I took the girls to the vet recently – Lana to get her blood tested (because of her Proin prescription) and Desi to get her shots updated. For some reason, Lana is terrified of the vet. She’s never had a bad experience (or even one without treats, for that matter), but she still hates it. We walk through the door and a dog barks. Lana’s out the door before I can reassure her. She spends the next several minutes while I sign us in and take a seat with her tail between her legs. She doesn’t even think about the fact that Desi is calm as ever.
The vet tech asks Lana to step on the scale. I point to it and much to my surprise, she complies immediately. She weighs a little over 50 pounds. We turn around to walk into the exam room and I feel a tug on the leash. Desi is standing on the scale. No doubt she knew that’s what normally happens at the vet’s office (even though she didn’t actually need to be weighed this time). Unfortunately, she has lost a little bit of weight. The veterinarian assures me both girls are still at a good weight. We know to watch Desi, as losing too much weight could indicate the big problem, and we know to watch Lana, because her long legs and body means being even a little overweight could be devastating for her hips and back.
But the thing is, it’s not just our girls. Weight is important to control for any dog (or person, for that matter). Do you know how many dogs are overweight in the United States? In the U.S., more than 50% of dogs (and cats) are overweight; about 20% are obese.
I get the excuses, I really do.
But giving my dog treats is a universal way to show them I love them! Honestly, they know you love them. Dogs can tell. They’re smart. And guess what – they love you too. And they’ll love you longer if they are healthy enough to live longer.
I cut down on my dog’s food, but he’s obviously still hungry. You sure about that? Because I eat food all the time without being hungry. Because it tastes good. Because I’m bored. Because it’s available to me. Don’t assume that because your dog is begging for food it’s because they’re hungry. They’re begging for treats, not nutrition. As long as you gradually cut down the amount you feed them, you shouldn’t endanger them.
I have a wonky schedule and it’s best if I free feed. While this MAY work for some dogs, it does not work for most. I, too, have a wonky schedule, and you know what? I think it was good for Lana. She doesn’t start begging for food at a certain time, because she’s used to going with the flow. And she’s, as the vet says, at a ‘perfect weight’. You’re not going to hurt them by feeding them at 5 one day and at 7 another. (It’s way better than being in the wild and not knowing if food is coming at all on any given day!)
Oh, but my boy will only eat people food. When we were growing up, it seemed like my sister would only eat mac and cheese. Until she actually grew hungry. I know it hurts to see your baby not eat, but unless there’s a health issue to worry about, I was raised with the mentality that people (and dogs) will eat when they’re hungry, and that sugar coating things and feeding treats and calorie filled junk is not an okay substitute.
Being fat doesn’t hurt dogs like it does people. Socially, no. There is no fat shaming among dogs, but there are still multitudes of health problems that correlate with obesity (and malnutrition) in any animal. Diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, bad joints and backs, and decreased life expectancy (by up to 2.5 years) are all possible dangers for overweight pets.
So how does an owner know what a healthy weight is? Knowing your dog’s breed can help, but it is not the end all be all.
-Ask your veterinarian. I seriously hope they should have an idea, or you may want to find yourself a new doctor. If your pet is an exception, your vet should know.
-Judge yourself by look and feel. There are so many diagrams on the internet that show how a dog should look. The outline of the ribcage should be visible, but not the actual ribs.* The stomach should be tucked, the waist should be visible from above. As for the feel, you should be able to feel ribs, but not without a little bit of fat on top of them.
*Some breeds of dogs are built differently than others. If you have questions, please consult your veterinarian.
So how much is the right amount to feed them? You can’t necessarily trust the back of your bag of dog food. You need to keep in mind your dog’s metabolism, how much they exercise, if they are trying to maintain, lose, or gain weight, how often you give them treats, etc. If you look at these factors and think your dog is about average, try the middle of the range they recommend. If you find your pet putting on or losing too much weight, adjust the serving size. Just be aware that if you switch foods, the caloric density will be different and you should keep an extra close watch on your dog’s weight.
I don’t believe in diet foods for dogs. I also don’t believe in fad diets for people. When I need to lose weight, I eat healthier and I eat less. Lana always eats the same thing, so I don’t need to worry about her eating healthier food. That leaves the amount of it. If I think she’s starting to get big, I cut back on the food just a little. Nothing severe. It’s not rocket science. I expect my dog to beg for food when I eat and cook and I don’t assume that means she’s starving. Because she’s in way better shape than I am and I know it. But, if you really want to try diet dog food, I won’t stop you. If you have a good experience with it, tell you friends, even tell me if you’d like! I just don’t feel it’s necessary for my girl. (But then again I spent forever picking out what I felt was the perfect food for her and I’m not about to undo all that work – purely a personal choice.)
Love your dog, and spoil them ’til they’re fit!