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Weight Management

Talking about the topic of weight is always a little risky - both when speaking of our own AND our dogs. Weight is a very emotional topic for many people and it is very easy to become offended and shut down during the conversation. Excess weight on dogs is often given a blind eye and is not dealt with until it HAS to be dealt with (medical concern like a cruiciate tear, hypothyroid, diabetes, cushings, etc) and it doesn't need to be this way!

Just like providing adequate medical care, providing mental and physical stimulation, training and a balanced diet, keeping a lean weight should be top priority when it comes to keeping your dog in tip top shape! All of your hard work and dedication is for nothing if you are filling your dog full of too many calories and they are packing on the extra pounds.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention conducts a yearly survey and through these have found repeatedly over the years that almost 60% of pets are overweight.

This is an incredibly important issue because pets with obesity are at increased risk for developing serious weight related disorders such as diabetesarthritishigh blood pressurekidney diseasecancer, and more.  We must do better.

Not only does obesity cause the issues mentioned above, having your dog be overweight also puts them at higher risk during anaesthesia and surgery since they have reduced lung function, sometimes decreased liver and kidney function, greater risk of wound infection and require more anaesthetic than dogs kept at a healthy weight.

A study done by Purina (I know - ignore the company that did this study and just focus on the results) found that dogs kept at a lean weight live up to 15% longer than dogs that are overweight. That's almost 2 extra years with your best friend! That's a no brainer, right?

"Results from the Purina Life Span Study show that dogs that were maintained at 25 percent fewer calories than control dogs had a 15 percent longer median life span, or nearly two years for the Labrador Retrievers in this study."

We all want more years with our dogs, so why are so many dogs still obese?

Unfortunately many people equate food with love. The amount of food you feed your dog is not a measurement of how much you care for them! Please don't think this way!

Many people make little mistakes that add up to big consequences such as free feeding (leaving food out for your dog to graze on all day), not accounting for the calories added by treats and food scraps, not accurately measuring portion sizes and just generally over feeding (have you ever fed someone's dogs and find a coffee mug as the measuring scoop? You know what I'm talking about!)

The kibble trap - most owners that kibble feed their dogs go by the guidelines on the back of the bag. Some companies will actually make these guidelines higher than needed so you are using up more of the product in a shorter time. This is a sneaky trick often used by kibble companies because they need you to continue buying their product!

To first find out if we are over feeding our dogs, we need to find out exactly how many calories they need. There are many quick calculators online for this, but the most accurate way is with good old math (my nemesis!) so let's breakdown how to do this:

The formula I am using is the one recommended in the National Research Council’s (NRC is an unbiased scientific organization that determines the nutritional requirements for many species of animals based on past and current scientific studies) publication, Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats 2006.

The basic formula is: Kcal X kgBW^0.75 = basic energy requirement

I know you're looking at that wondering what the heck I'm talking about but stick with me!

kgBW means your dog’s body weight in kg. There are about 2.2 pounds per 1

kg so if your dog weighs 44 pounds, that would mean 44 pounds / 2.2 pounds = 20 kg

The value that you would use for the Kcal in the above equation depends on your dog’s

activity level. The NRC suggests the following adjustments:

• 130 would be used for average adult pet dogs that are kept indoors but have plenty of

chance for exercise.

• 140 would be used for young adult active pet dogs

• 95 would be used for inactive pet dogs that are kept indoors with little activity or

opportunity for exercise.

• 105 would be used for older active pet dogs

These numbers may still overestimate your dog’s requirement because factors like if they are fixed or not and their daily activity level, but this is a great place to start.

For an example, I'll use my dog Ripley as an example.

Ripley is a 100lb healthy, fairly active 5 year old neutered Saint Bernard X Shepherd mix. I am going to use 140 for his value because he is not as active as my other two and just enjoys an hour or so walk per day.

100lb = 45kgs so, 140 x 45^0.75 = 2,432 calories per day (yes, he is a big boy!)

This means Rip would require about 2,342 Kcal per day. However, please keep in mind that this number is just a starting point and your dog may need more or less calories based on their individual needs, lifestyle and metabolism.

For an easy calculator that is pretty on-point with this math, you can plug in your dog's values to get their caloric needs here from Perfectly Rawsome (but I still recommend the old fashion way!) *This put Ripley at 2,556 calories so it's a litter higher than my original math.

Another method of calculating food amount is feeding percentage of body weight. Most healthy adult dogs maintain their ideal body weight eating 2% of their body weight in raw or cooked food a day. 2% is just a starting point and some adult dogs may require 1.5%-4% depending on each individual's health status and daily activity amount.

Puppy percentages change as they grow up until a year of age.

Now that you know how to calculate your dog's caloric intake needs, let's look at their current body condition score (BCS) and how to score our dogs.

BCS is a way to visually evaluate your dog’s body composition and rate it on a numerical scale. There are two scales that can be used – one that rates dogs from 1 to 5 and one that rates dogs from 1 to 9. For both scales, 1 indicates a very thin dog. (On the 1-5 scale you want your dog to be a 3, and for the 1-9 you want your dog to be a 5)

To score your dog’s body condition, you need to perform a visual examination of the dog from the side and from above, as well as palpate the dog’s ribs and waist.

When you look at your dog from above, you should be able to see a clear waist. Another way to think of this is that you’re dog has an hourglass appearance from above if they have an ideal BCS. From the side, the dog’s abdomen should be clearly tucked up behind the ribs. You should be able to easily feel the dog’s ribs. To palpate the ribs, stand behind your dog so you are both facing the same direction. Place your thumbs near your dog’s spine behind its shoulders and then spread your fingers out over the dog’s ribs. At an ideal weight, the individual ribs should be easily felt with no excess fat covering.

Swipe through these pictures for a visual of the scale.

Picture 1 - BCS 1, underweight

Picture 2 - BCS 3, slighty underweight

Picture 3 - BCS 5, ideal

Picture 4 - BCS 7, overweight

Picture 5 - BCS 9, obese

Now that we understand our dog's caloric needs and how to score them on the BCS sale, let's consider all the other things we can do to help manage and maintain or achieve a healthy weight for our dogs:

Properly portion our meals. Start using an actual measuring cup for your dog's kibble. If you are a raw feeding, consider the percentage you are feeding your dog. Most healthy adult dogs tend to maintain their weight while eating 2% of their body weight in a day. However, some dogs do better eating at 1.5% to keep them lean.

Stating the obvious, your dog needs more exercise. Making sure they are active for at least an hour a day will significantly help keep them at a lean weight. If you're busy on certain days, a dog walker or doggy daycare can be a great option to get your dog out and moving!

If you are dealing with an obese dog, low impact exercise such as Hydrotherapy can be a huge tool in your weightloss journey!

Count your treats in their daily intake and keep em small! If you are training or just find yourself giving lots of treats throughout the day, remember to account for those later on. If they ate about a cup of treats during the day through training or otherwise, they don't need their full portion at dinner time. Dog's also don't typically care about the size of the treat (as half the time they don't even taste it!) so remember, a little can go a long way! A pinky fingernail sized treat is perfect for the average dog.

Also, consider the quality of treats you are feeding. There's not much point in doing weight management if you end up giving your dog bacon, hot dogs, cheese or milkbones during the day. Instead choose low calorie treat options with single ingredients such as freeze dried liver or chicken breast. Using your dog's food as treats throughout the day is a great idea as well. If you need their food to be more inciting, place the healthy treats (kibble, liver, chopped carrots, etc) in a bag or container and add in a few pieces of bacon or pepperoni and leave overnight. The smell of the bacon/pepperoni will seep into your treats and make them of higher value for your woofer! This is exceptionally helpful for dogs that are on a strict diet or dogs with allergies.

Reevaluate caloric needs as they age. Your dog will not eat the same quantity from puppy hood through senior years. Their metabolic system changes and so does their calorie needs. Obesity is a huge problem in our senior dogs because many people continue feeding the same amount as their dog ages. It varies drastically by breed, but most dogs need some diet changes starting at around age 7 or 8 (later for small dogs, earlier for large dogs) to accommodate their aging.

Feed smaller more frequent meals instead of 1-2 big ones during the day.

Feeding in smaller portions can also be helpful for weight loss. Dr. Carol Osborne, an integrative veterinarian at Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Ohio, recommends taking your dog’s total daily ration and dividing it up into three to six portions. Multiple, small meals require energy to digest, which burns calories, she says.

“Feeding small meals every four to six hours helps keep your dog’s insulin levels stable, which reduces appetite spikes and keeps (your dog’s) tummy full most of the day,” she says. “Once your dog’s metabolism begins to work properly, excess pounds come off easily.”

Lastly, consider the quality of food you are feeding. Low quality kibbles will be low in protein and high in carbohydrates, which is the opposite of what we want for managing a healthy weight or losing weight. Feed your overweight dog more protein and less carbohydrates.

Focus on providing healthy whole foods, portion control and giving adequate exercise and your woofer will be thriving at an ideal BCS and enjoying their extended life before you know it!

*Please do not drastically change your dog's routine or food intake. If your dog needs to lose weight, it won't happen overnight! Be patient as healthy weight loss is gradual and takes time, life style changes and hard dedication from all members of the family! Incorporate changes (like increased exercise and smaller meals) gradually so their system has a chance to properly adjust.

*Working with a trusted nutrition professional can ensure you are taking all the necessary and safe steps to getting your dog as healthy as they can be! If you’ve established and are staying within caloric boundaries and you’re and still not having any luck helping your dog lose weight, a visit to your trusted holistic Vet could be in order to rule out a medical condition. Weight gain and lethargy can be symptoms of conditions like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s Disease.

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