Dog on a diet: Exercise your will power and put away those treats

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher / Photo

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

So this will be my last article on pet obesity for a little while (though if we’re being honest I can’t promise that!) I’m going to go over some common obstacles to pet weight loss that I see and some ways around them. The nice thing is that we are taking away any of the battles that we have as humans with free will. Your pet is not going to have a long day or weak moment, and then eat a bag of chocolate. They aren’t going to have a rough commute and binge on fries halfway through. What we cannot take out of the equation is that we humans are at the root of our pets being overweight, and it often means resisting those adorable, sad begging eyes.

My dog is trained to get treats

So you trained your dog to go out to the bathroom and come in for a treat. You train them to get a treat every time they come. They are now used to this routine, and typically will not accept big changes. This is usually very true, and I would not have you break their heart or routine. What I will have you do is switch out the treats you use now for something that is healthier. Pick vegetables that they like instead of Milk Bones. Take a quarter of their kibbles out of each meal and give one of those as a treat each time.

If your dog refuses the kibble or green bean because they want the “good” stuff, it is time to admit that you are the one who is trained. If they don’t take it, they don’t need anything. Typically, it is more about routine and reward than the actual “value” of the treat, especially if you aren’t teaching new or hard behaviors.

My cat will wake me up at 3 a.m. for food

This is the top reason that people have for leaving big bowls of food out instead of meal-feeding their overweight cats. I get it! I love my sleep and am lucky enough to have a cat who sleeps next to me without moving a muscle literally as long as I’m in bed. But I’ve had other cats before and know this issue.

The switch to meal-feeding should be gradual and include a before-bed meal. Sometimes this needs to come with locking them out of your room at night, but typically, if you can ignore your cat for a few nights, they will re-learn the new routine. I love automatic feeders (or microchip read feeders for multiple cats) for this purpose. It is great for feeding four meals a day at appropriate intervals, even while you work or sleep. Your cat will take you out of the equation if their food doesn’t come from you each time. And we all know that bargaining with machines doesn’t get you too far.

My dogs are so picky, they will only eat scraps

You may find it hard to believe, but the majority of these super-picky dogs are very overweight. They have learned that if they hold out for the fatty steak pieces it works. Just like I would love to eat fruit snacks for all my meals, of course dogs want your meat scraps. And just as I wouldn’t look or feel great on a diet of all sugar, these dogs don’t often look or feel great either. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your dog is playing you.

For the truly picky dogs that have learned not to eat a balanced diet, you can start home-cooked diets. These include lean cooked meats (chicken breast, not steak gristle with butter), vegetables and supplements to make sure their vitamin/mineral balance is correct. Your veterinarian can help direct you to a good nutritionist or website to ensure that you are balancing their needs.

In fact, I love adding things into commercial diets. My dogs will get cooked meat occasionally, and get veggies everyday. But the majority of their meal comes from a well-balanced dog food. You can feed kibbles or canned food, raw or freeze-dried food, or make your own. But please do not believe that just because your dog prefers ice cream or buttered bread that they can eat a diet of table scraps and be healthy.

I can NOT exercise enough in the winter to keep my dog lean

This is so common that I had to bring it up. Achieving your exercise goals when it is -20 or the world is a sheet of ice sometimes requires indoor machines. I exercise really for my dogs, but not everyone has such highly driven dogs. If you don’t walk outside when it is icy or dark and you know your dog will have a drop in exercise, cut their food. Dog weight loss or maintenance is a simple equation of calories in/calories out. If your dog is expending less, they need less. For those dogs that know when you give them 3/4 cup and not a full cup (many, many dogs), go ahead and substitute vegetables for what you take away. It will help them feel more full, cut calories and add in extra vitamins.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL:

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