Slimming your overweight dog

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 9/28/08
By: Gail T. Fisher

Many dogs I’ve owned have been the type that is known to carry extra weight. For years I bred English Mastiffs. Often the first question people ask about a giant dog is, “How much does he weigh.” Many giant-dog owners brag about their dogs’ weight, so a 220 pounder is “better” than a 190 pound dog, even if the heavier dog is grossly overweight and the slimmer dog is actually bigger.


My Basset hound was prone to putting on extra poundage unless we carefully watched her waistline. Katie was a small Basset, weighing just 35 pounds, so even an extra few ounces of food would quickly show up on the scale, affecting not just her waist, but also her ability to keep up with our longer-legged dogs on our family walks.

Years ago, one of our really good customers told me that she loves how her dog looks when she picks him up from boarding, because we focus on keeping dogs at (or getting them to) their healthiest weight. She said that for a few weeks after he’s boarded she can see his waist. When I asked why she doesn’t keep him that fit, she blamed her husband who shares his snacks with the dog, and feels as if he’s depriving the dog if he doesn’t.

Herein lies the biggest issue with our dogs’ weight – us! Dogs don’t feed themselves. Unless there’s a physical cause, an overweight dog is our fault. It is up to us to change our ways, with conscious thought, attention and a commitment to our dogs’ health and longevity.

Our new dog, Kochi, a small 20 pound mixed breed, was carrying a couple of extra pounds when we adopted him. In slimming him down, because I’m not used to seeing such a small amount of food in a dish, his meal barely looks like it could sustain life. Every time I feed him I remind myself that he weighs less than half what Cannon does (at 45 pounds), so he eats less than half.
Then there’s the problem of training, since I use food treats to reward good behavior. Like our students who often ask about how to handle an overweight dog, this is a consideration for Kochi. My solution is to either use part of his meal for training, or use healthy treats and feed proportionately less at his next meal. Dieting Kochi gives me empathy for anyone trying to slim down their dog. It’s not easy – but we humans are in control, not the dog.

Then there’s the issue of dealing with family, neighbors, friends, and other “kind” people who want to give treats to our dogs. Here’s a plan for the primary person feeding the dog, and anyone else who gives treats to the dog:

First – go smaller. Measure out your dog’s normal meal amount, then remove some. That’s what I do with Kochi – I measure what he would normally get, and remove a small amount for his diet. Spend a few minutes breaking treats such as biscuits into small pieces, so each piece is a fraction of what he would otherwise get. Your dog won’t be unhappy with a small treat. And for training, dogs are equally rewarded by very small treats. Finally, choose low-fat alternatives. Most dogs like carrots, and your dog won’t refuse to lick the bowl if it has some low fat yogurt instead of ice cream.

A dog’s life is short enough as it is. If we deprive ourselves of a year, a month, or even a day of our dogs’ lives through overweight, how tragic for all of us.
Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2008. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.