I took Philly, our Berne-doodle, to the vet this past January for her routine check up. They told me what I already knew - Philly needs to lose a couple of pounds.
Unlike our Golden-doodle, Doozer, Philly seems to fluctuate with her weight ever since she had a litter of puppies. She has a different body structure than Doozer and it seems we need to be very particular about her feeding amounts. Doozer on the other hand requires less attention to amounts and has been very consistent with his weight since he was a puppy.
Do you have a set of dogs that are drastically different when it comes to weight management?
Despite what some people might say, weight loss and consistent weight management is possible with a raw dog food diet. In fact, there are some people who notice weight loss when transitioning to a fresh food diet or find it easier to manage their dog's weight.
In this post, you will find information on how help your dog lose weight and build habits that will encourage long term sustainable weight management.
Raw Dog Food vs. Kibble for Weight Loss
"Dogs eating dry food or kibble tend to have higher inflammation and obesity rates than those eating fresh dog food." The Forever Dog by Rodney Habib and Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
Most weight control kibble will contain a high amount of carbohydrates and low quality, plant based proteins. In an effort to lower your dogs calorie intake, they are lowering the amount of quality nutrition your dog is getting.
Most weight management kibble will be around 40% or higher for carb content. Carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient in a dogs diet. Dogs use protein and fat most efficiently to make their energy. Not only do they not require high amounts of carbohydrates, the carbs provided in these weight loss kibble diets contain very little nutritional value for your pups. Shifting the focus to synthetic forms of vitamins and minerals to make up for the lack of real food nutrition.
Examples of weight loss filler used in kibble:
Powdered Cellulose: non-digestible wood pulp (aka: sawdust)
Brewers Rice: small pieces of grain left over once rice has been milled
Soy Products: Soy is typically used to increase the protein amount without adding more meat. Soy products has a poor amino acid profile when compared to meat and can be an allergen for some dogs.
There is some concern that going below the recommended kibble intake can result in nutritional deficiency. In an article written by Susan Thixton, FDA Admits Inactive Pets “Cannot Get Enough Required Nutrients” From Pet Food, she explores how dogs who are inactive or require a calorie reduction could be at risk of not getting enough nutrients from their kibble. The feeding amounts recommended are for daily maintenance of an adult dog. When those amounts are limited, pups could be at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Or nutrient excess for large dogs going over the recommended daily intake.
This highlights the importance of getting quality real food nutrition from sources that are easily digestible and absorbed efficiently by our pups. The natural amino acids found in meat protein provides nutrients they need to support their metabolism, control their appetite, and stimulate stomach acid to aid digestion.
Why Weight Management is Important
It's estimated that about 50% of dogs are overweight. Obesity can shorten your dogs lifespan. Their lives are already too short, we don't need it shortened any more!
Extra weight that goes unmanaged can lead to a number of health conditions like joint issues/arthritis and diabetes. For those whose dogs already have arthritis, maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways to help with arthritis pain management.
It's a good idea to assess your pup regularly:
- Can their ribs be felt? You should be able to feel the ribs with only a small layer of muscle on top.
- Does the belly tuck up when seen from the side?
- Do they have a visible waist when looking from above?
- Can you feel the tops of each backbone with muscle (not fat) along the back?
These are all indicators of a healthy body composition.
Before you begin...
Take some time to collect data on your pups current state. Keeping a journal will be helpful in providing concrete evidence of changes that need to be made and will be helpful in seeing progress throughout the process.
- Record their current weight and body assessment: Weigh your dog or use the weight given to you by your vet as your starting point. Write notes when you assess your dog with the guidelines above. Use the journal to record changes weekly or every two weeks.
- Record their current daily input: For a week or two, record every thing your dog eats in a day. I mean EVERYTHING. Snacks, meals, those extra pieces of food from your dinner plate, the peanut butter used in a kong. Be honest here.
- Record their currently daily output: Does your dog get walks during the day? Every day? How long? Record their current daily movement.
It's easy to over feed our pups without realizing it, especially if they are getting additional treats during the day. The journal will help highlight where immediate changes can be made.
In addition to highlighting treat consumption, check to see if you are in line with our recommended feeding guidelines. Quite often people will come to me looking for weight loss and we find out that what they are feeding their dogs on a daily basis is more than the recommended amount.
Our recommendation for their daily raw meal intake is 1-2% of their current body weight per day. The graph below will help you determine what percentage to start with.
1% Inactive - A dog that spends most of their time indoors with smaller bursts of activity and walks for less than 20 minutes a day. These dogs will fall on the lower end of the scale and should start at 1%.
1.5% Average - Dogs that gets a thirty minutes to a couple hours of exercise everyday can start at 1.5%.
2% Active - An active dog spends most of their time outside with activity filling most of their day. They are dogs who enjoy lots of hiking, biking, and playing with their humans. These dogs would have food intake at 2% of their weight.
For example: 50 lb dog x 1.5% = 0.75 lb or 3/4 of a pound per day
If by doing this calculation, you find you have been over feeding, correct the feeding amount and stick with the new amount for 3-4 weeks and see what changes their bodies experience. I would recommend reducing/removing treats during this period too.
Alternatively, you can determine your dog's baseline calorie requirements by taking their weight in kg (take their weight in pounds and divide by 2.2) and multiplying by 30 and then adding 70.
For example: 22.6 kg (50 lb) x 30 + 70 = 748 calories per day
This calculation doesn't account for high activity levels, so use the number as a guide and adjust up or down as needed. Food analysis sheets are available with calorie content for each raw meal on our website; email us to gather this info.
Need help with calculations? Email me for support! firstname.lastname@example.org
Next, what changes can be made to your dogs output? If their activity levels are zero to very low, your first step is to incorporate more daily movement into their day.
Creating the habit of daily movement for your pup will have lasting benefits for their overall quality of life giving them consistent energy levels, reduce inflammation, build muscle, support the metabolism, and provide mental stimulation during their day. These benefits will contribute to longterm sustainable weight management.
More on building a safe movement practice below!
It's possible that when making the adjustments above you will start to see progress. Below are more tips to bring your dog closer to their goals.
Weight Loss Using a Raw Dog Food Diet
Weight loss is achieved when there is a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is when the calories taken in (input) is less than the calories burned.
Determining an amount can be done two ways. Using the same calculations found in the previous section, but using their ideal weight not their current weight for the calculations.
Option 1: Calorie Calculator - Ideal weight 31.8 kg (70 lb) x 30 + 70 = 1024 calories per day
Option 2: Percentage Calculator - Ideal weight 70 lb x 1.5% = 1.05 lb per day
This is not an exact science, so you may need to to adjust the amount periodically. The key is lowering their daily calorie count, but being mindful not to drastically change. Easing their body into a new feeding amount will be easier on their body. Start small and make further reductions as needed.
A safe guideline is 1 percent of weight loss per week. So a 50 lb dog that needs to lose 10 lbs should lose approximately half a pound per week.
It's important to note that numbers on the scale aren't always the whole story. If your dog starts moving more, they might be gaining more muscle which can create a higher number on the scale. Performing the weekly body assessment will also help to see how their composition is changing throughout the process.
If your dog seems ravenous with the decrease of food, split up their meals into three meals a day instead of two. Or if you currently feed one meal a day, then split into two meals. The smaller meals during the day will help curb the hunger.
Finding options that extend meal time might also help your dog feel satiated. If your dog takes in their food in one gulp, swapping out the bowl for a slow feeder like the Mine Pet Platter and spreading the food around a bigger surface will help slow down the pace. Providing a more engaging, slower experience leading to more meal satisfaction.
Eliminate Unnecessary Treats
As I mentioned before, if a dog is getting treats during the day, consider eliminating them completely. It's more important for them to get proper nutrition from their meals. If eliminating treats means they can have a little more at dinner, that would serve them well in the long run nutritionally.
If treats are important, consider breaking up the treats into smaller pieces or replace treats with low calorie options like fruits or veggies (more on vegetation below). When it comes to treats, less is more.
Get creative with rewards! Instead of treats, you might find that special time with their human is all they need.
Don't Forget to Add Fibre!
Fibre plays an important role in your dogs diet in general, but it can also help the weight loss journey by helping your dog feel satiated without a lot of extra calories. Recommended daily intake of fruit and vegetables is 10%.
A study done in 2008 shows that a high protein, high fibre diet helps improve satiety in dogs leading to more success with weight management. Fibre improves the gut environment by feeding the beneficial bacteria allowing it grow and thrive while also providing your pup with vitamins and minerals not found in meat sources.
Great Sources of Fibre for Dogs:
- broccoli sprouts
- Shiitake Mushrooms
- green beans
I recommend making a puree of a number different options and adding it with your pups meals. Vegetables are not easy for your dog to digest, so lightly steaming or breaking it up into a puree will help your dog digest and absorb. Fruits can be fed as is.
The green bean diet is a popular recommendation made by many. Some people recommend swapping out more than half of your pups diet with green beans. These are the same people who also think that 40% carb content in the kibble is ok for our carnivores. 🧐
Swapping half of their intake with green beans can put them at risk of developing nutritional deficiencies. Green beans can and should be fed to your dogs, but as a side dish or treat alongside a meal that includes meat, organs, and bone.
Commit to Daily Activity
I know, who has time for an extra walk during the day? I feel the same way, but the truth is food is only part of the weight management puzzle. Regular activity encourages muscle growth and promotes healthy joints.
If your dog has very low activity levels, I recommend building up to a base foundation of 20-30 minutes of walking every day. The key here is to start small and build up, especially if you are dealing with a senior pups or dogs with limited mobility.
Week one, walk around the block or from one end of the street to the other. Week 2, progress to two blocks or double the length. Continue weekly progress until you reach your goal. Depending on you and your dogs abilities, you might even find that progression needs to be made every 2 or 3 weeks instead of every week. However you are able to reach your goal is totally fine as long as you are consistent.
If you already have a base foundation of a daily walk, see if you can add in movement "snacks" top of this. Can you can sneak in some extra movement during the day. Maybe instead of scrolling Instagram for 10 minutes, use that time for an extra walk around the block. Or when you are out picking up dog poop, grab the chuck it when you are done and throw the ball for a couple minutes.
My dogs are already fairly active, so getting in some extra movement for us meant more time at the dog park. I like how the dog park provides extra stimulation and varied terrain for my pups. Philly is not a ball chaser; I find that Philly runs fastest and for longer periods of time when at the dog park. One of Philly's favourite things to do is a to initiate a high speed chase with another dog at the park.
If walking is not possible for you, there are some great companies out there that can help. Below are some companies that will do the walking for you and are recommended by our #granddograwpack:
If you have a company you love that provides dog walking/movement services, share them in a comment below!
Strength Training for Dogs
More and more we are seeing the importance of building and maintaining muscle for ourselves. Muscle is linked to improving the metabolism. Muscle requires more energy to build and sustain than fat. People with a higher muscle mass tend to have a higher metabolism - the same could be true for our dogs.
Incorporating a strength training regimen will help your dogs mobility, prevent injury, improve body awareness and build muscle. It's also a great way to connect with your pup in a unique way.
One company in Edmonton is making it their mission to educate humans around dog movement while helping dogs move better and build muscle safely. I first learned about Sit Stay Squat through a pamphlet hanging up at my CrossFit gym. I was immediately intrigued and have followed them ever since.
Sarah Keller from Sit Stay Squat has this to say about combining cardio vascular training with strength training:
" Although cardiovascular training has plenty of benefits, it is highly recommended that each dog (and human) participates in a well rounded cross training program that goes beyond simply walking or running alone.
Strengthening and stabilizing the muscles throughout the body that are underused/weak (including “the core”) while stretching the muscles that are overused/tight will decrease muscular imbalances while preventing injuries.
Most successful *human* runners follow a well designed cross training program in order to improve performance and decrease the likelihood of overtraining/injuries. There is no reason to think that our canine athletes should be any different!"
To dive deeper into building a sustainable movement practice for your pups, I highly recommend checking out all the programs from Sit Stay Squat and connecting with them on social media.
Building New Habits
"Habits are the compound interest of self improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones become strikingly apparent." - Atomic Habits by James Clear
I recognize that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out a program to help your pups lose weight. In some cases, this requires shifting of schedules and creating new habits which requires a lot of work and time at the beginning.
Seeing progress will take time and consistency. As with building new habits, small daily changes might seem insignificant at first, but if you are consistent you will start to see positive changes in your pups.
I hope you found this helpful! If you have any questions or comments, share them in the comments below or feel free to email me for extra support!
Amanda Monsma (she/her)
Disclaimer: All information presented on this website is for informational and/or educational purposes only and based on our experience and those shared by our clients. These statements have not been evaluated by a veterinarian. This website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and is not intended to be a substitute or replacement for any medical treatment. Please seek the advice of a holistic veterinarian for your dog’s specific health concerns.