Brian’s two dogs couldn’t be more diverse when it comes to food and weight. Although Roxy and Cha-Cha are litter-mates and similar in height and build, Roxy is rotund, and Cha-Cha looks thin enough to be a super model. Brian describes meal time as quiet and mannerly, with Cha-Cha politely waiting for Roxy to finish eating before moving toward the shared food bowl. To add to the confusion, Brian writes that neither dog seems to eat much at all.
Whoa, Brian – red flags all over this letter! First, let’s discuss the way you are feeding your dogs. Expecting dogs to share food can make mealtime extremely stressful. What you are interpreting as ‘polite’ interaction between dogs around the food bowl is more likely intimidation and submission. Feeding in this manner also makes it impossible for you to determine how much each dog is eating, and it seems likely that neither dog is eating the right amount, based on your description.
Feed each dog in separate areas and in separate bowls as well. Change your routine to offering meals twice daily, leaving food available to each dog only for about 10 minutes per meal. This will quickly change your dog’s eating habits from grazing at the bowl throughout the day to eating steadily and finishing a meal within a few minutes. After 10 minutes, regardless of whether or not there is still food left, pick up both bowls and put them away until the next mealtime. The food bowl, full or empty, can be a catalyst for squabbles between dogs, so don’t let them remain on the floor all day.
Now on to feeding the right amount of food. It seems you are aware that Roxy is in need of calorie restriction, while Cha-Cha could use a little more weight on her frame. Begin by getting a current weight on the dogs, and then measuring out the amount of food each dog gets each day. This way, you can check their weight every couple of weeks and adjust as needed. In addition, look for other ways Roxy may be getting additional calories; do you have a cat in the house? Maybe Roxy is helping herself to the cat food or the, uh, ‘candy’ in the cat box, or perhaps you have another family member who is giving her a few treats on the sly. Stay away from special “weight loss” diets for dogs; just regulate weight the old fashioned way, by having Roxy burn more calories than she consumes each day for gradual, healthy weight loss. And remember, food is not love. If you want to offer more “love” to your dog, do so in the form of exercise, play and attention.
Finally, if after a few weeks of monitoring meals, adjusting quantities for both dogs and offering healthy exercise it doesn’t result in proper weight loss or gain, respectively, I’d recommend a veterinary check up, including lab work and thyroid function specifically. The thyroid gland produces hormones that control your dog’s metabolism, and if it isn’t functioning properly, it can result in real problems. Dogs that are inexplicably over- or under-weight, have a reduced tolerance for exercise, have skin issues or a dull, dry coat, or are experiencing behavioral changes should have thyroid testing done as part of a thorough veterinary examination.
Good luck Brian, on getting both of your dogs back to being healthy and happy.
Lisa Moore’s pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.