Advertorial content: this post contains links to Royal Canin, who have paid me for my time in creating this post. All images and opinion is my own.
Getting a dog is like adding another child to your family. I’ve joked before that once your kids become teenagers, you need to get a dog so that someone is always pleased to see you. And it is kind of true – having our dog Rocket has given us so many more opportunities to bond as a family than we might otherwise have had. Just the moments where I’m allowed a slightly longer hug because Rocket is in the middle of it are worth all the hassle of owning a dog!
But upping your family numbers with the addition of a pet is not a decision to be taken lightly, and there are so many factors to consider, not least of which is the cost! Poor old Rocket has had a rough time recently with an inflammation in his eyes, which has meant lots of trips to the vet.
Thankfully our vet knows Rocket well because we’ve kept up with his twice-yearly health checks, and every time we visit he gets weighed. Since he was a puppy I’ve been very conscious of what we should feed him, having seen how my mum’s dog has struggled with her health as a result of being overweight.
More than 50% of pets in the UK are overweight (and 40% of puppies!) and I’ve seen first-hand that that’s nothing to do with lack of care. My mum’s dog is loved as a member of the family, but that means her soulful eyes at the dinner table often result in an extra human treat heading her way!
Why should you worry about having an overweight dog?
Unfortunately, giving in to what my mum calls ‘cupboard love’ can cause all sorts of health problems for a dog. Extra weight can bring with it joint problems, diabetes, urinary disease, skin disease and tumours. These inevitably lead to extra vet costs (Rocket’s vet fees have been shocking as we try to get his poor eyes sorted!) and as we love our pets like our children, extra pain and heartache for owners when it happens.
How to know if your dog is overweight
Despite how much we love our dogs, only 15% of us are aware of what an ideal dog weight looks like in our pets. Recent research* has found that overweight dogs live up to two and a half years less than dogs with a healthy body weight, so it’s worth figuring out if your dog’s weight needs to change. Pet nutrition specialists Royal Canin have put together a dog body condition score to help owners work out if their dog is overweight, and tips on what to do about it if they are. The guide covers dogs of all sizes, and includes images to compare against your own dog, as well as suggestions on how to physically check if your dog could do with losing a few pounds. And of course, it recommends regular weigh-ins at the vet.
I’ve always been super strict with treats for Rocket, but even so, he did have a few months where his weight was creeping up at the vets. (I blame his naughtiness at coming back to us when we called him – I think we probably overdid it on the reward treats!) As a small dog it would be easy to overfeed him – his food always looks like such a tiny amount in his bowl, so we have to remind ourselves that giving him bigger portions does him no favours. As the vet said – he needs what he needs!
My tips for maintaining a healthy dog weight
Once we realised that Rocket was creeping up too much on the scales I made sure we were extra careful about what we were feeding him – and more importantly upped his exercise – until he was back to his ideal weight. Once we got there we put in place some routines that I think has helped to keep him at a healthy weight and reduce his risk of complications caused by obesity. Here’s what we do:
- Measure his meals. Rocket eats mostly dry food, and we weigh out his ideal meals so we know that we’re not overfeeding him at mealtimes.
- Give his food in an interactive feeder. Rocket is a food hoover, so when we realised that his meals were taking seconds to consume, we got him a bowl that makes it more ‘interesting’ to eat from, and slows him down. We like to think that makes him feel full sooner, but he still comes to us looking for more, so…
- We never give him treats from our own food preparation without asking him to do a trick. Some owners aren’t fans of trick training, I know, but Rocket loves to learn new things. Currently he can spin and roll over, but previous ‘tricks’ have been learning to sit, lie down, stay and come – all useful behaviour management tools. He’s half way through learning to ‘play dead’ for our own fun, but he does love the play element of training.
- Treats are low fat. Training treats are usually bits of courgette or cucumber if we’re chopping them – they’re low calorie and have the added advantage of helping to keep his teeth clean. We do buy meaty training treats too, but we make sure they’re low fat and nutritionally healthy, and we keep them to a minimum.
- A daily walk. Rocket is only little so he doesn’t need a lot of exercise, but we still make sure he gets a walk every day. He absolutely loves a run on the field, and I’d feel so sad if his weight prevented him from enjoying that. It also helps me to up my own step count, so both of us are keeping healthy together!
Since looking at the Royal Canin illustrations on how many calories are in the typical treats dog owners use, I’ve also started to be more careful with the chew toys Rocket gets. Rawhide bones are often recommended to give dogs something to do, and to help prevent tooth plaque, but one bone is equivalent in calories to 7 doughnuts! So although I do give chews that are good for his teeth, I make sure we offset that in his daily calorie allowance, or we use his antler chew – he seems to love it just as much, without ever managing to get anything off it to consume!
We’re having to be extra careful right now too. In order to make him look forward to the 10 lots of eye drops he has to put up with I started giving him little bits of chicken after each one. He’s so good now about coming to me for his medicine, but I’m making sure we only use tiny amounts. Fingers crossed we can start tapering back on all the chicken treats soon!
This post is in conjunction with Royal Canin UK & IE, but all thoughts are my own. Click on the links in the post to calculate your own dog’s ideal body weight, and for more tips on managing your dog’s weight.
*Research conducted by the University of Liverpool and Mars Petcare’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition.