It’s Pet Obesity Awareness Day, and while it’s important to think about your pet’s weight today, it’s actually something we need to focus on always.

Dog obesity is a growing epidemic. Statistics show us that the obese or overweight dogs in the United States have reached troublesome numbers – more than 50% of dogs could be considered in one of those categories.

So, is putting your dog on a diet today the way to help get that excess weight off? Is there anything else we can be doing to help them get to a healthy weight.

And is too much food what’s actually causing your pup’s weight gain?

Dog Obesity

As we mentioned, dog obesity has reached a startling number.

And some of this is directly related to food – but not all of it, and not always in the way you might think.

Other causes of dog obesity can include:

  • lack of exercise
  • stress 
  • an underlying medical condition
  • hormonal changes due to spay and neuter

How to Combat Dog Obesity

There are several things to consider when it comes to getting your pet to a healthy weight. 

1. Food

First, take a look at the food you’re feeding. Not necessarily how much (although it’s a good idea to look at that too), but specifically what you’re feeding.

Many people opt for “diet” foods when their animal starts carrying a little extra holiday weight, but these often have little to no effect whatsoever. It sucks, but it’s true.

A well balanced fresh food diet is best. That way, you’re not getting the extra fillers and starches, and you’re controlling where the calories come from. Remember, those starches break down into glucose (sugar), which leads to weight gain. Try to cut out those carbs from your dog’s diet – she doesn’t need them!

Often, especially with raw food, a good guide of how much your dog needs is just by assessing their appearance. Calorie guidelines are great, but they often don’t take into account your dog’s individual metabolism or activity – so they could be way off. If your dog is looking a little heavier set, reduce the food (gradually, little by little). If she looks too skinny, increase the amount (again, little by little). Once your dog reaches a healthy weight, stick to those amounts.

And watch those snacks. If you’re watching calories and giving your dog well balanced meals, but then feeding treats all day long, you’re throwing the “diet” out the window! Instead, opt for things like fruits and veggies as low calorie (and super nutritious) snacks. Blueberries are great. So too is broccoli. 

2. Exercise

This one is sort of a no brainer. To burn calories and keep the body (muscles, joints, etc.) fit, your dog needs to move. Every day. For some dogs, that might mean a leisurely walk around the block. For others, a hearty hike in the woods in more their fitness style. Whatever the case may be, if your dog is overweight, getting her moving is a good way to help keep fit and trim.

But there are also some caveats. 

Running your dog 10 miles a day will for sure take the weight off – but it can also lead to stress – which we’ll cover more in a minute. And your dog needs mental as well as physical exercise, and running without the ability to take in the environment, sniff, meet other people or dogs, and just have fun on a walk could mean they’re missing out on that mental stimulation! 

Furthermore, make sure your dog can actually handle the fitness level you’re expecting of them. Many dogs won’t outwardly indicate when they’re in pain, and so make sure that you gradually build up to more strenuous workouts, and that your pup can actually handle it. 

Make sure you’re switching things up, not making your dog overdo it with the exercise, and giving her something that gives her brain a workout alongside her body. 

3. Stress

This may seem like an odd one, but stress plays a big role in weight gain – just as it does with humans. When a dog is stressed, the release of cortisol increases. This is the  hormone our bodies (and our dogs’ bodies) release when we’re in a stressful situation.

Cortisol helps the body respond to a stressful event, but when stress becomes a chronic problem, cortisol also causes problems, such as  weight gain and a weakened immune system.

Another issue is that often pet owners reduce calories so much so that the stress of being hungry all the time can lead to increased cortisol, so make sure if you’re reducing food intake you’re doing it gradually and meeting the needs of your dog’s metabolism!

Stress can come from all types of things – but exercise and time with you, playing, doing brain games, etc., can all help reduce stress levels. And don’t forget, if we’re stressed, our dogs can feel it, so work on keeping your own stress in check as well. 

Other Causes of Dog Obesity

As we mentioned, there are many causes for weight gain in our dogs. 

An underlying medical condition – chronic conditions like Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism are two of the most common, both of which can cause weight gain. 

Watch for symptoms of these, which can include:

  • excessive hunger and thirst or decreased appetite
  • heavy panting
  • a pot-bellied appearance
  • hair loss
  • lethargy
  • weakness

If you notice any of these alongside the weight gain (or even without weight gain), it is best to speak with your holistic veterinarian. 

Hormonal changes – when a dog is spayed or neutered, that triggers a change in the body as a result of the loss of hormones. The rest of the body needs to make up for the loss of the hormones, which can inadvertently lead to weight loss. If you’ve recently spayed or neutered your dog, watch them for signs of weight gain and adjust food accordingly. 

The Perfect Weight

Is there a perfect weight for your dog? You’ve probably seen the charts on your vet’s wall showing “ideal weights” – but these are just guidelines. Use your best judgement. If your dog is stocky, but fit, and has no trouble with regular exercise, that’s ok. It’s when the weight hinders her ability to move fluidly that you should be concerned – or when it begins putting too much pressure on her joints.  

On the flip side, just because you can see a dog’s ribs doesn’t mean she’s healthy. This could be an indicator that your pup is a little too thin – this is especially true if you exercise a ton! Remember, calorie intake needs to match output. So, if you’re running 10 miles every day, your dog’s going to need to eat enough to match what she burns. 

Healthy and happy goes a long way to ensuring your dog lives the longest life possible. And that’s just good for everyone!