Dear Dr. Chris:
My 1 ½ year old Pomeranian, Angel, wants to eat all day. She is fed twice a day and we are trying to cut back but she follows us around the house begging all the time. She is getting overweight. What can I do?
Ahh, I can see Angel has you well trained!
Dogs are very smart and she has learned in the past that if she is persistent with her begging, she will eventually get a treat.
Even worse, when you gradually cut back on the treats and only give in occasionally, this only teaches them to be even more persistent and beg even more because they instinctively know that they will eventually get a tasty morsel from you!
They are just like children who wear down their parents at the store until the parent eventually gives in and buys them something.
It is very important that you get a handle on this right now while she is young. Numerous studies have shown that dogs that are kept in a healthy weight range, live approximately 25 percent longer than dogs that are even moderately overweight. In addition, having an overweight dog can cost much more in medical expenses due to the increased risk of diabetes, arthritis and other chronic illnesses.
So what can you do now?
I often hear from clients that their pet always seems hungry. I tell them that I’m always hungry too but that doesn’t mean I should eat all day!
There are two issues that you need to deal with; her weight gain and her behavior.
Weight loss in dogs is similar to people. It can be difficult and is fastest through diet AND exercise. Angel is old enough to be put on a light or lower calorie dog food if she is overweight. This will help if she continues to eat a similar quantity of food because it will contain less calories.
In addition, observe how much she eats in a day. Include dog food, treats and people food. Once you know this amount, reduce the quantity you feed by 20%. In addition a 20-30 minute walk every day will improve her help and yours a well.
With regards to her behavior, the best thing but also the most difficult thing is to ignore her plea for food and completely stop rewarding her begging behavior. This is often the hardest part because most people feel like they are neglecting their dog’s needs. It is time to practice tough love and reward the behavior you want.
If she is begging, you can offer her attention, take her for a walk or work on training such as sit, stay or even just have her sit with you on the couch watching TV with NO food treats. Remember to reward her with attention and affection when she is relaxing and behaving the way you want her to not while she is misbehaving. In a nutshell, reward the good behavior and ignore the bad.
If everything else fails, talk to your veterinarian about prescription diet options as well as a prescription appetite suppressant for dogs. There are some dogs that are truly unbearable when restricting their food and this should be considered if necessary. Angel’s long term health is at risk if we don’t get this under control now.
Dr. Chris Smith, VMD
Your Dog’s Favorite Veterinarian