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Help! I turned my back for 3 months and my dog got FAT!

EdGrrr the Athlete, 2007

By Kim Everson, DVM

EdGrrr, my 6-yr-old Labrador retriever, used to have the body of an athlete. No. Not just an athlete. A marathon runner. He was lean and mean. He had a lovely hourglass figure and was he ripped! Some people thought he was too skinny because, unfortunately, the breed standard for Labradors has been a somewhat thick and chunky variety of dog. While I battled baby bulge myself, I was so proud of my young lab’s fitness and physique.

Then this summer, while I was building my vet clinic, EdGrrr went and got fat. And not just fat, but I-finally-weighed-him-on-my-clinic-scale twenty pounds fat! I’m not sure how I missed it, but now that he is chubby it has been a true challenge to whittle away the pounds.

EdGrrr the Tub, 2011

Although I have always measured my dogs’ food and fed twice daily meals, avoided people food and shied away from regular treats, EdGrrr had plenty of help in the additional calorie department. His chummy personality and eager expression earned him a sandwich (or two) a day from members of the clinic work crews. Of course, I didn’t learn this until after the work was done. To be fair, they played more fetch with him in three months than he’s had in the previous three years.

I can’t blame the workers entirely for the obesity-fueling excesses. EdGrrr, a farm dog through and through, finds calories in the darnedest places: a little grain from the feedlot steers here, a few compost heap veggies there, and a dead deer for dessert. I’m starting to feel like EdGrrr will foil my best efforts at dieting him no matter what I do.

So in spite of my failure at keeping my own dog at a healthy weight, here are some tips for your pet’s diet:

  1. Feed your pet distinct meals each day rather than keeping the bowl full. Many pets just can’t resist another trip to the all-you-can-eat buffet. (Sound familiar?)
  2. Use a true 8-ounce measuring cup to feed a precise amount of food as directed on your pet food bag (or by your veterinarian). The range on the pet food bag is often quite broad (such as “For a 40-60 lb dog feed 3-5 cups per day”) so you will have to use your best judgement. Remember the amount is the total daily amount and you will have to divide that by the number of meals you feed a day.
  3. If your pet is on a diet, make sure that you are feeding an amount meant for her ideal or goal weight, not her current weight.
  4. Make sure chubby is on an adult maintenance diet (see Nutrition 101 for help selecting a pet food). “All life stages” foods are essentially puppy/kitten diets and won’t help an obese-prone pet lose weight.
  5. Watch the people food. It’s really hard to gauge how many extra calories are being consumed by pets that lick the plates clean after dinner or receive tasty tidbits from Mom, Dad or human siblings throughout the day. Some types of people food are outright toxic for pets, so best to avoid it altogether.
  6. Go easy on the treats. Of course you can still give treats. But your pet loves receiving a gift from you not the gift itself! So, if you can break that Milkbone biscuit (a doggie “candy bar” incidentally) into smaller pieces do it. Or choose a low calorie treat; the pet stores are full of them! In the really hard cases, you should eliminate treats and just offer a few pieces of your pet’s daily allotment of kibble (chances are he won’t know or care it’s just his regular food).
  7. Exercise. Enough said.
  8. Once you’ve made one or more changes to your pet’s diet you can weigh her periodically (say, once a month) to monitor progress. If your pet is small enough and you have a bathroom scale at home you can weigh her by holding her and then subtracting your own weight. For bigger animals you may need to schedule a weight check at your veterinary clinic (there probably won’t be a charge for this…just ask!)
  9. If your pet is not losing weight and you’ve really — and I mean, really — implemented the above tips religiously, please have a chat with your veterinarian. There are several treatable medical conditions that cause unrelenting obesity that can be diagnosed with a thorough examination and blood tests.

As 2012 dawns and I make my own New Year’s resolutions to eat better and exercise more, I vow to get EdGrrr to a healthy weight as well. I may not have his full cooperation, but I do know that if I go out jogging he will be my willing companion. Then I can at least cross #7 off the list!

Have a wonderful New Year!

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