Every pet parent wants their dog to be happy and healthy. But sometimes what makes our pups happy isn’t the best thing for their health.

A few too many treats (for being such a good boy!) or a too-heaping helping of food at mealtimes (she’s hungry!) can quickly have your pet packing on the pounds. If your dog is overweight, you’re not alone. One survey found that 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. Worse yet, many pet parents aren’t aware that their pets are overweight.

That’s bad news for our pups, since in addition to impacting their  health and quality of life, extra weight can also mean a shorter lifespan. A study from the University of Liverpool in England found that overweight dogs live 2 ½ years less than their healthy weight counterparts.

“The decrease in lifespan can be attributed to fat secreting inflammatory hormones,” says veterinarian Michelle Burch, DVM from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance. “The inflammatory hormones create oxidative stress in the body contributing to disease.”

Being overweight can cause a whole host of health problems for your pup, says Burch. “Overweight and obese dogs are at an increased risk for cancer, diabetes mellitus,     heart disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis, urinary bladder stones, cardiovascular problems, and even anesthetic complications.”

Additional problems from obesity that can affect your pup include mobility issues in general and heat intolerance, the latter of which can cause heat stroke, says Antoinette Martin, DVM, Head Veterinarian at Hello Ralphie, a telehealth company that connects pet parents to licensed veterinarians. She is also a practicing small animal veterinarian. “In addition to extending your dog’s life, a healthy weight makes their life more enjoyable, as they can play and move about with issues,” she says.

One study even found that simply limiting a dog’s food intake can actually prolong his life by as much as 15%, or two whole years.

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Is your dog overweight?

Use the Body Condition Score

body condition score for dogs

People who try to keep track of their weight will be familiar with the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a way to measure weight. For furry friends, we have a Body Condition Score (BCS) as a way of evaluating body fat. There are two scales that pet parents can choose from when determining their pets’ BCS. There is a scale of 1-5 which is a simplified scale with 1 describing a very thin dog and 5 describing an obese dog.

To try and determine your pup’s BCS at home, it’s necessary to both look at and feel your dog. 

If you suspect your dog needs to lose a few pounds, here’s how to tell.

  1. Look at your pet from above. Does he have a defined waist or is he more oval-shaped? If he’s more oval, and looks like a coffee table, then yeah, it’s time for a diet.
  2. Can you feel her ribs? They should be visible but not too prominent or protruding. If she’s overweight, you might not be able to feel them under a thick layer of fat.
  3. Look at your dog from the side. Does his abdomen slightly tuck up? If he’s overweight, he’ll lack an abdominal tuck or have a belly that hangs down.

    After you’ve examined your dog, use the following chart to determine their BCS.

    Score

    Description

    1/5 or 1/9

    Ribs, pelvic bones, and backbones are prominently seen and will stick out. Noticeable loss of muscle mass. Severely pronounced waistline.

    2/9

    Ribs, pelvic bones, and backbones prominently seen but with less noticeable loss of muscle mass. The waistline is pronounced.

    4/9

    Ribs, pelvic bones, backbones easily felt but not visually pronounced. Noticeable waistline.

    3/5 or 5/9

    Ribs, pelvic bones, backbones easily felt but with a layer of fat over. Waistline is noticeable but not obvious. More curves can be seen.

    6/9

    More layers of fat making it harder to feel ribs, pelvic bones, and backbones. Waistline is visible but not prominent. 

    4/5 or 7/9

    Some pressure is needed to feel bones through more layers of fat. Waistline no longer apparent.

    8/9

    Extreme pressure is needed to feel bones through layers of fat. No waistline visible.

    5/5 or 9/9

    Completely unable to feel bones through layers of fat. Protruding waistline observable. 

     

    Before you put your overweight dog on a diet, it’s best to speak to your vet. Usually, the problem is simply that he’s consuming too much food (just like us!), but there are certain medical conditions that can cause weight gain. For that reason it’s a good idea to take your dog in for an exam. “Blood work and a general exam can ensure that the weight issues are not medically related, and that the weight hasn’t caused any health concerns,” says Martin. 

     

    How to Help Your Dog Lose Weight

    When your dog needs to lose weight, Helping your dog lose weight will reward you with a furry family member who is happier and healthier. Weight loss may even prolong your pup’s life. One study found that simply limiting a dog’s food intake can actually prolong his life by as much as 15%, or two whole years.

    If you’ve confirmed your dog is otherwise healthy, try these 11 tips to help them safely slim down.

    1. Determine your dog’s caloric needs

    Factors like breed, activity level, age, and whether your pet is spayed or neutered can all affect your pet’s calorie requirements. When you take our quiz, Puppo will calculate a personalized feeding for your dog based on the information you give us. This will give you a customized overweight dog diet plan. But monitor your dog’s body condition. If  your dog needs a little more or less, let us know and we can change it. 

    It’s a good idea to periodically recalculate periodically since caloric needs, as they change over time. Mature dogs, for instance, require on average 20% less calories than younger pups. However, when pets enter senior status, they may actually start losing weight and then require more calories. That means that keeping track of your dog’s age in relation to caloric needs is a necessity. 

    2. Establish an ideal body weight for your dog

    “Establishing an ideal body weight gives you a goal to strive for,” says Burch. “Research breed weight and body condition charts, and consult with your veterinarian to determine the ideal target weight.”  

    3. Track what your dog is eating

    Read the label on your dog’s food — there’s no one size fits all when it comes to dog food. Different brands and flavors will have different recommended serving sizes. At Puppo, we make this easy by calculating your dog’s needs and printing it on the bag.

    Check out the scoop or cup you use to measure your pet’s food. Most feeding guides are based on using an 8 oz measuring cup not a Big Gulp cup! Measure how much food you normally feed and check how much the scoop or cup you use actually holds. You might be surprised at how much a real cup” of food actually is! Puppo provides an 8 oz scoop with your initial order so we can help you to feed the right amount for your dog.

    Resist feeding your dog table scraps — Those puppy eyes though! — in addition to teaching the bad habit of begging, many human foods are not healthy for dogs, and too much can lead to weight gain.

    4. Cut back on treats

    Log how many treats your pup is getting and make note of the calories. Experts recommend that treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories. Don’t overlook edible chews like pig ears, bully sticks, or rawhides. These can each add 80-200 calories to your dog’s day. A good alternative might be replacing high-calories treats with fruits and vegetables.

    Treats can also refer to human food, says veterinarian Travis McDermott, DMV at My Pet Needs, a pet product review site. “Your dog may act like he or she has to have a piece of the food you’re eating, but they don't. Dogs and cats are like toddlers. They know what they want, but not what is good for them. We as adults/pet owners have to make sure they get the right diet to make them healthy.”

    The Puppo plan helps you keep your dog on track by calculating their recommended treating calories per day, letting you know exactly how many calories can come from treats you give to your furry friend. 

    5. Reduce gradually

    If you determine that your dog needs to lose weight, don’t suddenly cut their calories drastically. And before beginning any weight loss program, visit your veterinarian and make sure your pet is otherwise healthy. Then choose a weight loss diet with lower calories and higher fiber. Also  follow the feeding guides and any vet advice for a healthy weight loss.  

    Most weight loss plans, like the one provided by Puppo, breaks down this process into distinct phases, with healthy weight loss being around 3% per month. We can help you track your dog’s weight and safely lower their calories over time as you move from one phase to the next towards a healthy weight. 

    6. Stick to a meal schedule

    If your dog is currently self-feeding, it’s time to pick up the bowl. A good rule of thumb is to pick up the bowl within 30 minutes of feeding. While some dogs can self-regulate their food intake, most who have access to unlimited food will overeat. Some experts recommend feeding adult dogs twice per day, morning and evening--but do what works best with your dog. Also feed at the same time every day. Pets do best on a schedule, and it will help you with planning as well.

    7. Get moving

    Ensuring that your dog gets enough exercise is important for their weight and overall health. Add an extra walk to your day, head for the dog park, go for a jog together, or play a longer game of fetch. As a bonus, more exercise can mean a calmer and better-behaved dog. Win-win!

    “A calorie deficit from exercise will result in weight loss for your dog,” says Burch “At first, the activity should be slow and short to prevent injury and pain in your overweight dog. Good activities include walking, swimming, or ball fetch.”

    8. Add fiber

    Fiber will fill your pet up, and it’s good for your furry friend. “Add fiber like green beans or canned pumpkin to the diet to satisfy hunger,” says McDermott. “Most pet diet foods add fiber to create a sense of being full with less calories. You can also do this yourself.”

    9. Increase feeding frequency

    “Increasing the amount of times you feed your dog can make them think they are getting the same amount of food when you’re cutting back,” says Martin. “If you only feed once a day, for instance, switch to twice a day.”

    10. Weigh monthly

    Track the progress of your pet’s weight loss by weighing once a month, suggests Burch. “Your dog didn’t gain weight within a week, and they will not lose that weight within a month, either. Slow and steady weight loss will keep your pet healthy. Weighing your dog monthly will let you monitor progress and establish if they have hit a plateau. If this occurs, adjust their calorie intake and increase exercise.”

    11.  When weight plateaus

    If your dog's weight plateaus for two months despite a reduction in calories and increased exercise, Burch recommends a veterinarian visit to determine the root cause. 

    “Performing blood work will help determine if there is an underlying hormonal disease causing lack of weight loss,” she says. “Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland) and Cushing's disease (overactive adrenal gland) will most commonly cause pets to retain their weight, despite lowered caloric intake and increased activity.”

     

    How Puppo Helps

    At Puppo, we’ve made it easy to give your dog the nutrition they need, with a meat-first food that’s free of wheat, corn, soy protein, and artificial preservatives. Each meal is tailored to your dog’s individual nutritional needs including their age, size, activity level, and food sensitivities - and how much they need each feeding is printed right on their custom bag!

    With recurring shipments delivered straight to your door, it’s even simpler than picking up that bag of kibble, or dealing with expensive frozen meals.

    We also have a dedicated team available to answer your questions and support you along the way, so you have the tools to help your dog thrive!

    Learn more about the weight loss nutrition plans at Puppo here, or take the quiz to receive personalized recommendations for your pup today. 

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