People still fall for crash diets, and their drastically reduced calories that promise quick results. But the majority of humans eventually regain most or all of the weight lost on a gimmicky diet, meaning they have to do it again. Being trapped in the yo-yo cycle of dieting isn’t fun, and often, it’s not a safe way to lose weight for people. And it isn’t a safe weight loss plan for overweight dogs, either.
The trouble with these fad diets for pets or people is that extreme calorie restriction alerts the body that it’s in starvation mode. In turn, the body pumps the brakes on metabolism, so it burns calories more slowly. Moderate calorie restriction with exercise for slow weight loss is a more sensible approach for overweight people — and overweight dogs, too.
Your veterinarian can help you tailor a healthy and safe weight loss program to your dog. Of course, it’s not just about counting calories; how much your dog exercises will also impact his or her weight loss rate.
Start with your veterinarian
You might think dieting is simply a matter of feeding your dog less of the food he or she is currently eating. But manufacturers typically design foods to deliver a balance of nutrients within a certain caloric content. Simply cutting the quantity of food may put your dog at risk for nutritional deficiencies.
Your veterinarian can determine how much weight your dog should lose. He or she may recommend a therapeutic diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber, such as Diamond CARE® Weight Management Formula for Adult Dogs. They can also determine the calories and amount of food your dog should be fed on a daily basis. Don’t forget that treats have calories, too, and should be counted in the daily total.
Aim for a 1 to 2 percent loss a week
In general, a safe rate of weight loss for dogs is 1 to 2 percent of their current body weight per week. For example, a 100-pound golden retriever can drop 1 to 2 pounds a week, or 4 to 8 pounds a month, on average.
Faster weight loss (more than 2 percent a week) puts your dog at risk of nutritional deficiencies and, after the diet is over, rebound weight gain.
While aiming for a loss of 2 percent of body weight per week is fine, keep in mind that your dog may play the hunger card, begging at the table and drooling every time you bring a potato chip to your mouth. If that happens, you can shift the weight loss goal to 1 percent or even 0.5 percent a week. It will just take a little longer to reach the final goal.
The dreaded plateau
Over time, weight loss will slow and even plateau. That’s why it’s important for you to schedule regular check-ins with your veterinarian, even if it’s just to weigh your dog.
Let’s say your 100-pound dog now weighs 90 pounds, but the pounds just don’t drop off like they did before. A 90-pound dog requires fewer calories than his or her heavier counterpart, so your veterinarian can recalculate the calories needed and adjust the amount of food you should be feeding.
The benefits of weight loss
Dropping that extra weight can lower your dog’s risk for diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer. Research shows there are other benefits, as well.
In the largest international study of weight loss in overweight dogs, dogs lost an average of 11 percent over 12 weeks, while owners noticed improved activity and quality of life for their dogs.1 Another study showed that dogs demonstrated improved mobility after just 6 percent to 9 percent weight loss.2 Finally, dogs that were kept lean lived an average of 18 to 24 months longer than those that ate more during their lives.3
What could be better than more time with your best pal?
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1. Flanagan J, Bissot T, Hours MA, et al. Success of a weight loss plan for overweight dogs: The results of an international weight loss study. PLoS One 2017;12(9):e0184199.
2. Marshall WG, Hazewinkel HA, Mullen D, et al. The effect of weight loss on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis. Vet Res Commun 2010;34(3):241–253.
3. Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, et al. Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002;220(9):1315–1320.