WEIGHT LOSS SUPPORT & ADVICE
Being overweight presents a problem to your dog even BEFORE arthritis sets in and has even been shown to be a part of the reason why arthritis develops in the first place. However, a huge percentage of owners have no idea how to recognise that their dog is overweight.
Understanding and taking control of your dog’s weight is a vital component of the management plan. You could even argue that it is the cheapest option available to you! CAM cannot emphasise enough how important it is to maintain a healthy body weight for your dog.
FAT is not just extra load and force through your dog’s painful joints, it is also releasing chemicals and hormones that exacerbate the inflammation of arthritis, as well as silently affecting vital organs such as the liver, kidneys and the brain.
Obesity is an emotive topic, but it should never be ignored or under-estimated.
For more information about obesity and support regarding hitting your dog’s ideal body weight sign up to our “lose the pounds” email series below. Take action today!
CAM’S TOP TIPS FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Learn to Body Condition Score (BCS) your dog, or get support from your local practice to do so.
This is a scoring system used by vets to help gauge the dog’s body fat percentage, similar to BMI in humans.
Here at CAM we like to use a score out of 9 rather than 5, but there are advice charts for both. When using the 9 point scale, an arthritic dog would ideally be around 5/9.
For every number above 5/9, this means your dog is carrying 10% excess body weight. So, 7/9 would mean your dog is 20% over their ideal body weight, and 8/9 means they are 30% over their ideal body weight.
CAM offers a free visual BCS assessment to help you start your weight loss journey. Simply email your photographs to email@example.com.
We need two photographic views, one from DIRECTLY above your dog, showing us the whole length of their body, and one from DIRECTLY side on, taken at the same height as your dog.
This service only offers the visual assessment of body condition scoring which is still useful to owners that can’t access the full service through their vets.
Body condition scoring also relies on palpating over their rib cage so as to assess the fat layer under the skin. There should be very little tissue between the skin surface and the underlying rib. If you feel a ‘spongy’ substance this will likely be fat.
Combining the visual assessment with the hands-on assessment will increase the accuracy of the score.
CAM will recommend that you get a follow up assessment with your vet or vet nurse if we feel that your dog looks overweight from their photographs. They can provide you with the hands-on assessment.
If you feel confident to do it yourself, go for it.
You must be honest with yourself! Over 55% of owners do not realise that their dog is overweight.
REMEMBER WEIGHT CONTROL IS AN IMPORTANT TOOL IN YOUR PAIN MANAGEMENT TOOL BOX
- Excess body weight will place excess forces and unnecessary stress through a dog’s compromised joints.
- ‘Fat is fuel to the fire of arthritis’. Fat is not an inert tissue, it is chemically active, releasing inflammatory substances which worsen the pain of arthritis.
- An overweight arthritic dog will deteriorate faster.
- A recent study showed that even a moderate weight loss in a dog will have significant impact on how lame they are, with a loss of 6.1% = 8.85% proving to make a difference. For a 30kg dog, this is just 1.83kg-2.65kg! Not a lot!
As said there is no optimum diet for weight loss that will suit all dogs and their humans. However, you may find that you need to switch your dog’s current diet to one geared towards weight loss.
Your vet practice will be able to recommend one suitable for your dog. Veterinary diets have a lot of research behind them, and usually produce good results when used correctly. Many provide a feeling of “fullness” in your dog and satiate them for longer, ideal for those who always seem hungry!
Vet practices do sell veterinary brands, however they also give advice on commercially available diets and some will be able to advise on home made and raw diets, or certainly redirect you to a qualified adviser.
With an arthritic dog, there are also diets that not only help with weight loss, but also in combination contain supplements that may promote joint health, such as omega 3 fatty acids, and protein to help with muscle health.
If your dog is only a little overweight, you may be able to get some weight off with their normal food, but cutting the amount. We advise if you are reducing the amount of their diet to less than 90% of what their target weight suggests then discussion about another diet may be wise.
Some brands have a “light” alternative that may be worth considering to avoid changing the diet completely. However, many of these diets don’t result in optimal weight loss.
It is impossible to give you the above advice as every dog, and their chosen diet is different. However, we can give you some good advice.
Acknowledge what and how much your dog is consuming each day.
A good place to start a weight loss plan is knowing what and how much your dog consumes each and every day. This will allow you to acknowledge and then cut out the ‘unnecessary’ additions.
There is no ultimate weight loss diet, however there are diets that are carefully composed to encourage weight loss whilst remaining balanced.
Research and select a diet that offers reduced calories, and accurate feeding charts within your price range. If you would like further support, chat with your veterinary practice. They do stock their own preferred diets but can advise you on other commercial products.
Weigh your dog’s daily allowance.
Weighing the food out has been found to be a lot more accurate. You will be surprised at the large variations in quantity fed when using visual guess work or a mug. Even the measured cups designed specifically for the food you are using have been found to be inaccurate.
Guidelines on the side of food packets are just that, guides.
Every dog will have a different metabolism as well as undertake varying amounts of exercise. The food will offer you a basic guide, but it is often inaccurate. If you find that you need to feed a lot less than the food manufacturer suggests, the diet may then be considered unbalanced for your dog which can have complications over the long term.
Be prepared to keep adjusting their daily ration to suit their body condition score and target weight.
Developing a keen eye for body condition scoring will help you to adjust your dog’s feeding regime over time. In most cases numerous adjustments to the amount fed is required to hit their target weight.
Your dog’s target weight, and the amount that they need to lose can be worked out using their BCS.
If your dog is 30kg, and has a BCS of 7/9, this means they are 20% over weight. That is they are 120% of themselves! They will need to lose 20% of their 30kg body weight.
30kg /100 x 20 = 6kg Therefore target weight of 24kg
It’s quite a simple calculation
Original weight in Kg/100 x % overweight = Kg to lose
Remember, this is just a guide to the target weight.
You must continue to check your dog’s BCS throughout your weight loss plan as you may hit the appropriate body condition score of 4.5/9 before you hit your target weight. or vice versa. You hit the target weight calculated but on palpation you can feel there is more weight to lose.
Do not drastically cut your dog’s intake and aim for quick and dramatic weight loss, as this can be detrimental to the dog’s overall health.
Ideally aim for 1% weight loss per week.
For example our 30kg overweight dog should aim to lose 300g per week. which is totally achievable!
Weight loss plans are often daunting, so set realistic targets and check in on them.
The whole household/ family needs to be involved, as if one member is slipping the odd bit of toast or dinner scraps you will not see the weight shift and will quickly become despondent. Have a “team” meeting and make it everyone’s goal. Once you start hitting the targets the momentum and enthusiasm will flow.
If you use your dog’s usual food and they are being fed what is advised for their target weight and they are healthy, weigh out how much your dog has each day, and try cutting it by 5% to begin with.
Original grams per day/100 X 5 = 5%
Original grams per day – 5% = New grams per day
In honesty weight loss is very difficult and there is a huge failure rate. It has been noted that only 50% of owners continue a weight loss plan till the target weight has been achieved. Therefore, with your dog’s health in mind, if your pet has a BCS of over 6/9 it may be more useful to use a weight loss/weight management diet. These diets are designed specifically for weight management and contain a balance of nutrients that help them lose fat whilst ensuring they do not lose any muscle mass.
As said, previously reducing portion size alone may lead to nutrient deficiencies and muscle loss. Along with being balanced for weight loss, many of these special diets contain increased fibre/protein and that will reduce the feeling of hunger by affecting gastric volume.
Monitor your dog’s weight and BCS weekly. If they are losing weight, stick to this amount until they start to plateau. If they still require further weight loss at this point, cut it again by 5% and so on, until the dog reaches a healthy weight with a BCS of 4 to 5/9.
You may need to slightly increase their portion once the target weight has been reached to prevent further weight loss. However, continue to monitor to ensure they don't regain the lost weight.
It can take a lot of time as well as trial and error finding the amount of daily food needed in order to maintain the desired weight.
Take note, older dogs or those with health complaints may lose required lean body mass (muscle) when on a weight loss plan. Seeking advice to prevent that is wise.
Most dogs receive treats and titbits. We love them, and feeding them is how we show that. However, the dogs who are overweight are often given treats on top of their usual food ration.
Commercial treats are often high in fat to make them more palatable. As humans, we know that to be true!
Be honest, and think about how often your dog is treated, or given scraps from the plate. It is possible for a dog to lose weight and still have some treats, but it makes it more difficult.
If you must treat your dog, be conscious of the calorie content of each treat and remove this amount from your dog's daily food. However, consider this carefully, you will be removing nutritionally balanced food and replacing it for potentially low nutritional value snacks.
An ideal way to treat your dog is to weigh out their daily allowance, and then use this food for treats. Dog’s are usually happy just to get food, no matter what it actually is!
- Consider a staged approach and begin with reducing the number of treats that you give. If you ad lib treat, then reduce to no more than 3 times per day. Then look at reducing this further.
- Change the calorie count of the treats and swap in vegetables or low calorie treats from the high fat well-marketed versions.
- Take a handful of kibble from their weighed out meal portion and use these as treats instead. They will never know!
- Get rid of the temptation to give treats and simply don’t keep them in the house.
- Be strong and show your love by giving them time and attention. Replace the treats with a game or an activity.
- Some like to use vegetables as a healthy treat for their dog, such as carrots. This is a much better alternative, but still a small amount of their daily food allowance should be removed to be replaced with the carrot.
It is important to keep your dog, especially if it is arthritic, moving. ‘Motion is lotion’ and often an overlooked part of a management plan for musculoskeletal pain.
The importance of exercise with regards weight loss is often overplayed, when in fact it will only contribute to around 20% of potential weight loss. This does not mean it is not important to ‘get them moving to keep them grooving’, but consideration must be given regarding their physical fitness to perform and not risk injury. Short, frequent walks are often more beneficial to arthritic dogs. Dog dependent these walks may increase in length and difficulty over time as their physical capabilities improve. For the less able or progressed cases, activity walks are often appreciated as they are less taxing and offer more time for sniffing,
So, when trying to get your dog to lose weight, considerably more emphasis should be put into modifying their calorie intake through looking at their food consumption rather than their exercise.
CAM wants to stress again the importance of not trying to exercise the weight off from an arthritic dog. We have witnessed inappropriate advice being shared online that will worsen a dog’s condition over improving it! Ensure their exercise is kept within their capabilities and without detriment to their overall wellbeing. When changing or increasing exercise, this must be undertaken carefully in overweight dogs and especially arthritic dogs. Don’t be shy to ask for assistance from a veterinary professional when looking into a staged increase in exercise.
Integration of an exercise plan alongside food intake modification will result in improved weight loss compared to food intake modification alone and contribute to better lean body mass.
Utilising your dog’s love for food can be very useful for those with arthritis, and many methods of feeding can be employed to benefit them in more ways than one! Some owners will lose the idea of bowl feeding completely, and instead will feed their dog in multiple engaging and active ways.
Different feeding methods will encourage gentle exercise and movement. Frequent short bursts of movement related to feeding, such as using a KONG will help get them up and moving throughout the day. This can be a game changer for a sedentary dog.
Having to “work” and use their senses to find food is mentally stimulating which may have an impact on the pain experience. This is ideal for a dog who is not able to walk the distances or do the activities they used to do.
Utilising multiple feeding methods, each requiring less food than they would have received in the bowl, means your dog is likely to feel they are getting a better deal on their food allowance. This may placate their feelings of hunger, and also allows you to cut down their intake if required for weight loss. Suggested ways of providing food are:
- Scatter feeding in the home or garden
- Interactive feeds such as the Classic KONG
- Puzzle feeders
- Snuffle mats
- Slow feeders
- Hiding food in cardboard boxes
Avoid triggers such as having them at the dinner table while you are eating. Don’t allow them in the kitchen when you are cleaning up after dinner or loading the dishwasher, (So many dogs dive in to lick the plates clean!)
Keep a food diary. That all the family and anyone involved in feeding the dog must be involved in. You will all be shocked about how much extra your dog is getting on top of their daily allowance!
Ask for a consultation with someone at your local vet practice. They have a wealth of experience in helping owners manage their dog’s weight and advising on which weight management diet is best for your pet whilst meeting their specific needs.
MORE HELP FROM CAM
We hope you have got some great take home messages from this page, and can now share with other friends and family whose dog’s weight you may be concerned about.
- Don’t forget CAM’s FREE body condition score service
You can access this by joining Holly’s Army on Facebook or email us
- Weigh Loss Advice direct to your inbox
If you would like to receive 6 days of helpful weight loss advice via email, click on the button below to sign up.
Good luck. You can do this, and we are here to help you!
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