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Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Stop the pudgy pet trend with portion control

October 13. 2017 7:13PM

I haven't watched "My Big Fat Pet's Makeover" on Animal Planet, and I won't. I would find it way too distressing to see morbidly obese animals - and it's not their fault. Pets don't feed themselves. In last week's New Hampshire Sunday News, an article titled "Fat cat? Pudgy pooch? Time to exercise" addresses increasing a dog's calorie burning through exercise. I'm really glad this topic is front and center these days, as the growing girth of our dogs has been happening for a decade or more.

In my own home, Kochi, our little 23-pound Sheba Inu mix, has put on some extra pounds. In a dog his size, 1 or 2 pounds makes a visible difference in his "waist." He gets the doggy equivalent of love handles, easily viewed in the bird's-eye view of his silhouette. I blamed his weight gain on his dad, who fed the dogs while I was away. I like my dogs to be slim, so I am very aware when they start to put on pounds.

Unfortunately with many dog owners, overweight has become the new normal. Telling an owner that his or her dog is fat is the social equivalent of telling new parents their baby is ugly. Sometimes when I gently advise a client that their dog could stand to lose a few pounds, their response is often, "Really? I had him at the vet last week and they said he's fine." Yet veterinarians have told me that they often feel as if they're fighting a losing battle. That being the case, I'm hoping readers will take this seriously and view their dogs objectively - for the sake of their health and longevity. While the emphasis has been on exercise - on burning calories - the other side of this coin is what your dog consumes.

Studies of our own eating habits demonstrate that we will eat less when we're served smaller portions on a smaller plate. Interestingly, a study at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine shows that it's the same with dogs. The researchers followed 54 dogs divided into four groups by different methods of measuring their food: large scoop and large bowl; small scoop and large bowl; large scoop and small bowl; and small scoop and small bowl. The results are significant. Measuring food with a small scoop into a small bowl resulted in smaller portions - as much as 23 percent less than the large bowl and large scoop. In other words, you'll feed less - a healthier amount - if you use a smaller, standard-sized measure such as a cup measure, rather than using a larger, 16-ounce mug and calling it "a cup," along with giving your dog a smaller bowl from which to eat.

I get that it is hard not to fill a dog's food dish. I have downsized from feeding 200-pound Mastiffs for more than 20 years to feeding a 70-pound Chinook and a 23-pound mixed breed. When I feed them - especially Kochi's little dish - it feels like way too little. But it's not ... not for his size. For the sake of his health and longevity, I carefully measure, adjusting the amount depending on his condition. I recommend measuring your dog's food and adjusting it for your dog's optimal weight.

What about treats or snacks? My cousin recently guiltily admitted to me that his dog is fat because he shares his snacks with her. I have no problem with this - I give my dogs treats all the time. The issue isn't snacks; it is simple overfeeding. Consider that there are less than 20 calories in a few teaspoons of vanilla ice cream, so letting your dog lick your bowl is not the end of the world. You can give your dog snacks and use treats in training a dog and it won't make your dog fat. What makes a dog overweight is feeding too much. So get a smaller bowl and a smaller measuring cup, and throw away the guilt.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog" and a dog behavior consultant, runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for the column, which appears every other Sunday, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns are on her website.

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