(not your conventional wisdom)
As dogs age and their activity level drops off, they can put on a few extra pounds, especially if there are lots of biscuits and treats around. Becoming a lean and svelte animal again is simply a matter of portion control, exercise, and rebalancing the amounts and kinds of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in his diet. To slim down your portly pooch, try these suggestions:
Make a kibble-based diet healthier. A typical high end dry dog food, whether with or without grains, contains from 30 to 50% refined carbohydrates. While dogs vary in their ability to process carbs, those who gain weight easily are most likely to be carbohydrate intolerant, storing carbs as body fat instead of using them for fuel. Replacing half of the kibble with fresh meat, raw frozen food, high-meat canned food or raw meaty bones adds more protein and fat, thereby reducing the total amount of carbohydrates and diluting the negative effects. A good target for meals is 10 – 20% total carbohydrate content in all parts of the diet combined.
Add vegetables to kibble. Although it’s not a high protein/fat strategy, this often helps dogs feel full while they are dropping weight. Replace 10 to 20% of your dog’s dry food with a rehydrated freeze-dried vegetable mix like Sojo’s Grain-free or Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl (our new favorite) for complex carbohydrates that haven’t been cooked, fractionated or otherwise refined. They supply abundant fiber, whole food nutrients, abundant antioxidants and combine well with high protein/high fat kibble formulas. Add gradually to avoid digestive upset or gas. They can also be mixed with 3 to 4 parts ground chicken backs or ground turkey necks for a low cost kibble-free meal.
Go beyond kibble to a complete raw, freeze-dried or canned diet. This is the easiest way to lose weight without hunger or deprivation, especially for smaller dogs. Frozen raw is the nutritional gold standard, mimicking the natural diet of your dog’s canine ancestors. (Read about one person’s experience with raw here.) Commercial raw foods generally contain 70 – 95% meat, bones and organs with smaller amounts of vegetables, fruit and supplements. Re-hydrated freeze-dried raw and human-grade high meat canned food are good options as well. A complete change from dry food can yield amazing results, with weight melting off each week and your dog transforming before your eyes. Replacing just one meal a day with moist food can make a difference too. Be sure to subtract an equivalent amount, cup for cup, of the old food to compensate.
Don’t be afraid of fats. Fats are the overweight animal’s friend! Fat helps curb hunger for many hours, and unlike carbohydrates and protein, doesn’t stimulate the release of insulin which can cause cravings and a drop in blood sugar. When pet parents choose a food based on the lowest fat content, they don’t realize that everything that’s not protein or fat (or fiber, moisture or minerals) is hidden carbohydrates that you will not find listed on the guaranteed analysis. The food with the highest percentage of protein plus fat when added together has the least carbs and is usually the best choice. While fat has more calories, you can compensate by feeding less.
Portion control and timing. Eliminate free feeding and remove food bowls after 20 minutes to allow the digestive system to rest between meals. For consistent blood sugar levels, serve two smaller meals a day with an optional carb-free bedtime snack or training reward. Consider having one kibble-free meal each day, such as raw turkey neck sections. A raw marrow bone can substitute for the snack.
Measure all food carefully while you establish how much is needed to maintain your dog’s present weight. Expect this to take a couple of weeks if you are introducing many new foods at once. Use feeding guidelines on the package, but be prepared to make adjustments – dogs can vary a lot in metabolism and activity level. As dogs age and become less active, the amount of food they actually need each day may be a lot smaller than you think. When you have a baseline, subtract 10 to 15% of your dog’s maintenance rations for gradual weight loss.
If possible keep a log of daily portions and times. Same time of day is best to develop a routine. The body anticipates based on past experience, and your dog will look forward to meal time. A home scale or weekly trip to the vet’s office for a weigh in will help track your progress. Otherwise, a check of your dog’s ribs will tell the tale. Perseverance will pay off.
Increase exercise for quicker weight loss. It’s no secret that walking, running, swimming, chasing and retrieving speeds weight loss. Take your dog out for an extra walk or exercise period daily. Frequency counts. Two 30-minute walks are better than one hour long romp. Ball launchers and Chuck Its extend your range and tire out your dog more quickly. With the extra play time, you may slim down right along with him!