has 5 to 10 pounds to lose. There are various ways you can do this: – If you have a dog that is small enough to pick up, you can weigh yourself holding the dog and then subtract your own weight. – If your dog is too big for that, you can drop by the vet’s office once a month to grab a weight. – You can also monitor weight by looking critically (and honestly!) at your dog. Monitoring the waist area of your dog or the “tuck” between the mid-body and hind legs are good places to see smaller differences.
Another convenient way to look for changes is to schedule a day of the month to take a photo of your dog from the top and from the side and look for changes between these pictures. Doing this when you give your dog its monthly heartworm preventative can keep you on track.
Note that some metabolic diseases can result in unexplained weight gain or weight loss so if you see changes in your dog’s weight that don’t seem to match its food or exercise patterns or are accompanied by a pot belly or a dull coat, a trip to the vet is recommended.
ADJUST WHEN NEEDED
There is no law (or even recommendation) that you have to feed your dog the exact same amount every meal or every day. When measuring food, consider activity levels and treats for that specific day. If you worked a double shift and missed the usual afternoon walk, cut back a bit. If you went out for a weekend warrior hike that gave your dog three extra hours of exercise than usual, increase the dinner portion. If you and your dog are working on a new trick and using treats for rewards, be sure and deduct those extra calories from a meal
Note that feeding less on treat-training mornings will both make up for the extra treat calories and increase motivation during the training session which is a win-win!
KEEP TREATS HEALTHY
Dog biscuits are similar to human cookies; despite claims of containing healthy-sounding flavors like chicken or beef, the main ingredients are usually flour and corn and are generally around 50 or more calories of mainly excess carbohydrate. Also like human cookies they often don’t pack much nutrition in and their calories add up quickly. In the sample dog above, just two medium biscuits per day can add an extra 10% to its daily required calorie total. And since about 3500 extra calories results in an extra pound of weight (for our pets and for us too!), an extra 100 calories a day can translated into gaining nearly a pound per month.
To keep the treat calories down and still give in to those gorgeous brown eyes on occasion, consider less processed treats and those whose main ingredient is simply dried meat or vegetables. Freeze-dried liver or lung treats are available at many pet stores and have comparatively few calories – typically around 10 calories each of useful protein. Also, many dogs enjoy a healthy piece of apple or banana as a treat.
DON’T FORGET THE ACTIVITY SIDE OF THE EQUATION!
Of course, the other half of the calories in/calories out equation is activity and exercise!! Helping your dog burn a few extra calories can give the food intake a bit more leeway. And, like us, being fit has all kinds of other health benefits such as improving signs of aging and using calories more efficiently.
Make sure activities match the life stage and general capability level of your dog and that you build fitness over time. If your dog is not used to exercise, introducing a fifteen-minute walk twice a day most days can do wonders for both fitness and attitude. If you already walk with your dog regularly, building a jog into the routine can burn calories for your pup. If jogging isn’t your thing, you can get your dog to run without you by playing fetch in a large yard or field (Chuck-It ball throwers can improve the range immensely). Play dates with a canine friend can also get your pup moving around more than its average day on the couch.
Increasing activity levels and staying on top of your pup’s weight to quickly make any needed adjustments can help your dog live the healthiest happiest life possible – and that in turn makes us very happy as well!