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When it comes to weight gain, dogs aren’t too dissimilar from their human masters. Just like us, it’s easy for dogs to put on a few extra pounds if they consume too many calories and aren’t getting enough exercise, particularly as they get older. The thing is, you might be overfeeding your dog without even realising it. In fact, a PDSA animal welfare report published last year found that an estimated 1 in 3 dogs in the UK was obese or overweight.*

So where are we going wrong?

When feeding our dogs human food, our minds jump quickly to whether or not the food is harmful or appropriate. Most owners, for example, know not to feed their dogs chocolate or chicken bones for fear of making them unwell or causing them to choke. But how much thought do we give to the amount we feed our canine companions? Many of us don’t think twice about throwing our dog the odd leftover from the dinner table. For some families, it’s a normal habit and the dog comes to expect a few morsels once the dinner plates are cleared, but it could be the very basis of the problem.

How easy is it to overfeed a small dog?

Did you know that the average growing small dog (weighing less than 10kg) only requires 392 calories per day? For us humans, having an extra roast potato with your Sunday lunch will only account for 5% of our daily calorie intake. We don’t really think about it. For a small dog, however, that same roast potato will account for 35% of its daily calorie allowance. A small dog’s recommended daily calorie intake can be easily met (and exceeded) with small helpings of dog food throughout the day. Dog food will also ensure its nutritional needs are catered for, whereas the odd potato or scrap of meat won’t, and will make for an unbalanced meal.

It’s extremely easy to overfeed a small dog without even realising it, so owners should be extra vigilant when it comes to their dog’s diet.

What about medium sized dogs?

A medium sized dog (around 17kg) needs around 1151 calories per day, depending on age. That’s roughly half the intake of the average sized human. A traditional supermarket pork sausage contains 146 calories or 13% of a medium dog’s daily requirement. That might not seem like much, but if that dog has a sausage (or equivalent) from the dinner table leftovers each evening it soon adds up on top of its regular dog food.

It’s easier than you might think to overfeed a medium sized dog, particularly if feeding it leftovers is a family habit.

…and large dogs?

It’s commonplace to think that overfeeding isn’t an issue for exceedingly large dogs (those that weigh 32kg or more), but a growing dog this size still only needs 1688 calories per day. That’s nearly 900 calories less than the average man, and almost 400 calories less than the average woman. That extra potato or sausage mentioned above would still take a dog this size 8-9% over its daily limit (assuming it was getting its full allowance in dog food). If we humans ate this way we’d quickly put on a few pounds, and it’s no different for our pets.

Don’t think that because your dog is large, overfeeding isn’t an issue. If anything, larger dogs are more susceptible to weight gain because they tend to be slightly less energetic than their smaller counterparts.

Age matters too

Of course, different sized dogs need a varying amount of calories, but age plays an important role as well. A young, excitable pup who never sits still and gets plenty of exercise through play and walks will need more than an older, less energetic dog. If you want more information on the best way to feed an older dog who is struggling with weight problems, it’s a good idea to pay your vet a visit and see what advice they have to offer.

Should you stop giving your dog human food?

The advice outlined here isn’t necessarily about what to feed your dog, but how much you feed it. Humans and dogs have a relationship that has developed over hundreds of years of co-evolution, and sharing food with our canine chums has been an important and enjoyable part of that relationship. However, human food invariably does more harm than good and it’s important to understand a dog’s nutritional needs too. Most respected brands of dog food contain all the goodness a dog needs to be strong and healthy, and if you deprive your dog of these nutrients in favour of increasing leftovers and human snacks, they’re just as likely to develop health problems.

How can you help your dog lose weight?

If you have an overweight dog there are a few things you can do to help them shave off those extra pounds. If the situation is serious, and the dog’s breathing or mobility is affected, visit your vet for more specialised advice. But for the most part, these tips are a great way to get your friend back in shape:

  • Increase the amount of energy they expend. For a small dog, this might be as simple as playing fetch in the garden for a while but larger dogs may require an extra, or longer, walk.

  • Reduce their calorie intake. This is what we’re focusing on in this article and is highlighted in the adjoining infographic as it really is extremely easy to overfeed your dog, regardless of size and breed. In fact, if your dog is overweight this is highly likely to be the root cause. Don’t cut down on dog food (it has all the nutrients the dog needs), but give it fixed amounts and cut out human snacks and leftovers. Make sure your whole family understand not to feed the dog scraps, no matter how cute they seem or how much they beg. Over time, the dog will adjust to its new diet and learn not to pester you, and things will get easier. Stay strong – it’s a team effort!

  • If you have several dogs and only one of them is overweight, try and get into the routine of feeding them separately so they can’t steal any leftovers. Quite often, dogs that are overweight have a habit of muscling in on another dog’s food or finishing up what’s left.

  • Give your dog healthy treats. The need people have for giving their dog a treat is almost primal, so use recipes involving dog food to bake homemade biscuits and cakes. Ensure you take these calories out of their recommend daily allowance, but by doing this, you fulfil the need to give the dog a treat, whilst keeping an eye on its health.

Should you put your dog on a diet?

Never starve your dog in an attempt to get them to lose weight quickly. A dog needs a full, balanced and nutritious diet to stay fit and healthy, and suddenly restricting a large amount of calories can have extremely bad consequences for their metabolism. There are, however, ‘light’ foods that are made specifically for overweight dogs which contain less fat and calories but have high nutritional value. When considering putting your dog on a diet, it’s always recommended that you talk to your vet first. They can offer advice and recommend food, and may also schedule regular checkups to see how your dog is doing. Like humans, they need to lose weight healthily and gradually over time.

Above all, be patient.

Depending on how overweight your dog is, it could take months to get to a healthy weight and that’s fine. It’s about lifestyle and habit, just like our diets. Remember your vet is there to help, and if you’re genuinely concerned about your dog’s weight, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your dog gets regular daily walks, is fed the correct amount of dog food, and you cut out human food in favour of the occasional dog treat, you’ll have a healthy and happy dog.

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