4 Easy Steps for Doggie Dieting

Must-have tips for keeping your dog fit, trim and happy.

dog food How do you steel yourself against those pleading, hungry eyes? Sometimes, it helps to have a plan.

The most important part of trimming down your dog is to keep track of the calories he eats. “Calories are more important than exercise for weight loss,” says Cailin Heinze, VMD, M.S., diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and assistant professor of nutrition at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass. “Start with calories.”

Follow these easy steps:

  1. Determine the calorie count of your dog’s food. Calories may be listed on the bag or can, or you may need to call the manufacturer. Kibble can vary dramatically, between 250 to 600 calories per cup, Heinze says. If your dog food is high in calories, consider switching to a lower-calorie food. Food should account for at least 90 percent of your dog’s daily calorie allowance. Determine how much food that equals, and divide it up between two or three daily meals. Do not feed him any more food than this predetermined amount, until you have assessed his progress for one or two weeks. Visit PetobesityPrevention and click on Food and Calories to find a downloadable chart of the calorie content of many pet food brands.
  2. Tackle the treats. “People often don’t realize how many treat calories they are feeding,” Heinze says. “I’ve seen treats range from three calories per treat to 1,000 calories for a large dental bone! It can be difficult to determine calorie count on some treats, but if you can’t get the information from the company, I wouldn’t recommend feeding the treat.” If you feed your dog people food, add those calories as well. Online calorie counters will help you figure out the numbers. Determine how many treats will make up no more than 10 percent of your dog’s daily calorie allowance. That’s all he gets! If he really wants more, try low-calorie treats like fresh veggies. Baby carrots and broccoli florets are good choices. 
  3. If the amount of food seems too low — because your dog acts extremely hungry, or the amount of kibble just seems like too little to fill up your dog — talk to your veterinarian about a prescription weight-loss diet. Over-the-counter weight-loss diets are not regulated, Heinze says, but a prescription weight-loss diet will contain more nutrient density per calorie, so you can feed more and guard against nutrient deficiencies that could occur from cutting back regular kibble too much.
  4. Weigh your dog weekly and monitor his energy level. If he is losing more than 2 percent of his body weight every week, increase the calories by 10 percent. If he is losing less than 1 percent per week, decrease calories by 10 percent. If he is low on energy or his coat looks dull, ask your veterinarian whether your dog may be deficient in nutrients. Report weight-loss progress to your veterinarian every month or two.

Depending on how overweight your dog is, he might achieve a healthy weight in a few weeks, a few months, or over the course of a year or more. Just stay strong and reward your dog with praise, petting, and playtime rather than food. Remember how important weight loss is to your dog’s health, and remind yourself that food doesn’t equal love.  

Make sure to consult with your  veterinarian before making changes to your dog’s diet. In some cases, weight gain in dogs is due to a health issue, so your veterinarian should rule out any problems. If your ready to take the next step to trim down your dog’s diet.


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