Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
I know I said last week was the last article on weight for a while, but this week I’m answering some questions that have come in for the last couple articles. While these are weight/food related, I can’t leave questions hanging, so I’m going to do ONE more.
Q- I switched my dog to diet food but she seems to be gaining weight on it. What should I do?
A- Some of these are tricky because it is all about comparisons. For example, many snack foods brand themselves as being lower fat or lower calorie than other snack foods. That doesn’t mean they are low in fat or calories, just lowER. Often, diet dog foods will have less calories than counterparts, but that doesn’t mean they are lower calorie than your previous food. Additionally, we tend to give more of this food.
Check the bag for an actual calorie count per cup, then figure out how many calories you are feeding a day. Some foods have 150kcal per cup, while others have 450. A 450 kcal food in the diet version may still have more calories than another. I typically compare my patients’ needs to what they are getting, then check the food and go from there. In general, cutting regular food amounts and adding vegetables can make a big difference. Cutting treats out often helps too. After that, I prefer to switch pets to a prescription weight-loss food for a certain time. This ensures that they are getting enough vitamins and minerals even as we cut the calories.
It is important that you check in with your veterinarian as well. Dogs can develop underactive thyroids, which cause weight gain even in the face of more exercise and less food. If you feel like you made an appropriate calorie cut per day and your dog is still gaining weight, the next step should be to make sure there are no underlying issues. The final tip is to actually weigh your dog. Sometimes weight loss/gain can be hard to appreciate when you are with your dog every day, so getting actual numbers can help. Your vet will be happy to weigh your pet at any time, just give them a heads-up to let them know you’re coming in.
Q- I put my dog on a diet at the beginning of December, but he still seems overweight, and I’m not sure how much weight he should be losing. How do I know?
A- Your vet can help you determine a good weight-loss point. We base this on their current body condition score and current weight. If we have never seen your dog at a perfect weight, the end point may need some adjusting as we get closer. I will often assign a target weight, then reassess once we reach that.
We don’t want pets to lose more than 2 percent of their body weight a week. This can seem like slow going at first, but we don’t want to shock their systems with extreme weight loss. In general, this is less than a pound per week (though it depends on their starting weight, of course, and is much lower for cats.) This might seem like it is hard to notice, but after a couple of months you will start to see a change.
Q- I know that I let my dog’s weight get much too high, and now I am afraid that exercising will be too hard for her. How do I get her started without giving her a heart attack?
A- There is some good news, which is that dogs don’t often get heart attacks. However, extra weight does put strain on their hearts (and especially joints) so we still want to take things slowly. A lot of this depends on your dog and her comfort level. Slow walking is easy for most dogs to do if they don’t have much joint pain. Start off with three 10-minute walks a day on a flat surface and gradually increase the time. Once your dog is doing this comfortably, work up to areas with more hilly terrain.
Swimming is an amazing low-impact exercise that helps get dogs to lose weight without the gravity strain, but I wouldn’t recommend waiting for summer to start. Go ahead and start easy walks now, then add in swimming once the warmer weather arrives. If you both are up to it after a couple months of walking, feel free to start adding periods of jogging into your routine as well.