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I probably enjoy feeding my dogs more than I do myself. After all, I don’t get quite as excited opening up a can of pureed meat.
However, my enthusiasm for feeding the dogs did lead to a house full of overweight mutts. On top of exuberant cooked meals that probably met three days of calorie requirements in one sitting, I also learned that all off-the-shelf dog food is high in calories. Even the ones that market themselves as low calorie still make it difficult to keep a dog well fed but under their calorie requirements.
This is particularly difficult with a small breed such as a five pound chihuahua.
However, it was the corgi mix with his stubby legs and adorable wiggly butt that gained the most weight. While I did take his weight seriously, I found it difficult to make any progress with helping him shed a few pounds.
First, I tried cutting back the calories by substituting steamed green beans for a portion of his dog food. This ultimately led to me cutting back on home cooked food and canned food, and relying primarily on dog cereal AKA kibble. None of us were happy with this arrangement. Plus, the green beans really didn’t do enough to help him shed the pounds.
I tried giving him more exercise but given circumstances at the time, it was difficult to take him for regular walks. He was not fond of them, and the overall situation became increasingly stressful.
When the weight issue reached the point that he would struggle to jump up onto his favorite couch outside on the patio, I knew I had to do more. So after researching, I invested in a dog treadmill.
Some people may assume that the problem would be getting the dog to use the treadmill, but Cecil is a good boy and he took to the treadmill with minimal training. I can’t say the same for the five pound chihuahua who gave me a look as if to say, ‘No, Mom, we’re not doing this,’ and then sat down and let the treadmill carry her to the end. But my primary focus at the time was on Cecil who was struggling to lose weight.
Cecil dutifully walked on his treadmill and then even let me increase the pace into a light jog. However, I was concerned that I would overdo it so I took a page from my own exercise experience and decided that every day was probably not a great idea. Instead, I would have him run on the treadmill and then give him multiple days off to recuperate. I did notice that he would be less active on the following days.
My main uncertainty stemmed from the speed in which I set the treadmill. I felt as if he benefited more if he started to pant a little but then I also worried that the routine was too vigorous. After consulting with the vet, I learned that short periods of panting are in fact fine and beneficial. As long as I watched that he was not overdoing it or trying to get off the treadmill or becoming lethargic, short runs were fine. I would ease him into a good pace for a few minutes, and then we would be done for the next few days.
I was quite pleased with my investment, so imagine my surprise when I learned that small dogs do not burn very many calories in an exercise session.
The treadmill runs did not make up for the extra calories Cecil was eating from over-the-counter dog food and green beans, even after I had removed all treats, canned food–which tends to be more fattening–and our beloved home-cooked meals.
This was an oversight on my part. A $600 oversight, though it is nice to have the treadmill for exercise on days where I absolutely cannot be found outside, considering I live in the desert.
The vet had previously suggested that a prescription diet may be the way to go, but I didn’t want to manage a prescription diet around other dogs who do not eat the same food. Plus, buying dog food through a pharmacy sounded like a nightmare. On top of that, I had reservations about how much that was going to increase the cost of dog food every month, considering I have three mouths attached to wagging tails.
Once I did the math on doggy calories and realized that the numbers were against me, I finally gave in and accepted the prescription for diet dog food.
As it turned out, the cost was not much more than I was already paying and not more than if I factored in the cost of canned food and home cooked meals, which had been staples in their diet previously. It also wasn’t more expensive than the higher-end dog food that they had been eating at one point as well. That said, the canned diet food is quite a bit more expensive and would add up faster for three dogs. There wasn’t any practical way to keep them from all eating the same food, and as it turned out, the diet food was healthier than many other brands they had been eating, even for the dogs who didn’t need to be on a diet.
Ordering from a pharmacy did not turn out to be that big of a deal, considering Chewy will fulfill it and ship it on a schedule. Only once a year do I have to bother with renewing the prescription and getting it to the correct people at Chewy, which can sometimes become a hassle, but it’s not the end of the world because during that time, the dogs can just eat normal dog food. This would be a bigger issue if the prescription dog food was being used to manage a disease or illness, but in this case it just hinders their summer body for a short period of time.
Also, while they love the same brand of kibble from the over-the-counter dog food, the prescription diet food is slightly less appealing. Both have jerky pieces among the kibble, which are a hit with all three of the dogs, but overall they do greatly prefer the non-prescription one which also happens to be much higher in calories.
In the beginning, I kept them on a strict diet of prescription dog food so that we could make progress on this weight issue. But once the dogs were back to a healthy size, I began to use the prescription dog food to help offset the preferred dog food. Now they eat primarily the prescription dog food, but I mix in the favorite version from over-the-counter.
I invested in automatic dog food feeders due to a change in my schedule, but they served the dual purpose of allowing me to easily space out feeding times during the day into four meals instead of two. This allows them to graze and not become hungry in between meal times.
When their weight is acceptable, I will occasionally splurge with a can of dog food divided among them to mix things up. And we still do steamed green beans from time to time, as those are low in calories, though they don’t provide enough nutrients to make up the bulk of their food. And of course, I still grill them a chicken breast, or slow cook lamb on occasion for them.
We also try to get more exercise overall, even though we don’t always succeed at that.
As for the treadmill, I don’t regret purchasing it, but it does live a double life with a pillow as a cat bed.