Cutting Calories for Canines

Recently, I was asked to write a blog about how to help dogs lose weight.  Here are my recommendations:

1) Exercise – As my professor in veterinary college wisely noted; “If the dog is overweight, the owner needs more exercise.”  Start out slowly with low impact activities and add five minutes every week.  Before starting, check with your veterinarian to make sure it is safe for the pet.  

2) Set the maximum weight loss goal at 2% per month.  Cut the amount of food at meals by 10 to 25% depending upon the age, activity and existing health issues of the dog then monitor.  To help with the decrease in the amount of food, add green beans or carrots to the meal.  Fresh vegetables may be used as well as low salt frozen or canned ones.  Remember raisins, grapes and onions are toxic.  Also, some breeds of dogs are prone to developing calcium oxalate stones in the urinary system which will limit the kind of treats that can be fed.  Avoid fruits and/or vegetables high in vitamin C, spinach and peanuts. 
3) Measure the food carefully!  Coffee cans and scoops often hold more than one cup of food.  Use a measuring cup to insure accuracy.  Make sure all the food is within the cup – no heaping portions. 

4) Choose foods with higher concentrations of fiber and lower concentrations of fat and carbohydrates.  Remember to compare foods using Metabolizable Energy, not “as fed, dry matter or guaranteed analysis”.  Add a pinch of rosemary to the food to make it more appetizing for picky eaters.  

5) Replace high calorie treats with low calorie options.  Many of my patients are receiving the correct amount of food at each meal but still gain weight.  The treats are the problem.  Use vegetables instead.  My dog Susie loved cucumbers and carrots.  Toy breeds tend to like fresh peppers both green and Italian.  Although broccoli may cause gas, it is believed to decrease the occurrence of bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers. Avoid onion which is toxic because it causes anemia in dogs.  Besides vegetables, many dogs enjoy frozen chicken or beef bouillon.  Pour low or no salt bouillon into an ice cube tray and freeze.  This is a great treat for hot summer days.
6) Use the baggie system to prevent feeding duplicate meals.  Place the total amount of food for one day in a baggie.  Feed one third at breakfast, one third at dinner and leave the rest for treats.
7) If feeding dry food, try the water trick.  Presoak the kibble in water to increase the volume which will make the dog feel more satisfied.  Humans can also use this trick when trying to lose weight.  Models will often drink a large glass of water before eating to help them feel full.


Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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