Obesity is a huge problem in domestic dogs both in the UK and USA. And ever more countries are joining this unhappy group. What is more, Labradors are particularly likely to gain too much weight.
Canine obesity comes with a raft of accompanying health problems, just as it does in people.
Feeding your Labrador just the right amount can be a bit of a balancing act, but it’s one that you have a responsibility to try your best to achieve.
Not all Labradors need the same amount of food, so you will need to pay attention to your individual dog’s needs, and be prepared to change your habits if necessary.
Some dogs like working dogs for example, will need quite a lot more food in the winter than they do in the summer. This is down to the amount of exercise he is getting differing dramatically in the changing seasons.
You need to adapt your feeding to suit these shifts.
He needs more exercise
People often say to me, “oh my lab is a bit overweight because he hasn’t had much exercise lately”
Well no, he isn’t.
He may well need more exercise, but that is not why he is fat. He is overweight because he has eaten too much.
And unless he has developed opposable thumbs, the only people with control over the food cupboard, are the people he lives with.
The exercise needs of your dog are an important but separate issue that we look at in other articles. The important thing to remember is: the less exercise you give the dog, the less you must feed him.
You can’t be forever playing ‘catch up’ with his weight, or hoping to spend more time walking him next week. Once put on, weight is hard to shift and it will simply go up and up over time.
You need to control it on a regular weekly/monthly basis, starting now.
How do I know if my Labrador is too fat?
It is really important that you keep your Labrador’s weight appropriate for his height and build, rather than following guidelines on food packets or in books too closely.
The best way to tell is by eye and touch.
Have a look at your dog and compare him with this picture of a healthy Labrador.
Look at your dog from the side. Does his belly slope upwards towards his groin, or is it a level line from his front legs to his back, or even worse is it sagging down between his legs?
Your Labrador should have an upward sloping line from the base of his chest, towards his back legs.
Now look at the dog from above. Can you see a ‘waist’ just in front of his hips? You should be able to! Your dog should not be the same width all the way down his body.
Look at your dog from the side again. Can you see any ribs? You should not be able to see a lab’s ribs whilst he is standing still though you may well be able to see the last one or two when he is eating, drinking or bending and twisting.
Run you hands along his rib cages firmly. Can you feel his ribs? Ideally you should be able to just feel, but not see, your dog’s ribs. If you can see ribs when he is standing still he is too thin. If you cannot feel his ribs at all with your hands he is too fat!
My Labrador is always hungry
People are often concerned because they worry that their dog is still hungry after eating his dinner. Here is an important truth. Most Labradors are always hungry.
You cannot win this battle. These are greedy dogs and your Labrador will always want more food than you give him. No matter how much that may be.
If your Labrador is overweight he really needs to eat less and he will get used to his new regime quite quickly.
Cutting down on food
The first thing to cut out of your overweight dog’s diet is any snacks or fillers that you give him in between meals. If he gets a lot of household scraps these may have to go too. And if you use food in training, this should be deducted from his daily food allowance.
It could also help to find healthier alternatives to your usual training treats.
If your dog gets nothing to eat but a complete dog food then you can safely simply reduce the quantity you give him by about a third for three to four days. Take a photo of him from above and from the side before you start.
At the end of the three to four days, check the dog over as described above and ask yourself if he is still fat.
If you think he has improved a little but needs to slim down a bit further, keep going for another three to four days then review the situation. Compare the photo you took a week ago and you should see some improvement.
Keep going until your dog has a ‘waist’ again and you can feel his ribcage when you press firmly along his sides. You may need to increase his food slightly in order to maintain his new slim figure and ensure he does not get thin.
If the dog is not losing weight after a couple of weeks on two-thirds of his previous food allowance, you may need to cut his food down even further. This is a good point to check in with your vet, let him know what you are doing and get his opinion on cutting down further on the dog’s daily food rations
Make your dog a lucky dog
Dogs are so lucky when their owners take a responsible attitude towards food and force them to lose weight if they are fat. These lucky dogs never have to worry about portion size, or wrestle with their conscience over that extra piece of cheese.
You take care of all that for them.
The whole process is stress free and the dog starts to feel the benefits quite rapidly. Less weight means it’s easier to move and breathe, joint pain is relieved and the dog will often have a new lease of life.
Do your dog a favour and give him a better chance of good health and long life. Keep him slim.
Have you struggled with your Labrador’s weight? Let us know how you helped him to stay fit in the comments section below.
This article was first published in 2012, and has been revised and updated for 2015.