Group of people sitting outside in the grass with a dog laying on a man's chest.

Losing weight with your dog

Exercise and healthy eating are good habits for you AND your dog

A chubby puppy can be pretty cute, but declining health and joint problems are far less adorable. Statistics show that 40% of American dogs are overweight, a stat that mirrors how overweight their owners are, too. For a long time, people have known that having a pet can keep you healthy—merely petting a dog or cat lowers blood pressure and stress levels. With obesity reaching epidemic proportions, people are starting to turn to their pets for another health benefit: weight loss.

A book by veterinarian Marty Becker and weight loss expert Dr. Robert Kushner, Fitness Unleashed!: A Dog and Owner’s Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together (Three Rivers Press, 2006), shows how dogs can give an exercise program a shot of confidence and exuberance. Working out together is certainly a lot more fun than working out alone.

He’s not heavy, he’s my puppy

The canine obesity problem isn’t about people being neglectful of their dogs—the problem is that people love their dogs with food rather than scratches behind the ear. All those mid-afternoon snacks, leftover treats, and after-dinner plate-licks add up to extra calories, especially if the regular amount of pet food you’re feeding your dog stays the same on those days that you give your dog table scraps.

Dr. Becker says that dogs are the perfect walking partners because they don’t deviate from routine like a human workout partner might. Fido is always there, always on time, and always willing.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Make a commitment to your walking routine and stick with it. If it’s raining, buy a raincoat for both you and your dog. If it’s snowing, get some snow shoes for yourself and some snow booties for Fido.
  2. Dr. Becker recommends starting out walking two blocks for every pound of your dog’s body weight. So, if you have a twenty-pound dog, you’ll walk forty blocks, or about two miles. Increase the distance by about five to ten percent each week as you and your dog get used to the new plan.
  3. You should walk briskly enough so that both of you are panting a little, but not so vigorously that you couldn’t easily carry on a conversation, or that your dog is salivating heavily and falling behind.
  4. Take water with you. Your chunky hound will get thirsty and may even try to lie down. Give him a little water break and then encourage him to keep moving, but don’t push him if he seems overtaxed.
  5. Put both of you on a low-calorie diet. Consult a doctor or nutritionist for the best plan for you and consult a veterinarian for the best plan for your dog. There are some good, low-calorie, high-fiber dog foods on the market that will keep your dog feeling full.
  6. Feed smaller meals more often. Five or six for you and two or three for your dog.
  7. Cut back on the high-calorie snacks and snack on healthy treats instead. Your dog may relish veggies, like carrots, broccoli, and green beans.
  8. Weigh yourself and your dog every week to chart both of your weight loss progress. Remember, a two-pound weight loss on a ten-pound dog is very significant.
  9. If your dog is more excited about the walk than you are, use a front-clip harness, so he can’t pull you down the street faster than you’d like to go.
  10. Don’t forget to pack some extra bags to clean up after your dog.

Nikki Moustaki is a dog trainer, a regular contributor to Dog Fancy Magazine and Popular Dogs, and the author of six books on dog care and training.

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