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Slimming Down Your Dog: How Hard Is It, Really?

I took Frankie in to the vet for a wellness checkup last week. He’s doing fine — actually really well, the vet said, for a dog his age (about 12), even one who doesn’t have diabetes.

Aside from the need for a professional teeth cleaning, the only suggestion the vet made was that Frankie slim down a bit, from 10 1/2 pounds to about 9 1/2.

As it happens, Frankie is already on a weight-reduction program because I’d noticed that his halter was getting a bit snug. So I had no problem with the notion of continuing the program, which has already succeeded to the point of harness-roominess.

What was the key to diet success, you ask?

Um, I gave Frankie less food.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but how hard is it to slim a dog down? I am in complete control of Frankie’s diet (or, in trainer-speak, resources). If he is eating too much, it’s entirely my responsibility to give him less food or food with fewer calories (yes, they’re right there on the bag label). He doesn’t snack between meals because of his diabetes, but if he did I’d give him veggies instead of high-calorie treats. And if he weren’t already getting long walks, a routine put in place because of his diabetes, I’d give him more exercise.

Mind you, I myself am a serial dieter. I’ve been on Weight Watcher’s, Atkins (ugh!)… and now I’m on a semi-South Beach regimen. When I’m not eating out for my food writing job. Or just saying screw it, I want bread and lots of it. Or beer. Or carrot cake.

I also try to get my spreading butt to the gym as often as possible because those daily walks with Frankie aren’t enough to counter those bread, beer and carrot cake urges.

But if I had someone giving me only a certain amount of food each day, Jennie Craig-style, someone who also barred me from access to a refrigerator and all-night convenience store and who led me out of the house every day for exercise (which, if I was a dog, I would probably enjoy a lot more), I would not have weight issues.

I’ve seen Frankie lick the bowl and look longingly — or irately — at me, as if to say, “Where’s the rest?” But in another second he goes back to doing his doggie thing and forgets that I’m depriving him.

I’d genuinely like to know: What are the issues that others trying to put their dogs on a diet confront? Is it that Frankie is smaller and thus easier to control? Enlighten me.

By the way,  Frankie lost weight automatically when he first had diabetes. Two female vets — one in the same practice, and one at an emergency clinic — both said that Frankie looked scrawny when he weighed 9 1/4 pounds and told me that he needed to put on a bit of weight. It’s only the male vet who ever advised Frankie to slim down. Just food for thought…

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41 Comments

  1. Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Exactly, we control our dog’s food intake. Maybe it’s hard to trim our dogs down because it’s fun to feed them because it makes our dog happy and when our dogs are happy, we’re happy. It’s positively reinforcing for us in the moment anyway, not later on when the vet bills pile up do to obesity related health issues. And, so many people I know can’t resist a begging dog. And, the more we feed a begging dog the more the dog begs and then we feed some more, and soon the dog is fat. My two cents. I just couldn’t resist agreeing with you though. Really, how hard can it be?
    Deborah Flick recently posted..Sadie Masters “Kyjen’s Treat Wheel” Puzzle Toy- The VideoMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Yeah, it’s easy to fall for those begging eyes; heaven knows I’ve been there. But maybe I get a perverse pleasure out of knowing that I have control over someone’s diet in the household, albeit not mine!

  2. Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    “What was the key to diet success, you ask? Um, I gave Frankie less food.”

    Ha! Exactly- that made me laugh :)

    That made me think of how Tom Hanks lost all that weight for Cast Away and he got annoyed when everyone kept asking him, “How did you do it? What is your secret? Who was your guru…”

    “I ate less. That’s it.”

    More calories out than in. That it for 99.9% of the population (human, dog or otherwise).

    :)
    Shauna (Fido & Wino) recently posted..BowlfaceMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      That’s funny about Tom Hanks! It’s not quite so easy for me, but for Frankie — hell, yes!

  3. Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Former obese dogs can be quite resourceful in finding food. Viva can reach anything below a height of 2 meter, she can open (refrigerator) doors, knows the way to the trash cans in the house (and that of the neighbours). She knows exactly of each person we know who can be charmed with some begging, when we visit the vet she rushes to the … and so on.

    It took me some adjustements to find the correct counter strategies, but she is on a proper weight now. Which only makes Viva more hungry and resourceful. The battle continues …
    Kenzo_HW recently posted..Kibble questMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      Thanks for this; I know that it’s not so easy for some dog owners as it is for others, and I genuinely wanted to know.

      Good for you for getting Viva’s weight down, in spite of all the challenges. In fact, dogs are designed to feast and fast, so they need to be reminded of the fasting part.

  4. Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I *wish* it was as easy for ME to lose weight. Taking a few pounds off my dogs? Not hard at all. In fact, I’m starting to think Ginko looks too thin now.

    My only real challenge is how much food we use to reward Lilly for being brave and in toys to keep her busy. I scale back her meals to account for this, but my darling hubby does not. So, if I’m gone and he is feeding them for several days, I guarantee you that the dogs get more food.

    One strategy we use? …. we put plain Cheerios in their food delivery toys, like the waggle or Tug-a-Jug. The dogs still get to have fun, but the cereal is pretty low-cal.
    Champion of My Heart recently posted..Weekly Dog Training Update Sept 24My Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      It’s so hard not to anthropomorphize when it comes to food (and, in hubby’s case, to resist the temptation to be the “good” guy). Cheerios is a great idea.

  5. Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I think feeding less is the key. It is complicated a bit because the feeding recommendations on most dog foods tend to to be on the high side. We always fed our yellow lab, Daisy, by the instructions on the bag. When we we finally figured out she was overweight we cut out all treats and continued to feed basically the same amount. The weight would not come off. We ended up reducing her food portions by half and it still took a while to get the weight off. Now she gets a few treats and half the recommended portion for her size and activity level. She is maintaining but gains weight very fast if we deviate from half portions.

    With regard to dogs resourcefulness at convincing owners to feed more, we had a cocker spaniel that would take his food bowl to the top of the stairs and drop it so it would bounce down the stairs. It made an awful noise. More than once we acquiesced and gave him more to eat.

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know about the higher quality brands but I do know the commercial brands up the recommended quantity so that people will, well, buy more food.

      Many people suggest adding canned pumpkin (not the kind used in pies!) to kibble in order to make dogs feel fuller when they reduce kibble portions. It’s a low calorie, high fiber food that most dogs like.

      I literally laughed out loud about your cocker spaniel’s antics! I can just picture it — and how tough it would be to resist, once you stop laughing.

  6. Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Definitely feeding less and exercising more. The same can be said for me but we won’t go there now.

    I have always been fortunate as I have greyhounds and their metabolism has kept them lean. In the 8 years that I had Painter, he kept within 2 pounds of what he was when I got him and Lily kept with 4 pounds until near the end when she got sick and then dropped too much weight.

    I have seen some overweight greyhounds and it is so not healthy.

    Someone I know told me his dog gained too much weight and he couldn’t figure out why. I said maybe if you stop feeding her a bagel every Sunday that would be a good place to start.
    Karyn Zoldan recently posted..Tucson greyhound- Missing- Found- and Now DeadMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      Food and dogs are my two favorite topics, and I’m realizing when you combine the two it can be pretty darned funny. I laughed out loud at comments on this blog twice today, first at the cocker spaniel who threw his empty bowl down the stairs and now at the idea of the guy who was feeding his dog a bagel every Sunday and wondered why she was gaining weight.

  7. Posted September 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like you found it easy to help Frankie to lose weight, in part, because you care enough about him to protect his health. (Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s too short to counter surf.)

    I find it easier to provide good care for my dog, Honey, than I do for myself. Honey gets premium food. Honey gets exercise everyday. Honey doesn’t get junk.

    Pammie grabs horrid food that she eats while standing at the counter so she can rush back to work.

    I guess the lesson is: if I liked myself half as much as I love my dog, I’d look nearly as cute as she does!
    Pamela recently posted..10 Ways to Make Bath Time Easier for Your Dog And YouMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      You just proved my point about dogs and food being funny for the third time — a trifecta! Frankie is too short to counter surf. And I too eat at the counter (where the calories don’t count, right?). Your takeaway lesson is excellent, too: If only we all loved ourselves as much as we loved our dogs the world would be a much better — not to mention cuter — place.

  8. KT
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I like to give my dog raw veggies that he can chew and shred. It’ll come out the same way as they came in but he still feels full and isn’t eating more kibble than he needs. I soak his kibble (when he eats out of a bowl) for 1/2 hour or so in low sodium chicken stock or water leftover from boiling my own veggies so the kibble expands and he feels more full. Last week the pet store gave me a huge bag of milkbone type cookie treats. I fed them to my dog as treats for a few days and his waist got noticeably wider! So I cut down and in another few days his waist went back to normal. If only it were that easy for humans!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      All great suggestions — thanks! It’s amazing how quickly those inferior products put on weight, isn’t it?

      • KT
        Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        It really is surprising! I consider myself pretty dog-geeky but I didn’t realize a few extra biscuits would result in that much noticeable increase in his waist size!

  9. Clare
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Pamela, you must be my soul sister!

  10. Posted September 27, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Edie,

    I think for many feeding their dogs is an emotional thing. We tend to overeat or snack on junk food when we are nervous, upset, or depressed, and I have seen this transfer to overfeeding our dogs. Many people just don’t see their dogs as being overweight.

    We control the caloric intake, we control the opportunity for exercise, when it comes down to it, barring medical problems, we are 100% in control of our dogs weight.
    Kevin Myers recently posted..Doggie Digression – A Barking Mad Article from Dog Lovers DigestMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely, Kevin. It’s so easy to project our feelings about food onto our dogs — and so irrational.

  11. Posted September 27, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    You already have a lot of comments about being in charge of Frankie’s diet, and I don’t have anything to add there.

    But I will pass on this bit of information. Ty had to lose 5 lbs (going from 40 to 35). We did it by substituting canned pumpkin for a portion of his food. Canned pumpkin has very few calories, and it’s filling. Worked like a charm.

  12. Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    dear ms jarolim,

    thank you for posting yet ANOTHER topic that is close to my heart and stomach.

    about 5 months or so ago, despite getting 2 big walks a day, dr dog declared me to be f.a.t. after the initial shock and denial, my humans took this passing remark very seriously and immediately put me on a d.i.e.t.

    they switched me to a good low-fat kibble, gradually halved the amount even of that [thinking i wouldn't notice], plumped up on the rice, bran, oatmeal, lentils, vegetables, fruit, meat [with all fat removed] and bones. and voila!

    last saturday, i weighed in at 42.89kg, down from 48kg. i think 5kgs is quite a lot of lbs. dr dog has now declared me to be a perfect weight, and is my 3rd favourite human once again.

    strangely enough, my stay-at-home human has been gathering pictures to make a post of My Battle With My Bulge, as an inspiration to other fatties no doubt. all i can say is, i might look great and can run a lot better now, but boy! am i hungry!

    have a great week : ) xox
    georgia little pea recently posted..The Carrot A Poison UpdateMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      Congrats on your new svelte self, Georgia! You’ve really got your humans sussed, and it’s very kind of you to be so tolerant of them.

  13. Posted September 27, 2010 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    p.s. i think it’s very telling, that bit about the male vet :p
    georgia little pea recently posted..The Carrot A Poison UpdateMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      You are the only one who has commented on that ;-) — thanks!

  14. Posted September 27, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Hahaha! Anthony’s cocker spaniel throwing the bowl down the stairs in protest is a scream:) And having recently shared my salmon with Tashi, I have to say I agree with Pamela – if we treated ourselves as well as we do our dogs, we’d be at peak health and fitness. Fun post, Edie! Oh – and I don’t have trouble trimming Tashi down, either…hard for many to tell with all his hair, but when he’s had a bath he looks about half the dog you see in the pictures and videos on my blog! He does get annoyed when I cut his food down and will sit and stare at me, then trot back and forth to the kitchen if it looks like he might not get his second meal on time…it’s as if he dealing with someone who’s not very bright and he’s trying to help me remember what it is I am *supposed* to be doing for him. If I don’t react as he expects, he’ll start to mumble under his breath. What a funny little guy he is!
    Mary Haight recently posted..Corporate Charity- When Bloggers Unite- Who Really BenefitsMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Mary! I’ve experienced that same “you’re rather dim” look from Frankie. They’ve got our number.

  15. Pauses4paws
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    For treats, my pooch absolutely LOVES baby carrots. You’d think it was a beef tri-tip the way he reacts!

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Wonderful, isn’t it, that dogs don’t know that certain things are “diet” foods and therefore to be shunned…

  16. Posted September 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Great article and I really couldn’t have said it better myself!

    I just don’t get it either. Even when Winnie was deep into training for Karen Pryor Academy, she wasn’t a morbidly obese dog. I used lots of tiny green been pieces for her training and I watched how much dog food I gave her. If I could use her dog food in trainng I did (It’s canned food though- so it wasn’t ideal for a lot of behaivors).

    I look at people’s dogs and I say- s/he needs to slim down some. Some of the owners just talk on and on about how they just can’t tell their dog no.

    Where is this lack of willpower coming from? The dog isn’t opening up the cupboards to get snacks- the people are. News Flash: you don’t have to feed your dog every time you eat. Eating does not have to be a group endeavor!

    Crystal Saling, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP

  17. Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I just had another thought … After reading about yet another celeb who dropped a bunch of weight thanks to a trainer and a nutritionist, etc, I have to say … If I had someone who planned my exercise and made sure I did it … If I had someone who not only selected but also coordinated my meals and snacks … I bet I could lose weigh too. :o)
    Champion of My Heart recently posted..Barking at the Gate RevisitedMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      Ha! But if it’s any consolation even Oprah couldn’t keep the weight off. We’d have to be deprived of credit cards and refrigerator access for the rest of our lives….

  18. Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    For me, it’s consistency and discipline. The same reasons that contribute to my own yo-yo weight. I know how to diet…for myself and my dog. But I have to make a conscious effort not to take eat that extra piece of pizza even when it looks really good…and not to slip my dog the crusts. I have to care about Kelly enough not to give her extra snacks and treats just because I think it would make her happy. And I have to get up off my butt and take her out on walks even when I’m tired and don’t feel like it. Those are the kinds of challenges I face when trying to help my dog slim down.
    Peggy Frezon recently posted..Monday Pet RoundupMy Profile

  19. Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Edie, you’ve been awarded a Bloggie Award for being always amusing and enlightening. Pick it up over at http://somethingwagging.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/thanks-sage-for-the-doggie-bloggie-award/ and to find out the rules (yes, even fun things have rules! it sounds sorta like dieting, doesn’t it?).
    Pamela recently posted..Thanks- Sage- for the Doggie Bloggie AwardMy Profile

  20. Posted October 2, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Getting a dog to lose weight can be either easy or hard and it depends on number of things. Generally I believe that with dogs, just as with humans, diet alone slows down metabolism and makes losing weight harder.

    We got our late rescue lose a lot of weight just by getting him in our walk regime. He got normal portions of food.

    I think, as with people, lower calorie food (such as with less carbs) and exercise works most of the time.

    Sometimes the issue can go deeper, when other metabolic mechanisms are in place
    http://www.suite101.com/content/recognizing-obesity-in-dogs-cats-as-a-disease-a134683
    Jana Rade recently posted..Sign a Petition for Canine CircumcisionMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim
      Posted October 3, 2010 at 5:59 am | Permalink

      Thanks for that link, Jana. Yes, it’s true, there are metabolic disorders — in humans as well as in animals — that are responsible for some cases of obesity. Medication can be an issue too. They’re by far the exceptions, though. The rule is guilty owners/too much food!

  21. Rebecca Boren
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I dunno, Edie. I have long suspected that my somewhat portly fox terrier, William, orders pizza delivered when I am not home! One of the hazards of a multi-dog household is that the bossier dogs try to steal kibble from the gentler souls. Plus Miriam, my pointer, would let William eat her meal, after which she would come begging for more! I wound up combining crating the two greediest at mealtime with supervision of the less pushy two to control Eating As a Competive Event. But William only really trimmed down when He acquired every-other-day walks from Gabe (who, it must be noted, was originally a house sitter provided by Edie while I was hospitalized). It doesn’t take much — William decides when He has had enough and turns for home — but the effects are terrific. Yeah, I know, I should have learned that from human (my own) experience, but I kept thinking I could do enough with portion control. For nutrition and extra volume I give my guys green beans, a trick I learned from a local potter I was interviewing whose middle-aged dog was on a strict diet. Never thought I would see a dog begging for her veggies!

  22. Posted October 12, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    dear miss jarolim,

    i see you’ve moved on to more important topics now which unfortunately, i know nothing about.

    just in case you have a rare free moment and nothing better to do, here’s [finally] my very lengthy post on being fat.

    have a good day : )
    georgia little pea recently posted..Hey FattyMy Profile

  23. Posted October 13, 2010 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    lol it’s a lot easier to diet when it’s not your own diet, isn’t it? When I was younger, we had a dog that was a bit overweight and needed to diet. It wasn’t hard to restrict his caloric intake, the hard part was stopping my mother from giving him snacks. She’d melt when he gave her those sad “I’m hungry” eyes, and instantly fix him a treat.
    marge recently posted..Should I give my Dog Heartworm MedicineMy Profile

  24. Posted October 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Exactly! I am thrilled that you took your vet’s recommendation to heart and Frankie is healthier for it!

    I wish someone would keep me away from all the cheese I eat. Speaking of weight, I’m going to get off my butt at this computer and go enjoy a nice fall run.
    Dr. Laci recently posted..10 Things You SHOULD Do at Your Veterinarian’s OfficeMy Profile

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