If your dog is overweight, you should start immediately to get him to a healthy body weight. Rest assured that it can be done! First and foremost, pay attention to what and how much he is eating. Just as with humans, caloric intake must be equal or less than burned energy output for a Rattie to lose or maintain weight. It is seldom necessary to buy a so-called “special” or “vet provided” diet to lose weight. As long as you are feeding a high quality food* that is protein-based with low (or no) grains, fillers, and sugar, just cut back the amount fed by half to three quarters. Use an actual measuring scoop rather than “eye-balling” the amount to ensure accuracy.
If you give extra treats outside of meal time then be sure to compensate by reducing the amount of food given for the daily meals. Many owners who have dogs in formal training classes (where lots of training treats are given) greatly reduce the portion size of the dog’s daily meal or even skip it entirely as compensation for the calories consumed in training treats.
Assess the quality of the treats you are feeding. For example, cheddar cheese is very high in fat — switch to low fat string cheese perhaps. Read the package of dog biscuits you use and see if it is a high calorie treat. Try using baby carrots, raw green beans, or even celery (remove the strings) for some low calorie treat options.
If your dog tends to “feed himself,” either from a lucrative baby’s high chair, mooching off other family members, other pets in the home, or even the cat litter box (yes, indeed), you must cut off the source of his supply. Have a candid talk with the other household members to be sure that all are on the same page for canine health and keep an eye on the dog anytime there is food around.
Although it should go without saying, NEVER “free feed” a dog who has a weight problem. This means you should feed in 1-2 specific meals per day, measured carefully, rather than leaving a food bowl down with food available all day. If you offer food and it is not all eaten right away, pick it up after 10 minutes and save the rest for the next meal time. At the next meal, only add enough so that the total offered is a regular portion; do NOT give a full portion in addition to what had not been finished at the last meal. If your RT eats well but does not finish his food, there is a good chance you are offering too much.
“But he’s still hungry” is a common complaint of the obese dog owner. There are some tricks you can use to help your pooch adjust to new smaller meal rations. Add some canned pumpkin or green beans to add bulk without adding many calories to his meal. Float your dog’s food in a bowl of water when serving to again give a feeling of fullness with the added benefit of keeping his kidneys flushed. Feed by hand or in small batches so your RT registers that he has eaten, rather than gobbling his food and looking for more. And finally, realize that most dogs ALWAYS seem to want more food, but providing the proper amount of nutrition is one of the biggest favors you can do for your dog, even if he seems to think otherwise!
Some folks tend to overfeed as a substitute for attention, a way to show love, or a cure for guilt. The Rattie owner who cannot resist those soft, pleading eyes may be an owner who is adding to canine obesity. Food is not a substitute for love, it is just an energy source. Try spending quality time with your pup instead. As in humans, diet alone is seldom enough in a serious weight loss program. In nice weather, get out and walk your dog, go for a run, play fetch, or do some agility work to keep your Rattie mentally and physically fit. But what if the weather is unpleasant? Lucky for us, our little Ratties are a great size for indoor games, too. Use the stairs or a long hallway to play a rousing game of fetch. Work on training fun tricks like spin, crawl, roll over and other active tricks. Or you might consider a doggie treadmill to make sure your pooch gets his full workout in each day. Do note that an obese dog may not be able to handle a lot of exercise in the beginning, so start slow and keep it fun, gradually increasing the amount of exercise as you see what he can tolerate. Keep in mind that, just like people, dogs that aren’t used to exercise may get a bit sore in the beginning. Give him a good gentle massage and keep him hydrated and stretched after vigorous exercise.
One important step when trying to help your Rattie lose weight is to weigh him regularly and track it. This will help you gauge if your new diet and fitness program is working. If your Rattie weighs the same (or has unhappily gained more weight) you need to adjust your program. If he is down even a tenth of a pound or so, keep doing what you are doing and if your dog will tolerate it, gradually increase the exercise.
Once the dog has achieved a healthy weight, don’t just stop and go back to how things were before, unless you want to undo all of your success. Instead, use the next two months to transition him to an on-going maintenance regimen. Start by increasing the food SLIGHTLY over what he has been getting, continuing the exercise, and weighing again in two weeks. If he has continued to lose weight, again increase the food portion slightly, but if he has maintained his weight, continue at the current food level. (And obviously if you find that he gained weight at the amount, then you will need to cut back again.) Continue to measure food portions and monitor weight at least every other week until he has stayed at the same healthy weight for at least two months. At that point you can assume that you have found the right food amount for this lucky dog.