The need to shed unwanted pounds affects not only humans, but also dogs, according to veterinary experts.
Pet obesity rates have been on the rise over the past two decades in the U.S., with 59% of dogs classified as overweight or obese in 2022, according to a report from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
Obesity can shorten a dog’s life expectancy, contribute to pain and increase the risk of diseases such as diabetes, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, renal dysfunction, osteoarthritis and cancer, according to the report.
So how to help your furry friend battle the bulge?
Fox News Digital spoke with several experts who offered advice for helping your pup shed some pounds.
Dr. Jeffrey Krasnoff, a veterinarian at Brookville Animal Hospital on Long Island, New York, told Fox News Digital that if your dog is gaining weight, it is important to start by seeing your veterinarian.
“Overweight dogs should be checked for underlying medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing disease (an excess of the hormone cortisol),” Krasnoff said.
For Linda Fiordiliso — an American Kennel Club (AKC) judge who also shows bulldogs in national competitions and owns a dog grooming business in West Islip, New York — keeping her dogs in shape and healthy is a priority.
“The dog should look toned. I don’t need an Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I need a dog that looks healthy,” she said, noting that this requires monitoring the animal’s diet and exercise.
Even for dogs who aren’t on the competitive circuit, it’s important for them to remain at a healthy weight, the AKC judge told Fox News Digital.
Advice for monitoring intake
Overweight issues in dogs are usually caused by overfeeding, Krasnoff said — noting that pet owners need to be disciplined when it comes to feeding dogs the appropriate food and portions.
“Dogs can’t open refrigerators, so it must be the owners who are giving the food to their beloved dogs.”
“A lot of people give too many treats — and that’s how the dog gains weight, just like a person who eats too many snacks and then sits on the couch all day.”
Krasnoff said he’s had success with certain prescription diet foods — as long as the owner strictly adheres to the diet plan.
To reduce calorie intake, Fiordiliso said she adds frozen peas or string beans to her bulldogs’ food to help them feel fuller with fewer calories.
There are a variety of tactics to help dogs lose weight — starting with identifying the source of the extra calories, said Lori Asprea, a licensed veterinary technician and assistant professor at Long Island University Post Veterinary Technology School.
“Perhaps the pet is being overfed at meals or is being given too many treats, or kids or other family members might be handing out extra goodies or parts of their dinner,” Asprea told Fox News Digital.
The next step is to determine the pet’s caloric needs.
“I suggest that anyone interested in weight loss for their pet consult with their veterinarian to help them calculate the furry family member’s caloric needs,” Asprea said. “There is a base formula, but we tailor this based on pet activity, breed, health status and goals.”
In households with multiple people, it can be difficult to keep track of how often the dog is fed.
Asprea recommends coming up with a plan to track what the pet gets daily — the amount of food and treats, including the calorie counts — and then comparing the actual intake with the recommended intake.
“Some of the treats out there have a lot of calories and can really pack on the pounds for our pets,” Jacqueline Geary, a licensed veterinary technician specializing in emergency and critical care on Long Island, told Fox News Digital.
“Substituting treats with something such as a baby carrot can make a difference,” said Geary, who’s also a faculty instructor at Long Island University Post Veterinary Technology Program in Brookville, New York.
She recommends breaking treats into smaller pieces rather than giving an entire milk bone for one reward.
For best results, veterinary experts suggest reducing daily intake gradually.
“With overweight pets, just like people, we start small and make gradual changes to daily activities.”
“We never want the pet to be underfed or have behavior and health changes from a drastic reduction in food,” Asprea said.
“You can speak with your veterinarian about low-calorie snack options and certain prescription diets that are low-calorie but high in fiber, which allow pets to eat a higher quantity and feel satisfied while reducing calories,” she added.
It’s never a good idea to try a human diet trend on your pet, experts emphasized.
For example, animal experts said there is not much research to show that intermittent fasting is effective in dogs.
“It is not a tactic we use, since the studies were fairly inconclusive and more research will be needed to better understand how something like intermittent fasting would affect our pets,” Asprea said.
“For now, we do not recommend fasting your pet unless it is medically necessary.”
Tips for keeping dogs active
Increasing activity levels not only helps pups shed pounds, it also boosts the animal’s mental and physical health, experts agree.
“The time spent being active depends on the pet’s health, age, disposition and breed,” Asprea said.
“We always say ‘a tired pet is a good pet,’ so it’s important for owners to tune into their individual pets’ needs.”
Each animal, even within the same breed, can be different, she pointed out.
“It’s worth taking note of how much they want to engage or if they have destructive behaviors because they are bored,” Asprea said.
Consult with your veterinarian before starting your furry friend on a new exercise regimen, she also said.
“As a general rule, with overweight pets, just like people, we start small and make gradual changes to daily activities so as not to overwhelm or stress them physically,” Asprea told Fox News Digital.
There are ways to encourage lower-impact activity while being mindful of the extra stress the added pounds put on your dog’s joints.
“In my house, we play hide and seek with dinner,” Asprea said. “I take half the meal of kibbles and hide them all over and give the command to find. This is physically and mentally stimulating, all while getting dinner done.”
Fiordiliso suggested increasing the animal’s activity level by going on more walks and playing with a ball to get the dog moving to help burn calories for both the pet and the owner.
If at-home tactics do not seem to work, veterinary experts recommend using other services, such as physical therapy for pets.
There are also veterinarians who specialize in sports medicine and rehabilitation, using special tools like underwater treadmills to help get pets moving safely.