Some breeds are never satisfied, regardless of how much we feed. So how to we tell when they're full and how much is just enough?
The main contributor to body weight gain in domestic dogs is, quite simply, feeding too much food, lack of correct portion control. Ultimately, if you give your dog too much food they'll gain weight. More calories in than calories out leads to weight gain and continuous weight gain leads to obesity and a whole host of associated medical problems.
In theory, by feeding the right food and proper portion control will result in a dog carrying the optimal body weight. It may be a simple enough concept, but let's look at what's going on when we feed our pets to understand what exactly we're feeding.
Like humans, carbohydrates is often the main antagonist when it comes to domestic dogs gaining weight. In the wild, access to carbs is limited for dogs. In our world, carbs are everywhere!
Here's how dogs process foods & what it means to their weight
In order to understand the main cause of weight gain, or alternatively obesity, we will discuss the mechanism that bodies go through in order to digest and ingest food intake.
The human body converts carbohydrates to Glucose after digestion that is directly absorbed into the blood. Now the actual mechanism starts to turn this glucose into energy. The glucose in blood has to be transported to cells where it is converted into energy. This transportation is carried out by Insulin, a powerful hormone secreted by Pancreas. The insulin attaches itself to glucose molecules and transports them to body cells where a chemical reaction called oxidation takes place resulting in production of heat energy that is subsequently utilized by human body to sustain itself and to perform work.
For dogs however, the process is slightly different. Their equivalent is the ability to absorb protein and animal fat (and not carbohydrates). A dog can efficiently get everything they need from animal proteins, which is their natural diet.
Dogs are however scavengers and in the wild this is an essential survival technique which gives dogs the ability to essentially hoover up whatever they can, regardless if they are hungry or not, in the wild this is essential as they never knew when their next meal was and their natural instinct takes over.
Dogs, just like us, have the unlimited ability to store fat. Stored fat is bad. We know this and it can do untold damage to our bodies. It slows the body down and if it is never given the chance to be used as energy it becomes a ticking time bomb that will, sadly, shorten the life of your dog.
That's the science. Calories from carbs and calories from protein are treated differently by the digestion process for humans and dogs. Dogs are generally fed a protein heavy natural dog food diet. This is good news. This allows us to restrict their access to carbs. Unlike us, dogs shouldn't be tempted to dip in to the bread bin every morning, they shouldn't be consuming sugary treats or lots of biscuits. Their treats don't need to be the same as our treats. In short, there is no excuse for allowing our dogs to become obese once we understand their dietary needs.
This is why most dog obesity comes as a simple result of lack of awareness over correct portion control and the right type of food.
As we've said before through the pages of K9 Magazine, it is without question, over feeding and lack of suitable levels of physical exertion are the leading cause of obesity in dogs (as well as people).
For many dog owners, feeding the right portion size for their dogs is something left to a fairly non-scientific approach of measuring out enough food to fill the bowl. In fact, the Butcher's Pet Care Healthy Happy Hound report found that 22% of dog owners (and I used to be one of them) fill the bowl up before putting it down for our dog's to eat, despite the fact that different types of dog food have completely different nutritional components.
If we think about portion control like this: what’s the difference between a bowl full of fish and pasta and a bowl full of chocolate and lard? We can establish that portion size and nutritional elements of the actual food are not one and the same thing. Similar to the contrast between calories derived from carbohydrates and calories coming from proteins.
When it comes to your dog’s food, it’s absolutely essential that you feed the right amount relevant to your dog’s age, breed, current weight and lifestyle. If they eat quickly, consider investing in something like a raised dog bowl - some dog owners swear it modifies the speed at which their dog eats!
Speak with your vet if you need to
Understand pet food labels and above all, don’t make that classic mistake of simply filling the dog’s food bowl to the brim. There is no hard and fast rule for how to feed YOUR dog. But understanding the huge significance of feeding the right amount can be the difference between having a happy, healthy dog who will live to a ripe old age or an unhappy, unfit dog who suffers from the numerous by-products of obesity – such as aching joints, heart disease and much more.
Ultimately therefore you are doing the right thing if your dog is maintaining a healthy weight, but if they are losing weight when they do not need to then contemplate giving more food and vice versa. As ever if you are unsure seek professional advice. Regular weighing of your dog will help you and your dog keep on top of their weight.