Letting your dog become overweight can cause considerable health problems such as a shorter lifespan, heart disease and a greater incidence of arthritis, circulatory problems, pancreatic disorders and liver disease. If you cannot feel your dogs ribs when you run your hand along their side, your dog is overweight. Another way of judging is whether your dog has a waist, if there isn't a waist, your dog is overweight.
A veterinary visit is crucial once you have decided your dog is overweight as they can tell you if there are any other underlying causes of the weight gain. Your vet can also make you a tailored plan to suit both you and your dog with realistic weight loss goals. Is it important that you don't try to lose too much weight too quickly as it would increase the likelihood of the weight going straight back on after the programme. A reasonable target would be to lose between 1 and 2% of the dogs body weight a week as long as you are strict - this is for your dog's health after all.
Generally, a dog who doesn't achieve its weight loss target is not a dog at fault, it is the owner who can't resist a dog's begging. You must be strict with your weight loss programme. Table scraps must be eliminated and treats should be minimised to no more than 10% of your dog's daily intake. There are several other ways to reward your companion such as new toys, grooming or regular exercise as they increase your dogs mental stimulation and ultimately stops them thinking about food so much!
You must be careful when bringing more exercise into your dog's weight reduction plan as it can cause too much strain on their muscles, joints, heart and respiratory system if you start too heavily. Begin by leash walking for between 20 and 60 minutes five times a week but be aware of heavy panting as this is a sign of fatigue and you must stop to rest. Swimming doesn't cause as much strain on the joints and is also fantastic exercise for overweight and obese dogs. When you and your dog are comfortable with this amount of exercise you can increase it slowly but again, be careful to monitor your dog's condition.
Cutting calories is usually the easiest weight reduction method and can be done in a few different ways. You could simply cut down the quantity of food you are feeding your dog by 20 to 40% and evaluate every 3 to 4 weeks to decide if further reductions are necessary. Another option is to switch to special weight reduction foods such as Hills Prescription Diet R/D, Purina Veterinary Diet OM and Royal Canin Obesity Management which are specifically designed for weight reduction in dogs. Using specially designed foods generally allows you to feed your dog the usual amount of food (unless you are overfeeding them with large portions) as they have a reduced fat and calorie content. They also contain the correct supplements for the important nutrients, fatty acids (for a healthy skin and coat), vitamins and minerals that your dog will need to stay healthy, alert and active while doing more exercise.
General feeding rules while on a weight reduction diet are to feed your dog separately from any other pets so that there is no temptation for them to steal extra food, feed them more often (E.G. between 2 and 4 smaller meals a day as opposed to 1 or 2 bigger portions) and feed them before you make a meal for yourself as it will decrease begging and therefore won't tempt you to give them extra food either.
If you can't resist giving your dog treats and have already given them new toys to stimulate them, change to low fat nibbles that will fit in with the reduction programme:
You must make sure these treats aren't more than 10% of your dogs daily intake!
Monitoring your dog's progress is essential but also easy. Keep a log of your dog's food intake but ensuring you are honest, update a graph of their weight every week, take photos and visit your vet every 2 to 4 weeks. Doing these things will help determine how your dog is progressing and which activities, food portions or formula help the most.
Finally, keeping the weight off your dog is just as important. Make sure your dog still gets the exercise to maintain a healthy weight; continue to weigh your dog as you increase their food content to ensure they do not gain back the weight they lost; don't give them free choice feeding by always leaving food in their bowl; and when your targets are reached you should congratulate your dog but also yourself.
(There are specifically formulated foods to help you keep your dog's weight down, for example Royal Canin Weight Control and Hill Prescription W/D food.)