Perhaps you were free-feeding Frodo. Could be everyone in the family thought it was their turn to feed Dogbert….every day. Maybe you adopted Hefty Horshak. It doesn’t matter how Little Fluffy became the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the end result is a puppy that needs to lose weight. (I use ‘puppy’ frequently without regard to the age of the canine.)
Let’s face it, when we go on a diet, we feel so deprived we’re hungry every waking moment (and probably dream about food too!). And we know what we’re doing, and that it’s in our best interests. Dogs can learn and understand many things, but the concept of eating less because it’s better for them… not something they can comprehend.
When my girl Vianni (Meet My Brood) was a pup, I simply kept a full bowl out at all times. She never got into the trash, or counter surfed. She did, however, become quite overweight. For her health, I cut her back to the amount she should’ve been getting, all at once. I quickly learned that a hungry dog can be just as destructive as a bored dog! (boredom will be addressed in another post). She fairly quickly took matters into her own paws and started to forage for food. Trash, counters, tabletops, purses, you name it, she searched it. That’s when I stepped back and thought about ways to help prevent this.
1) Reduce their daily intake slowly.
If we cut out one dessert, extra tablespoon of dressing, extra spoon of sugar in our coffee, etc. a day, or even a week, those calorie deficits would add up to gradual weightloss. Slow and steady is better than quick crash diets for dogs too.
Instead of going from the amount of food they’re getting now, to a small portion all at once, slowly reduce it. Start by taking out just a small handful per meal for a few days. Then a couple of handfuls, for a couple of days. Gradually reducing it to the amount the vet recommends. If you usually just toss food in the bowl without measuring, or keep a full bowl out throughout the day, do your same routine but then measure it before giving it to your dog so you have a baseline amount. Then reduce it by a little bit each feeding. Small adjustments are less noticeable to your pooch.
2) Feed multiple small meals throughout the day.
I got this tip from a friend, Ceil Bernard Lacouture, I was volunteering with. If your dog should be eating one and a half cups per day, break it into three meals of half a cup each. Less time between meals can help them from feeling deprived. You could even break it into smaller meals so they feel like they’re eating all day!
Of course most of us aren’t home to give mid-day meals, let alone several meals throughout the day. If your dog isn’t so food obsessed that they’d eat through a wall to get to food, there are automatic feeders that can be set to give a measured amount of food at intervals. There are some fairly inexpensive ones, up to extravagant expensive ones. You can find them through multiple sources here.
If you have Dogzilla who would gnaw through the fridge door for food, an automatic feeder probably wouldn’t last until noon the first day. But there’s hope!
Rather than putting their food in a bowl for them to gobble in a matter of seconds, divide it up into small amounts and put it into various food/treat dispensing toys. These toys can be filled and hidden throughout the house (if your dog is crated, you can still put them all in there but make them last longer by putting them in boxes, under blankets, etc. within their crate). Your pup can find one, take a nap, find another one, look out the window for a bit, find another….
One of my favorite tricks is to put the food in a Kong or similar food holding dog toy, run water through it so it gets damp but not so it soaks up too much, seal it with peanut (or non peanut) butter or other soft spreadable substance (sour cream, squeezy cheese, teaspoon of canned food, etc.) or just stand it up in cup and place it in the freezer until solid. (I have a few so that when I give one, there’s an empty one to stuff/freeze for the next meal). It doesn’t have to be in a cup, but this catches any water that may still seep out before it freezes. If the food-to-kong space ratio is low, you can let the food soak some to expand it a little to give the feeling of more food. Freezing it makes the meal last longer, giving them something to do so they aren’t scrounging for food and so there’s less time before the next meal.
My foster, Oscar, is a power chewer. His meals are delivered in kongs, treat dispensers, plastic bottles, empty milk cartons, empty peanut butter jars, anything that he can chew into. This has a dual effect. It helps make less food seem like more, and it gives him something to chew. Caution: this is only for dogs that chew without consuming the pieces!
3) Add vegetables.
Whether the meal is given in a bowl, or a food/treat dispenser, mixing in some veggies will make it seem like more. Carrots, green beans, peas, even sweet potatoes. You can use fresh, frozen, or freeze some fresh veggies. Shredded carrots sprinkled over the food in their bowl, or green beans tucked into their kong is a real treat to some dogs. Experiment to see what works best for yours. Just be careful with foods like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. These could upset their tummy and cause noxious odors later…