Since 25 to 40 percent of dogs are considered overweight or obese, according to numerous university reports, there’s a good chance you’re living with a rotund Rover. If so, you’ve probably mulled over dog foods labeled with terms like “low calorie,” “lite” and “weight control.” New research, however, has determined that such diets vary widely beyond the packaging and labeling differences.

Tufts University Pet Food Study
Scientists from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University recently investigated nearly 100 commercially available pet food diets with weight management claims. “There is so much information — and misinformation — about pet foods, it’s understandable that people are confused about what to feed their dogs and cats,” says Dr. Lisa Freeman, a professor of nutrition at Cummings who holds a doctorate in nutrition and veterinary medicine.

Under federal guidelines, pet foods labeled with terms like “light” or “low calorie” must provide caloric content on their labels. The foods must also adhere to a maximum kilocalorie per kilogram restriction. But Freeman and her team found that more than half of the evaluated foods exceed this maximum. The researchers also discovered that if owners follow the feeding recommendations for many of the foods, their pets actually gain weight.

Dog Weight Problem
Overweight dogs live shorter lives, according to many studies, with a reduction in life span by two or more years.

Dr. Gail K. Smith, professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, worked on a 14-year study of canine diet. Smith and her colleagues found that “lean body conformation forestalls some chronic illnesses (in dogs), most notably osteoarthritis, and that diet can either mitigate or exacerbate the expression of genetic diseases.” It’s very important, therefore, for dog owners to keep their dogs lean, with palpable ribs and an obvious waistline.

Selecting an Appropriate Weight Control Dog Food
You should first “determine the number of calories your pet is currently consuming, including main meals, snacks, treats and toppers,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, an Ohio-based veterinarian. Establish a goal weight with your veterinarian and then move on to selecting foods.

The foods should offer complete nutrition and contain special ingredients for weight loss, such as L-carnitine, an ingredient that helps burn fat while keeping your dog energized and feeling full.

In case you ever have a question about the food, quality manufacturers provide a toll-free number on the package. Feel free to call up and discuss your concerns with their pet specialists.

Overweight Versus Obese Dogs
Beyond these basics, you also have a choice now between “off the shelf” weight control dog foods and special veterinary formulas available through many veterinarians. Also called “therapeutic diets,” these veterinary formula diets are generally designed for the obese pet. Obese dogs and cats are 20 percent over their ideal weight. Therapeutic diets are often the most restricted in fat and calorie content.

5 Steps to Follow
As you work with your dog on its new weight management plan, Dicke advises that you do the following:

  • Step 1: Approach weight loss in a holistic manner. Often, this means starting with a change in habits.
  • Step 2: Accurately measure the food, and if you are giving any treats or biscuits, consider the calories added to your pet’s daily intake.
  • Step 3: If possible, feed the daily food allotment in multiple small meals throughout the day.
  • Step 4: Increase daily exercise.
  • Step 5: Any human interaction or attention tends to increase activity. If you show interest in your dog and what it’s doing, chances are, your dog will be more energetic and engaged.

While it’s essential to select the right weight loss
diet, your companionship cannot be packaged or replaced. As Dicke points out,
your dog’s “activity level, the home environment and (your) vigilance” are
essential to helping your dog lose the excess pounds and keep them off for

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