How Healthy is Your Dog’s Diet?

52.6% of US dogs are overweight or obese according to a study carried out by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).

Overweight dogs suffer from joint problems at an earlier age. Their extra weight increases the stress on their joints, accelerating their decline and causing more intense pain.

Veterinarians know that dogs at the correct body weight live longer and significantly delay the onset and severity of aged related conditions, particularly osteoarthritis. If your dog is overweight your veterinarian will recommend a diet plan.

Dogs on a Controlled Diet Live Longer

Here’s some compelling evidence from a 2007 study into the effects of diet on dog’s health. The researchers studied 48 Labrador Retrievers over 2 decades, beginning their study when they were 8-week-old puppies. All the puppies came from just 7 litters. Brothers were paired with brothers, and sisters with sisters, meaning they had a similar genetic profile and risk of developing inherited disorders. Each pairing had puppies of a similar weight. In this way the researchers effectively eliminated any factor other than diet from their study.

Each puppy was fed exactly the same diet. One randomly chosen puppy in each pairing was allowed to eat an unlimited, or free choice, amount of food during their 15-minute daily feed. The other was given 25% less food for its entire life. Every other aspect of their lives was identical, the only variable being their food intake.

The diet-restricted dogs (25% less food) lived almost 2 years (1.8 years) longer, reaching an average age of 13 years. It’s not surprising that the dogs on the restricted diet weighed less and had lower body fat. But they also delayed the onset of late life diseases, especially osteoarthritis.

This study only involved Labrador Retrievers, but it’s compelling enough for veterinarians to conclude that all dog owners must control the weight of their pet.

If you want your dog to live longer, enjoy a more active life and delay the onset of age related diseases, you have to control their weight.

Never Use Breed Weight Charts

Never rely on a dog breed weight chart to assess whether your dog is overweight or not. The weight ranges are too wide because they account for differences in sex, size and build.

For example the weight range for a healthy adult male Great Dane is 120lbs to 200lbs. The weight range for a Chihuahua is 2lbs to 6lbs. In both examples, a smaller dog with a light build would be severely overweight if their weight was at the top of the range.

Is Your Dog is Overweight?

Answer these questions to help to identify if your dog is overweight.

  • Do you have difficulty feeling your dog’s ribs?
  • Is there little or no ‘waist’?
  • Do you give your dog table scraps or leftovers?
  • Are they reluctant to exercise?
  • Do they seem to tire easily with activity?
  • Does your dog waddle when it walks?
  • Do they keep eating so long as there is food in the bowl?
  • Have you been told your dog is overweight?

It is likely that your dog is overweight if you answer, “yes” to one or more of these questions.

Identify Your Dog’s Ideal Weight

The best person to identify your dog’s ideal weight is your veterinarian. They can identify if obesity is a risk factor for joint problems in your dog. Once you know your dog’s ideal weight it’s important to weigh them regularly so you can adjust their diet if they are developing a “fat gap”.

  • What is your dog’s ideal weight?
  • How does that compare to their current weight?
  • Is there a “fat gap”?

The easiest way to weigh small dogs at home is to:

  1. Weigh yourself
  2. Pick up your dog and weigh them and yourself
  3. Subtract the smaller weight from the larger to give your dog’s weight

Never risk injuring yourself to weigh your dog. Most veterinarians will gladly weigh your dog.

Is Your Dog Eating the Nutrients they Need?

Your dog needs protein for growth and repair and fats for energy and insulation. Dogs are descended from wolves so their bodies are adapted to efficiently process animal-based proteins and fats. They cannot digest vegetable protein as efficiently. Choose chicken, lamb, beef, turkey and fish as the source of protein and fats for your dog.

 

Their diet must also include carbohydrates, essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins.

Dogs can’t digest and release the nutrients from grains and cereals like corn, soy and wheat. In fact grain–based diets cause health problems like chronic itchy skin, coarse coats and ear infections.

The source of these nutrients is your choice, whether they are freshly prepared at home or a branded dog food. Choose high quality dog foods that use named protein sources like chicken or beef, not “meat” or “poultry”. The protein should have a guaranteed analysis of 30% or more with fat at 18% or more. The labels should also list the named fruit and vegetable ingredients that provide carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. There should be no food coloring.

Check Their Weight Regularly

Adult dogs should be only be given the amount of food that maintains them at their ideal body weight. You should agree the ideal weight for your unique dog with your veterinarian. Once agreed, you may need to weigh your dog several times a week and make small adjustments to their portions until you find the amount of food they need to maintain their target weight. Then keep a monthly track of their weight and make small adjustments when necessary.

Control Portion Size

All larger dogs have a tendency to overeat, so their portions need to be controlled. It’s particularly important to control the growth rate of larger breed puppies. Those that overeat and grow too rapidly put enormous stress on their young bones, ligaments, tendons and joints, often causing lifelong damage.

Don’t Believe Manufacturers’ Recommended Portions

If you feed your dog a high quality dog food, don’t be surprised if your dog needs less than the recommended portion for their weight. One of the main reasons so many dogs are overweight is that their owners feed them the recommended portion. If your dog’s overweight, ignore the manufacturer’s instructions and reduce their portion size. If you are unsure, get your veterinarians advice on the correct portion size for your dog.

Include All Snacks

It’s vital to include all snacks in your dog’s daily food intake.

Earn Every Snack

Don’t just give your dog a treat or snack. Make them work for them to improve their obedience or to reward them for responding to simple commands. Another way to give a snack is to stuff a food puzzle toy, like a Kong with healthy treats.

Kongs are made of hard rubber with holes at each end. Your dog will have to paw, lick, nibble, shake, and roll the Kong to get their treat. The effort keeps them engaged, easing boredom.

Start with easy-to-get treats like their kibble so they learn what to do and don’t give up. Then make it harder by wedging chunks of fruit or veggies inside. Get creative with healthy snacks and leftovers. You can freeze snacks like a broth into a Kong.

Then let your imagination run riot with combinations of healthy snacks like peanut butter (always a favorite), eggs, apples, sweet potato, kale, oatmeal, carrots, broccoli, cheese, and cooked rice. Mix in leftover beef, chicken and salmon. It may seem gross to us but dogs love it.

Always remember to include these snacks in your pet’s daily food intake.

Control the Growth Rate of Larger Breed Puppies

Puppies need a higher energy intake than adults to fuel their growing bodies.

The smaller breeds of dog, weighing 20 pounds or less at maturity, can be fed free-choice. Their food can always be available so they can choose when to eat. Most develop good eating habits and don’t eat too much.

All larger dogs have a tendency to overeat, so their portions need to be controlled. It’s particularly important to control the growth rate of larger breed puppies. Those that overeat and grow too rapidly put enormous stress on their young bones, ligaments, tendons and joints, often causing lifelong damage.

Give Senior Dogs Fewer Calories

Dogs weighing over 50lbs are regarded as senior from the age of 6. The body composition changes in senior dogs as they become less active and their metabolism slows. They still need a protein-rich diet, but with fewer calories to prevent weight gain.