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Obesity in Dogs – How to help your overweight dog lose weight

Canine obesity is one of the biggest health risks facing dogs in the UK. According to a 2018  vets estimate that 46% of dogs in the UK are obese or overweight. 

If your dog is overweight, we have a simple 4 step weight loss plan to help you. We also explore the causes of obesity in dogs, the health risks associated with obesity and the importance of a raw food diet in improving your dogs body composition score effortlessly.

Quick links to obesity in dogs guide

Your 4 step dog weight loss plan

There are a number of ways for an overweight dog to lose weight and the most effective way to help your dog is to combine them:

  1. Feed the appropriate amount of food for your dog’s ideal weight
  2. Improve the quality of food
  3. Develop an exercise regime

When it comes to obesity in dogs, count calories for small changes, but manage hormones for radical transformation. Hormones represent 90% of the marks in the weight loss equation. With this in mind, here is the 4 step dog weight loss plan. Let’s tackle obesity in dogs head on!

obesity in dogs a 4 step dog weight loss plan

 

Step 1

Focus on insulin and feed a complete raw dog food diet.

A complete raw diet is species appropriate for your dog. It is naturally low in carbohydrates and sugars, whilst relatively high in healthy premium protein sources and the correct balance of healthy fats.

This combination will avoid excessively triggering your dog’s insulin response. Your dog’s primary fat-storage hormone.

Avoid food that may spike your dog’s insulin including:

  1. Excess fruit
  2. Carbohydrates (which are converted by your dog into sugars).
  3. Any snacks or treats with added sugar.

In 9 out of 10 cases, eliminating the above from your dog’s diet pays huge dividends and will lead to sustainable weight loss.

In most cases, especially with obese dogs you will see a reduction in both water retention and bloating.

Did you know?
Sweeteners have the same effect on your dogs insulin as sugar itself. T
he brain believes it is sugar and will release insulin to reduce levels in the bloodstream.

If your dog still requires further weight loss, then progress to Step 2

Step 2

Address the calorie load / Portion control

Next , gently reduce the number of calories your dog is eating per day. Start by reducing your dog’s total calorie consumption by 10%.

By doing this slowly, rather than suddenly, you avoid triggering your dog’s survival ‘fat storage’ mode being deployed.

Alternatively, you can fast your dog twice a week and feed one normal size meal a day rather than two. For example, try this on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Fasting has lots of other metabolic benefits & it takes stress off the digestive system, which in itself is very healing.

Step 3

Intermittent fasting 

Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool to not only reduce the total calorie load your dog is consuming, but to also allow its body to take a natural break from digestion and assimilation.

This allows your dog to start a process called mitochondrial scavenging where it cleans old protein from cells and improves their energy efficiency. Think of it as having a spring clean in kitchen cupboards. This is hugely associated with longevity and health. It is also associated with healthy fat burning. 

Start with missing a meal one day per week and monitor your dog’s body composition score as they progress. You may want to add in an additional day so that for 2 days per week your dog eats only one meal. 

Step 4

Gentle exercise

If your dog is obese, then a cautionary approach to exercise is essential. Why? All of that excess weight can have a dangerous effect on their joints and spine, especially if they are running around on uneven surfaces.

When we’re talking obesity in dogs, opt for gentle exercise on relatively flat ground until your dog’s body composition score improves.

Also consider some swimming. Water temperatures are generally quite cold in the UK and this raises your dog’s metabolic rate to keep it warm, burning more calories whilst also reducing inflammation in any swollen joints. It’s a win win. 

Food Quantity

Feed the amount of raw food appropriate to the weight your dog needs to be. Also be mindful of the amount of treats or food rewards your dog gets during the day as this will add up and affect the balance of food quantity.

Food quality

Ensure you are giving your dog a perfect diet, specific to the species needs. Include no added fillers such as rice, oats, wheat, lentils or peas. Basically, a non-processed fresh raw diet is the ticket.

Exercise regime

Exercise your dog appropriately for the size and breed. Athletic dogs thrive on distance and short hit exercises. Mix and match with nose work and other fun activities to inspire your dog and keep him focused on you for fun times. Be mindful that good rest is equally important for any living being. Living as stress-free a life as possible is what also leads to a long, healthy life.

A further note on weight loss in dogs

Weight loss is best when it occurs naturally, slowly and healthily with both dogs and humans. Try implementing the above steps one at a time to determine which is working best for your dog.

Please note, this strategy assumes your pooch already has a healthy regime of regular, moderate activity. It’s advisable to maintain a similar exercise schedule to reduce the moving parts in this equation. see Exercise & Dogs, How Much Do They Need?

Tricks & strategies to survive those begging eyes.

Even if you can get all this together, you still have to survive those begging eyes staring at you pitifully, expressing your dog’s sense of desperation. DON’T GIVE IN! A few treats and nibbles can defeat the best diet plan. If you love giving your dog treats, ensure they are natural treats and take the corresponding amount away from his daily meal allowance.

Helping your dog lose weight doesn’t have to be a struggle.

  • Stick at it – it takes time
  • Be disciplined – work out the amount your dog gets each day and keep to it
  • Measure weight loss weekly – ensuring a gradual weight loss, rather than a rapid decline
  • Make sure your dog is on a balanced natural diet.
  • Have fun and exercise your dog wherever possible to burn those calories, even with older dogs
  • Giving the stomach time to adjust and reduce in size from the bloating a Kibble diet produces. This will not take long
  • You can contact us in the office with any questions
  • Remain positive even if your dog begs for more. If your dog has never begged for food before, remember it is probably due to the fact your giving him awesome raw food ad he just loves it and wants more

How much should your dog weigh?

Our article How much should my dog weigh? goes into more detail about how much your dog should weigh including why using a body composition score is a better measure of whether your dog is healthy. There we also discuss how much is the right amount to feed when talking raw dog food.

The rule of thumb for an adult dog is to feed approximately 2-3% of their body weight daily. For puppies this varies, learn more

What causes obesity in dogs?

In recent discussions with our consulting panel of friendly vets, they estimate the numbers are much greater than this with one vet quoting, “at least 8 out of 10 dogs coming into the surgery are significantly overweight”. Another vet stated that canine obesity is the 2nd largest risk factor in decreased lifespan. 

A number of factors influence a dog’s weight and obesity in dogs.

The underlying biochemistry is simply an intake of more energy than is being expended and that energy then being stored as fat. This when coupled with hormonal triggers, such as raising a dog’s insulin creates even more fat storage. 

The 6 main causes of obesity in dogs

  1. Quality of diet – especially the macronutrient ratios. Protein : Fat : Carbohydrate. The more of the carbohydrates in you dog’s diet, the more your dog will store calories from all 3.
  2. Quantity of diet – the number of actual calories consumed
  3. Exercise – the amount of calories your dog burns on top of its “daily metabolic rate”. This is the number of calories required to breathe function and digest.
  4. Underlying illnesses or conditions – these may increase or decrease your dog’s calories requirements and sensitivity to insulin. 
  5. Neutering
  6. Breed predispositions

Quality of diet

The majority of dogs in the UK are fed on highly processed carbohydrate rich foods, either wet or dried. Many of these dogs additionally receive an abundance of treats; either dog-specific treats or human food from the table or kitchen side. 

Carbohydrates in these food are the principal culprits for weight gain. In fact it’s a perfect storm for dog obesity. Remove the grains such as rice and oats, as well as potatoes, peas, lentils and other legumes for an easy win to improve your dog’s diet immediately. Dog’s can be particularly susceptible to bloat and water retention. This is highly correlated with processed diets. There is an additional inflammatory response to the foods your dog’s immune system perceives as toxic such as gluten in grains or the lectins in peas for example.

Providing your dog with a appropriate, species-specific diet (not simply a low carbohydrate diet) will enable your dog’s system to digest, assimilate and utilise the nutrition within it, without necessarily laying down fat or having to firefight the inflammatory response to toxins.

The role of sugars and insulin in diet

Most people associate too much fat in the diet with the state of being overweight. The underlying premise is that “you are what you eat”. Therefore, eating fat makes you fat. This is an oft repeated fiction and weight gain has other much more significant drivers. 

The real culprit of obesity in dogs is the way food interacts with your dog’s hormones and their immune system. These can drive your dog’s body to store weight and some of the main determinants in this process are sugars. Not necessarily sugar in the strict cane sugar sense of the word, but the food groups that break down into sugar. 

What really controls fat storage is insulin… and insulin responds to sugar. Dogs have 7 different mechanisms to raise blood sugar, but only 1 to lower it, insulin.  Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas in the Islets of Langerhans.. Whilst helping to lower blood sugar levels, insulin also helps the body store it in the muscles, fat cells, and liver to use later as required.

After you eat, your blood sugar (glucose) rises. This rise in glucose triggers the pancreas to release insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin travels through the blood to the body’s cells. It tells the cells to open up and let the glucose in. Once inside, the cells convert glucose into energy or store it to use later. Without insulin, the body can’t use or store glucose for energy. Instead, the glucose stays in your blood.

Understand carbs in dog diet

Importantly: if your dog is eating lots of sugars and lots of fat, then the body recognises that it is ingesting far too many calories or rather too many calories to use immediately and it will store the sugars as fat. Ironically, the body preferentially uses the fat as energy and stores the energy as fat!

If we look at common kibble/biscuit diets we see that they contain over 50% carbohydrates compared to a more ancestral or species appropriate style diet where carbohydrates would be have been around 14% of the diet. You can see the difference! So the key take away is to focus on both quality of the components of the diet , for example human grade protein sources (as per our Complete Raw Food Ranges), and macro nutrient ratios. This is the ratio of Fat: Protein: Carbohydrate. All of our Complete Raw Dog food ranges are naturally low in carbohydrates.   (BTW, some modern foods are 75% carbs!).

We also have countless testimonials of obese dogs losing weight quickly and healthily on our Raw Dog Food. 

Quantity of diet

Dogs, like all living organisms need sustenance to run their metabolism and basic functions. We all require energy and materials to build and repair bodies. Most mammalian systems are designed to store excess nutrition as fat. These fat stores can be drawn on when foods are less abundant. This model is efficient in the wild where conditions vary from season to season. A pet dog, however, never has bad days so they do not need to store food, much like us in the modern world. As you can see from the above explanation, it is super important to be paying attention to carbohydrate proportions in your dog’s diet.

Giving the amount of food for your dog’s ideal weight will ensure they reach that target with ease. To Calculate the amount of food for your individual dog take a look here .

Exercise

Dogs need appropriate exercise for a healthy body and mind. Engaging their brains, body and noses is important for them to flourish. So do take into account your dogs abilities, age and their preferences when finding the right outlet for physical and mental stimulation.

Read more about how much exercise your dog should get

Underlying conditions

If you are feeding the appropriate amount and correct diet but are concerned your dog is unwell in any way, please do go see your vet.

Neutering

Neutering results in the net loss of circulating sex hormones, which slows an animal’s metabolism and predisposes the neutered animal to becoming overweight or obese. (See ).

Changes in sex hormones after neutering directly affect the satiety centre (how satisfied or full a dog feels) in the brain through changes in  and  (the ‘hunger hormone’) concentrations and possibly indirectly affect it by altering cell metabolism and hormonal regulators of food. ().

Gonadectomy in dogs also results in modified feeding patterns. (). In a , compared with before surgery, four female ovariectomized beagles fed ad libitum (when they wanted to eat) for three months after surgery, and ate significantly more food and gained more weight. The study suggested that energy intake should be reduced by 30% after ovariectomy to maintain optimal body weight for a period of six months. These results confirmed those of a previous experiment, that also used four young adult female beagles and showed that energy requirements are 20% lower after ovariectomy.

What this suggests is that if you have neutered your dog, their energy requirements will be meaningfully less and therefore they have a lower nutritional requirement, as well as suggesting that changes in hormones can change the way they respond to and want food.

Breed predisposition

Recent data into various animal species has provided new insight into the genetic basis of obesity. (). A significant breed predisposition to obesity has been identified in research for certain breeds including Cairn terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Basset Hounds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Beagles, Cocker Spaniels, and Labrador Retrievers. (See Armstrong J, Lund EM. Obesity: research update, in Proceedings. Petfood Forum 1997). Conversely, certain breeds, particularly sight hounds, appear to be resistant to the development of obesity. So if your dog is a Labrador then yes, it is even more difficult to manage their predisposition to being overweight.

Obesity in dogs - The effects

Obesity is associated with nearly every common canine health condition. Even indirectly, dog obesity can contribute to nearly every disease and unwanted symptom. We have listed a few below:

  • Decreased life span
  • Decreased mobility
  • Diabetes
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty grooming (our dog grooming tutorials)
  • Increased risk of hyperthermia
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Dental disease (see our TEEF! dental prebiotic for dogs)

See how our food can help your dog reach its optimal weight

The impact of obesity on dogs – a case study

We know from studies that managing obesity and returning your dog back to its optimal weight and body composition has a huge impact on both longevity and quality of life. (See external study: ). The study set out to determine health-related quality of life (HRQOL), both before and after weight loss, in obese client-owned dogs.

50 obese dogs were included that represented a variety of breeds and genders. Prior to weight loss, owners were asked to complete a validated standardised questionnaire to determine HRQOL. Thirty of the dogs successfully completed their weight loss programme and reached their respective targets. Owners then completed a follow-up questionnaire. The completed questionnaire responses were transformed to scores corresponding to each of four factors (vitality, emotional disturbance, anxiety and pain), and scored on a scale of 0–6. Changes in the scores were used to explore the sensitivity of the questionnaire, and scores were correlated with responses to direct questions about quality of life and pain, as well as weight loss.

Dogs that failed to complete their weight loss programme had lower vitality and higher emotional disturbance scores than those successfully losing weight. In the 30 dogs that completed the programme, weight loss led to an increased vitality score, and decreased scores for both emotional disturbance and pain. However, there was no change in anxiety levels.

The change in vitality score was positively associated with percentage weight loss and percentage body fat loss. These results indicate demonstrable improvement in HRQOL for obese dogs that successfully lose weight. 

What we do know is that your dog is happier when it is not obese, more active, vital and calmer. In short, it  will make a real difference to your dog’s life if they are currently obese and you help them to lose weight. 

How common is dog obesity

Obesity in dogs, is a growing and dangerous health trend. For example, over 60% of vets say obesity is the biggest health and welfare concern for UK pets (according to figures released by the British Veterinary Association ). The charity’s PAW Report revealed that 5.7 million UK pets (3.4 million dogs, 2 million cats and 260,000 rabbits) are fed treats every day! (PAW Report ).

They also reported that owners also admitted that their pets regularly dined on table scraps or leftovers – some 4 million (2.4 million dogs, 1.5 million cats and 30,000 rabbits) receive these as their main meals instead of suitable pet food. Obesity statistics are relatively accurate around veterinary practices as it is common practice to weigh and check dogs who attend any consultation. [1]. In that study, 65% of dogs were found to be overweight.

In the USA, obesity is the most common preventable physical condition in dogs. Approximately 25-30% of the general canine population is obese, with 40-45% of dogs aged 5-11 years old weighing in higher than normal. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the U.S. are classified as overweight or obese (see 2016 study –  ). For dogs, 34% are overweight and an additional 20% are clinically obese (more than 30% over ideal weight). In terms of change, the rate has grown from 9% obese in 2009 to 20% in 2015, which means that the rate has more than doubled in 6 years. In 2018, the rate of obesity in dogs grew a further 1% ()

How our food can help obesity in dogs

The role of raw food diet in tackling obesity in dogs

Our main raw dog food guide

A raw diet combines a number of ingredients required by the canine species. If you have read our posts about raw food, you will already know that dogs thrive on the diet that evolution has designed them for.

Raw food is also the appropriate food for a dog from a behavioural perspective (see our article on diet and dog behaviour).

The key insight you will have gained in this article is that managing carbs and sugars is a key starting point. Next is ensuring that your dog is receiving the appropriate quantity of food for their age and activity levels. What we are trying to do is get your dog to draw on reserves of fat and that means that we need to feed a complete, balanced diet, but not too much.

Our food is low in sugars ( a major cause of weight gain), has no additives, preservatives or fillers (which lead to bloat) and is wonderfully delicious for your dog. Simply cut out all those cheap treats and table scraps and start on a controlled diet. There is no need for special diet kibbles because our food is simply all nutrition and provides your dog with all the energy and nutrients necessary. Then all you need to do is to get out there with your dog and enjoy your shared energy and watch the weight fall away.

Rowan, our chief nutritional officer explains how our food can help obesity in dogs

Dog weight loss success stories

pug1
My Energetic Dog

My pug was always very itchy over her back and getting fairly over weight on kibble.. since changing to a raw diet she?s more energetic after losing a few pounds and the itchy skin has gone!.... she loves the different varieties in the packs and gets very excited when she sees the box.... I love the way they come in the handy plastic tubs too, just pop in the fridge to thaw when needed... will definitely be ordering again and lots more in the future

Tracey Harrison
Dog Portraits - Singl14
Nellie Loves it

After struggling with finding a food that Nellie would eat, I came across Bella & Duke after researching raw food, and she absolutely loves it! She is now 9 months old and the perfect weight, glossy coat and happy and healthy! Delivery is always on time and when I have given them a call from time to time they could not have been more helpful. I would definitely recommend Bella & Duke.

Beverley Mole
portrat-dog2

My pup absolutely loves the raw food provided by Bella & Duke! Before when he was on dry kibble it would take him at least half a day to finish his 500g as he would nibble at it for 5 minutes at a time and not finish it till lunch time. Now that we have switched he is genuinely excited and happy the second he hears us open the fridge door and he sees on of the white containers. Not only that but he finishes his 500g portion of food in less than a minute and licks the bowl squeaky clean!

Menna Sohal
tiny-dog-portrait

"Ivy has been on Bella and duke for over a week now, I use to feed her on kibble and tried a variety of different brands but she was never very good at eating! Last winter ivy got very poor at eating and due to her being so tiny and getting cold very easily she had low blood sugar level, had seizure and got very poorly:( Since ivy has been on Bella and duke she hasn't skipped a meal and always very excited when she sees me coming with her food!! I have also noticed a sudden change in her weight already she was before 1.6 kg and is now already 2kg, her coat is looking so lovely and thick! So I would like to say a huge thank you to the B&D team!"

Sydney Green
Dog Portraits - Singl4

"Ivy has been on Bella and duke for over a week now, I use to feed her on kibble and tried a variety of different brands but she was never very good at eating! Last winter ivy got very poor at eating and due to her being so tiny and getting cold very easily she had low blood sugar level, had seizure and got very poorly:( Since ivy has been on Bella and duke she hasn't skipped a meal and always very excited when she sees me coming with her food!! I have also noticed a sudden change in her weight already she was before 1.6 kg and is now already 2kg, her coat is looking so lovely and thick! So I would like to say a huge thank you to the B&D team!"

Kimberley Reed
Dog Portraits - Singl5

I was so impressed with the advice and help I got from Bella and Duke when we switched our dogs from dry food to raw, they love the food and seem to be thriving on it, much less scratching from allergies and much more contented boys altogether. I wish I had switched years ago and would never go back to dry food. Many thanks for all the advice and help with choosing the right products for our dogs.

Sheila Polley
bearded-collie

Very good service from Bella & Duke; easy to change timing, food arrived on time and my quite fussy and non-food orientated Beardie pup has at last found a raw complete food which she loves and finishes at every sitting!

Caroline Rigg
9th Feb 2018
pug1

My pug was always very itchy over her back and getting fairly over weight on kibble.. since changing to a raw diet she?s more energetic after losing a few pounds and the itchy skin has gone!.... she loves the different varieties in the packs and gets very excited when she sees the box.... I love the way they come in the handy plastic tubs too, just pop in the fridge to thaw when needed... will definitely be ordering again and lots more in the future

Tracey Harrison
Footnotes & References:
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Andrew Linfoot

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