Does your dog need a diet?

Does your dog need a diet?

It’s no secret that some of us put on a bit of weight during lockdown here in the UK over the past year but did you know that your attitude to food can affect your pets’ health too? We love our pets and like to give them treats but this isn’t always a good thing. Overindulging can cause ongoing health problems for both of you and if you suspect your dog may have piled on a few pounds it is better to address the issue sooner rather than later. According to the Blue Cross, most pet dogs have considerably more body fat than wild or feral dogs, who may look lean but actually look how a fit dog is supposed to look.

Just like humans, if your pet is overweight it can have serious and lasting consequences on their health and if left unchecked, could even be fatal. Studies have shown that fat dogs do not live as long as dogs that maintain a healthy weight. They are also more prone to illnesses including heart problems and arthritis due to the extra pressure placed on their joints and organs from carrying excessive weight. Although you may enjoy spoiling your pet and giving them extra treats, you could literally kill them with kindness and as their owner, maintaining their weight is entirely your responsibility.   

One big issue is people sharing their ‘human food’ food with their dogs as their daily calorie requirement is different to ours and their bodies process food differently too. Feeding your dog something that you consider to be a small snack could actually make a big difference - especially if your dog is small too, as the Blue Cross explains:

  • A slice of buttered toast to a cocker spaniel provides about a sixth of their daily calorie requirement – or two bags of crisps for a person
  • A sausage to a Staffie is the equivalent of one and a half chocolate bars to a person
  • A chocolate digestive to a Jack Russell is almost the same as a portion of chips to a person

Hungry Eyes

It’s true, most dogs do look as though they would love a little taste of whatever you’re eating and for some owners, those big baleful eyes can be too hard to resist. But resist you must! In the wild, dogs are scavengers and eat everything they find whether they are hungry or not as they don’t always know where their next meal is coming from. Which means that they take every opportunity to eat. Unfortunately, domestic dogs haven’t evolved away from this instinctive reaction to food so they aren’t able to regulate their intake or limit what they eat. There’s always room for an extra sausage, even if your dog feels ready to pop!

Regulating and monitoring what your dog eats is completely down to you. As a responsible owner you need to understand they shouldn’t be eating the same things as you - or the same portion sizes - and just because they look at your dinner as though they haven’t eaten in weeks, this doesn’t mean they can’t survive without having a little taste of it! 

Although domestic dogs haven’t learned not to scavenge, they have learned how to beg for food and this is something they will exploit at every opportunity, if they are given the chance to do so.

Even if you are able to resist the temptation to share, giving them the occasional treat is potentially worse. Scientists refer to this as ‘variable reinforcement.’ It’s the reason that people play fruit machines. The occasional win makes up for all the losses. So your dog is going to hover by your plate at every mealtime, hoping to win the jackpot! You need to make sure that everyone in your household learns never to give your dog a treat when they are eating and if you have children that drop food on the floor by accident then you might want to shut your dog in a separate room at mealtimes and don’t let them hoover up afterwards.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on UnsplashHow many calories?! Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Puppy fat

The Blue Cross says that there is evidence to suggest that chubby puppies become fat dogs.  Certain breeds such as German Shepherds, who are more prone to joint problems such as hip dysplasia are also more likely to develop these problems if they are overweight from an early age. Always follow the feeding instructions for your dog’s weight on the dog food packet - and if you have any concerns ask your vet to weigh your dog and advise you during any routine appointments.

If your dog is refusing to eat their regular food but is healthy and happy otherwise, don’t be tempted to offer them different foods or human foods as this may cause them to become a fussy eater. If you feed your dog human food, they will tend to overeat and can become overweight far more quickly than if they were eating food that is designed for dogs. However if your dog eats nothing at all (human or otherwise) for more than 24 hours, contact your vet as there may be an underlying issue affecting their appetite.

Photo by Chevanon Photography on PexelsPhoto by Chevanon Photography on Pexels

How to tell if your dog is fat

According to the Blue Cross, all dogs are different so you can’t always tell whether your dog is overweight by weighing them and studying a table of the ‘right weight for their breed.’ Although this may give you an indication of a problem, the best way to work out if your dog is fat is by looking at their body shape and visually assessing their body fat. Are they the right shape for their breed? Does your dog have a pot belly? Viewed from above, does your dog have a waist – i.e. does their body taper after the rib cage? Can you feel their ribs easily? If your dog has a bit of a paunch, no waist and a well-padded ribcage this means it is probably time to take action. If you’re not sure, consult your vet – particularly if your dog is a mixed breed and you’re not 100% sure what their body shape should be. The average chubby dog is generally at least 15% overweight.

Healthy puppy photo by Courtney Roberson on UnsplashHealthy puppy photo by Courtney Roberson on Unsplash

Starting your dog’s weight loss journey 

The Blue Cross advises that before you place your dog on a diet and exercise journey that you first pay a visit to the vet for some advice. They can let you know exactly how overweight your dog is and how much weight they need to lose to be healthy. Increasing the amount of exercise that they do will probably not be enough to make a difference on it’s own. Most vets offer special low-calorie food and some also run weight loss clinics to ensure that your new diet regime is working, and that your dog is losing weight at a steady pace.

Photo by Charles Roth on PexelsPhoto by Charles Roth on Pexels

Next Steps 

Next time we’ll be looking at the various ways that you can help to get your dog fit and healthy with different types of exercise and a diet regime to whip them into shape. Got any doggy dieting tips to share? Let us know in the comments section below!

Main photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash


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