I was at a veterinary conference when I heard this statement: "By the time your patient is limping, he's already at Stage 4 Osteoarthritis. The single most effective tool to slow the progression is weight loss."
Whoa. Stage 4 is just scary no matter what disease it's attached to. That means it's there to stay. Can't cure it. Intellectually, I knew you couldn't cure arthritis, but I never thought of it this way.
Then, hearing that weight loss is the most effective tool — more than any medication or drug — to keep a dog moving and healthy really convinced me that I had to get Tango, my yellow Labrador above, in tip-top shape.
He's an older boy now and we all know how hard it is to take weight off when you're older. It's true for people, it's true for dogs. My terrific veterinarians were happy to hear I was serious about Tango's weight loss and analyzed his food intake. They gave me the specific amount of food he should be getting to lose weight.
Find out how much food your dog really needs. Your veterinarian can tell you how many kilocalories your dog needs every day.
Stick with that amount. Yes, your dog would probably eat more food if you gave it to him. I have Labradors. They'd eat six, even eight cups of food if I let them. So yes, they always look at me as if "Is that ALL? I'll just wither away to nothing with just that."
Measure the food. I got measuring cups. Like the kind you have in your kitchen. If your veterinarian says 1/2 cup of food, make sure it's just 1/2 cup of food.
Just a little rounded scoop of food at each meal can contribute a couple of extra cups of food per week for your dog. Take an extra second to look at the scoop to ensure that it's a level (or a little less) scoop of food.
Limit the treats. My dogs still get frozen stuffed Kongs. But instead of stuffing those Kongs with peanut butter, I now use canned pumpkin and fat-free yogurt with that peanut butter. That addition alone resulted in significant weight loss for Tango.
Increase physical activity. If your veterinarian clears your dog for physical exercise, get out there and do it! Tango loves to swim and that's super-kind to his joints, so the veterinarian cleared us for all the swimming Tango wants!
Tango is now at an ideal weight for a dog with osteoarthritis. He's on the light side of normal and would be scored at a 4 on Purina's Body Condition System.
Wondering what your dog's ideal weight should be? What a normal weight dog looks like? Check out this really nice chart by Purina. You can download a full-size version at Purina's website.
Weight-loss (for overweight pets) can benefit them in so many ways. I'm looking forward to spending time with Tango for many years — I'd like for him to be pain-free as long as possible. And if leveling a scoop of food can help, you can bet I'll be doing it. It's so easy and doesn't cost a thing!
Of course, always check with your veterinarian before putting your dog on a weight loss program.