Make your pooch healthier

Leading a healthier lifestyle doesn’t just apply to people, you know. What about your dog?

Almost half the dogs and one-third of cats in Australia are overweight or obese – probably because of their overindulgent owners. A recent poll carried out by pet food brand Natural Instinct shows dog owners regularly feed their four-legged friends food scraps and leftovers outside their usual mealtimes. The same poll found just over half of dog owners (54 per cent) also think their pooch’s fitness needs to be improved.

I get it though, it’s hard to resist those puppy dog eyes and easy to think ‘one treat won’t hurt’. But obesity in pets is a serious concern and can predispose your pet to a number of potentially serious health concerns and even shorten their lifespan.

Mark Bossley, a veterinary surgeon, says: “We see overweight pets every day at our hospitals and clinics. Making sure your pet has the right diet and exercise regime is vital to keeping them healthy and happy. Just like humans, obesity in pets causes serious health problems and can even be fatal.”

A medical report published in Vet Record outlines risk factors associated with pet obesity, medical concerns that it can present, and how to help your pet lose the weight.

A dog is classified as obese when it reaches between 15 and 20 per cent over its ideal weight, or it’s impossible to feel its ribs through its skin, fur and body tissue. Their breed, genetic makeup, age, sex, lifestyle, diet and whether they have been neutered or not will all contribute to the likelihood of your dog becoming obese.

For example, female dogs are more predisposed to weight gain, while obesity is twice as likely in neutered rather than unneutered dogs.

Factors that increase the probability that your pet is overweight:

  • Overweight owners are more likely to have overweight pets
  • Neutered: a weight increase is often seen after a pet is neutered due to a change in hormone levels
  • Lack of exercise: consuming more calories than they are burning will cause weight gain
  • Inappropriate diet: being fed food scraps or extra treats throughout the day
  • Single pet households: if your pet is an only pet it doesn’t have to share food.


Obesity can affect lifestyle and exacerbate medical concerns such as:

  • osteoarthritis: more weight being carried around equals more stress on joints
  • heart and liver disease
  • increased risk during surgery and general anaesthesia
  • increased risk of back problems and injury.


What to do if you suspect your pet may be overweight
The first step to take is to consult your local vet. They will perform a thorough exam of your pet and assess whether they are overweight, obese, or a healthy weight.

If your pet needs to lose some pounds, they will put together a weight loss plan involving diet choices and exercise options.

The solutions will vary depending on breed, age, and health of your pet. The good news is 95 per cent of obesity cases can be managed through control of calorie intake and monitoring exercise.

It probably comes as no surprise but helping a pet lose some kilograms is a very similar process to trying to lose some weight yourself. Keeping a weight-loss journal for your pet can help you and your pooch stay on track and ensure you are meeting the targets set by the vet.

Most vet clinics are happy to provide free weigh-ins for your pet. Alternatively, you can weigh yourself on bathroom scales at home, then pick up your pet and subtract your weight from the total (this is also a good way to monitor your own weight).

Weight loss isn’t a quick and easy process, it takes time and patience, but recognising that your pet is overweight and deciding to make some changes is a great first step.

Here, doggy experts suggest ways to get your dog slimmer, fitter and healthier.

Buy the right food
Using special calorie-controlled food from the vet and measuring the correct amount each time, either with food scales or a correct-sized cup, is a good way to help a dog to lose weight.

Try a whole-food diet
Kate Bendix, author of The Dog Diet, says a diet made from whole foods – meat, fish, vegetables and fruit – is perfect for dogs.

Don’t give them human food
Human processed food – such as sausages, gravy, pasta or bread – are high in salt, sugar and fat, which can affect a dog’s liver and kidneys.

Don’t ever feed dogs grapes, chocolate or cooked bones
Grapes and raisins are highly toxic to dogs, and can even be fatal.

Chocolate contains the chemical theobromine, which is poisonous to dogs. The darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains, and although white chocolate contains very little theobromine, it can still make dogs ill because it’s so fatty.

Cooked bones are another no-no – they can splinter into shards that can cause choking and serious internal damage.

Learn to resist them!
This is harder than it sounds, but try to resist their soulful eyes seeking to convince you they’ve never had a morsel of food pass their lips!

Just because it seems they want food; it doesn’t mean they’re hungry. They’re scavengers in the wild and it’s natural for them to eat everything they find or are given.

Don’t slip your dog one of your biscuits
Just one human biscuit can pack a much bigger calorie punch for a small dog than for its human owner. Giving a 10kg dog one butter-filled biscuit is the equivalent to an 80kg human dunking eight in their cuppa and, while it’s delicious, it’s a sure-fire way to gain weight.

Give treats in moderation
Treats can be a good incentive for training, but tiny rewards work when training dogs so they should be given in moderation. Also, if using treats for training, remember to reduce their daily meals accordingly.

Prioritise play and exercise
Dogs need exercise; and play and training provide mental stimulation while increasing the bond between a pet and owner. However, it’s equally important not to over-exercise a pet, especially in hot weather.

Exercise according to breed
It seems obvious that the bigger the dog, the more exercise they need but that’s not the case. Great Danes only need a couple of short walks a day. The amount of exercise dogs need depends on their breed and age; this is something the vet can help you to calculate.

Give them a sniff
If you’re short of time, a 20-minute walk around the block, letting your dog meander and sniff every lamppost, is still good. As well as physical exercise and fresh air, sniffing is good for dogs’ mental health. A walk is a great opportunity to go at their pace and take a moment for yourself too.

Do you have an overweight pet? Do you have any other tips to share with those just starting on a weight loss journey?

– With PA

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Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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