Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter

Apr 13, 2010

Nearly 50 percent of American dogs are overweight and the numbers rise every year. But why are today's pooches so portly?

Dr. Ernie Ward, practicing veterinarian and author of "Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs are Getting Fatter - A Vet's Plan to Save Their Lives" took questions on what is causing this epidemic and what owners can do to get their pets back to their svelte selves.

Thank you for attending today's web chat on pet obesity. As many of you know, pet obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., now affecting 45 percent of all adult dogs and 58 percent of cats. That equals approximately 34 million dogs and 54 million cats that are overweight and at risk for diseases such as diabetes/insulin resistance, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer and more.

I recently published a book on the pet obesity epidemic, "Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter - A Vet's Plan to Save Their Lives" (2010 HCI Publishing). I am excited to take your questions regarding pet obesity, weight-loss diets and nutritional supplements, why I call treats "kibble crack," exercising with your dogs and anything else pet-related!

For additional information and pet weight loss tools, visit The Association for Pet Obesity's website at or my book at 

Thank you for your interest in helping our pet companions live longer, healthier and more enjoyable lives.

Dr. Ernie Ward
North Carolina


What is your opinion of giving dogs "people food"? I often give my dog a little scrambled egg or cottage cheese mixed in with her kibble, or a small piece of apple or meat, etc., while I'm cooking. And she loves asparagus! She's definitely not overweight - we go to the beach for a good run every other day or so (she's a Jack Russell Terrier - it's her "medicine").  I know what people foods could cause potential problems and don't give her those. And it's exclusively natural, low-fat stuff. I just like to vary her diet and keep her interested in food because like many terriers, she's not very food-oriented. But do you think that people food could lead to obesity more easily than dog food? I am careful to limit her eggs, cottage cheese, etc., to about a tablespoon. I'm wondering, too, if as she gets older (she's 3 now), it becomes something I should give her less and less often?

Sounds like you've intuitively adopted what I call the "Hybrid Diet" in my book, "Chow Hounds." I advocate adding real, whole foods to a dogs' diet. Of course, if you add "real food, " you'll need to adjust the amount of dog food you're feeding to maintain the proper caloric intake. The biggest mistake most pet owners make is feeding "people foods" (I really dislike that term - food is food, especially healthy food) and continuing to feed pet food without adjusting for calories. For example, let's say your dog needs 400 calories per day to maintain its current healthy weight. You indulge and give her some people foods that have 200 calories. You'll need to reduce her dog food by that 200 calories.

And this is where we get into a potential nutritional problem: if the food you fed is nutritionally incomplete (say, a slice of pizza) and you reduce the nutritionally complete dog food, you're actually robbing your pet of nutrition.  This is why I always recommend wholesome "real" foods for treats and as part of my Hybrid Diet.  

Keep giving veggies; just remember to reduce the dog food when you do. 

Are there federal regulations on the weight of dogs? Is there a dog weight czar?

No pet weight czar, just a lot of concerned veterinarians and pet parents. Who knows...

We got our dog in March as an 8-week-old puppy. When spring sprung we were generally outside for a minimum of two hours per day, five days a week. This regime kept both of us slim. Even in the winter we walked. With baby in a stroller, we walked. Generally, he stayed at 75 pounds and top weight as an elderly dog was 82 pounds. He was 27 inches at the shoulder. To this day, almost 20 years later, the only reason I know my neighbors is because of our dog.

Love it! Walking with your dog benefits the health of both ends of the leash. I love that you've also witnessed the amazing ability of dogs as PEOPLE MAGNETS! The social interaction we receive when we walk our dogs is nothing short of incredible.  Everyone should try it. 

We and they fail to get enough exercise to burn off calories? Neutered animals are less active?

You are absolutely right! No one is getting enough physical activity in this country. This is why owning a dog is a great incentive for exercise. All dogs need at least 20-30 minutes of aerobic intensity walking per day. Larger breeds often need much more. 

Neutering and spaying reduces a dog or cat's metabolic rate by  25-35%. This is why you can not feed according to pet food labels. These guidelines are made for intact adult pets. In my book, I go into considerable detail on how to calculate the exact number of calories your pet needs each day based on its lifestyle.

My sister has a 3-year-old beagle that is very overweight. He looks like he ate a bowling ball. He'll only eat table food (not necessarily food that's great for humans let alone a dog) and no matter what you do he refuses to eat dog food. What can she do?

The problem isn't that she is feeding "table food." It's that she is feeding too much. The first thing she needs to do is have her vet check out her dog to make sure a medical problem isn't causing the weight gain and then begin a weight loss program that is described in Chow Hounds.

I have a miniature pinscher who really likes to eat. Several people, including a veterinarian, have told me that this breed has a tendency to overeat if food is available. We walk about four miles a day together, but that does not seem enough to keep the weight off her. What has worked in the past was a very gradual decrease in her daily amount of food. Do you have other suggestions?

Exercise is an important component of health but it is difficult to "exercise your way to weight loss." The first step is calculating the number of calories your dog needs each day and then finding a diet that allows you to maintain a healthy weight. In Chow Hounds, I describe the different nutritional approaches to weight loss. I typically start my patients on a high protein diet and supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and L-carnitine. I like your gradual weight loss approach but typically take a more aggressive plan with my patients.

My comment is that it is likely what is making the owners fatter too: a poor selection of food and not enough exercise. I use "Solid Gold" brand, is that good (if you are familiar with it)? I mix it with a mixture I make at home which includes chicken (usually) along with rice and a veggie or two. Is that OK? Is it true that lots of dogs are allergic to chicken?

I completely agree. The good news is that there are many excellent pet foods available (I even name names in Chow Hounds). I like adding real foods to processed dog foods. Food allergies to chicken protein are somewhat common in dogs.

The same reason are kids are getting fat: Parents - whether of human babies or fur babies - are tired, stressed and feeling guilty. It's easier to toss a dog a bone and make him happy in that moment, than it is to do the hard work of taking him for a good, long walk.

You are absolutely right!

As you run your hands down the sides of your dog, you should be able to feel its ribs. If not, your dog is above its ideal weight. Your dog should have a figure. A healthy dog will never intentionally starve itself to death. My two collies have always maintained their optimal weight. Wish I could. I keep them in performance shape for herding trials and working sheep. Working sheep requires a great deal more endurance and my collies need to be in shape compared to a dog that runs agility for maybe 40 seconds or does a 5-second flyball run. Going out 200 to 400 yards to fetch sheep and working 25 sheep for 30 minutes for a herding trial requires my collies be in better shape than dogs involved in other performance activities. Real work on the farm requires even more endurance. A quality food is required. Many of the top sellers just aren't that great and that includes all the popular brands. Quality input also means you dogs uses a large percentage of what they consume so output is minimized.

There is no reason you can't keep yourself at a healthy weight. Most of the same rules that apply to canine nutrition and health, apply to us. I love your approach to feeding higher quality pet foods.

Hi Dr. Ward, thanks for taking questions. Luckily my dogs get lots of exercise, so weight isn't a problem. I feed them the best food I can afford, carefully reading the labels to avoid garbage. My dogs are older, and I'm worried about healthy skin and joints. I've been giving them a small amount of wild salmon oil in the mornings with their breakfast and flax seed oil with their dinner. The wild salmon oil is for pets, so I'm more confident it's safe for them, but what about the flax seed oil? They seem to like it and they are very silky and healthy, but should I worry about long-term affects, like maybe even weight gain?

I am not a big fan of flax seed oil because of its poor bioavailability, digestibility and high rate of oxidation. The best way to use flax seed oil is to grind it fresh before each use. Keep adding supplements.

My first dog got fat because I wasn't keeping track of when I fed him. He'd get three or four meals a day. Eventually I switched to two feedings a day, and no snacks other than a dog biscuit. With my current dog, a black lab, we have a check-off list in my kitchen - whoever feeds the dog marks it down, so he doesn't get fed dinner twice. I have several neighbors with obese dogs; their obesity has a different cause. The owners LIKE to prepare food for the dogs, and also give them leftovers and snacks, because "the dog enjoys it" or "she's hungry". These dogs have learned to beg constantly.

Great idea! Thanks for sharing.

I have two Shih Tzus, 4 years old, perfect weight. I have one half Shih Tzu, half long-haired chihuaha (3 years old) who is overweight. They are all fed once a day, Purina Healthy Weight (1/2 cup) mixed with a little grilled chicken breast and chopped cooked carrots or green beans, with Maizie getting a little less than the other two. Their vet said this is fine. They have a play yard, but mostly like to sit and people watch. Do they need more long walks? Is the food wrong? Help!

Yes, they need more long walks (we all need it!). The key is that you are counting total calories - dog food plus people food. I also recommend a diet that uses the terms "weight loss," "restricted calorie," or "low-calorie." In Chow Hounds I review the best weight loss home prepared meals and how to combine them with a high quality weight loss food.

Wolves and dogs are opportunistic eaters. Even if they're not hungry, they'll eat anything available - this is where the expressions "wolfing down their food" comes from. Dave Barry once wrote that his dogs would eat anything that resembled food, because if it turned out that it wasn't food, they could always throw it up later!

Unfortunately not everything you swallow comes back up (that's where surgery comes in).

I have a 4-year-old black Lab who weighs about 75 pounds. She is limited to two cups of high protein food a day and she is extremely active. She has a waist line and you can feel her ribs when you pet her, which I have heard are two ways to determine if your dog is at a healthy weight. However, my vet keeps saying she needs to be under 70 pounds, despite her appearance. My dog's parents are HUGE (again, not fat, but tall and muscular) so I feel like she is genetically cursed to be over 70 pounds. Is my vet being unreasonable saying she has to be a certain weight or am I making excuses for my dog?? I am out of ideas of how to get her weight down without starving her!

Average Lab has a length from the front of the skull to the base of the tail of 37-39 inches. This is how you can tell if your lab is "big" or "fat." Diet is not about starvation. At the risk of self promotion, you may find Chow Hounds to be just what the doctor ordered.

I've moved to several states for work, each time finding a new vet. They all say the same thing, my dogs are in great shape, perfectly healthy in relation to their weight. What's my trick? No table scraps, except a bite of turkey on Thanksgiving and a bite of ham at Christmas. Every vet I've had has said I've probably added years to their lives. Why do you think more people aren't doing this?

As long as you are feeding a super premium, high quality pet food, I agree. However, most pet foods are nutritionally deficient due to over processing and poor quality ingredients. This is why I advocate supplementing with wholesome real foods.  

I think the reasons for pet obesity are numerous and complex. Why are 68% of US adults overweight?  Tough question and I try to answer this in Chow Hounds. 

Could you name the brand of dog food that you feel is the most healthy for a 2-year-old Pekingnese?

It depends on your dog's lifestyle and current health status. The first step is to ask your vet for a recommended super or ultra premium dog food. If your vet can't recommend a super or ultra premium dog food, contact a boutique pet store. There are at least a dozen super and ultra premium dog foods available and it can vary with location.

What if one is having the opposite problem... a beagle (!!) won't eat its "special food," which is frankly better than what I eat. Because of the allergy - that I see in more and more pets these days - switching foods and adding other "stuff" isn't an option. The suggestions of the vet are of no avail... any ideas?

First, has your dog been tested for a specific allergen? If not, you can easily have blood tests performed at your vet to see which ingredients your dog is allergic to. There are many good hypo-allergenic diets and home cooked recipes available but first find out what your dog is allergic to. It will save you money and your dog discomfort in the long run.

Can we talk about why our cats are getting fatter? I have three cats (as well as three dogs seemingly without weight issues) and it's hard to maintain a healthy weight with the felines. Portion control is difficult with multiple animals, and my cats even eat the dog food. Any strategies for dealing with all this obesity in a multiple animal household?

First, feed everyone in separate bowls. Second, feed only the amount of calories they need (most indoor cats need only 180 -220 calories per day).  Third, try high-protein, grain-free diet. Fourth, try to get your cats to exercise by using feather dances, laser pointers, food puzzles, etc.

I have two dogs - a beagle and a Jack Russell Terrier... the beagle is a real chow hound. I have started measuring her portions and staying in the room when they eat, because the JRT is fairly indifferent to meal times and is easily distracted and will leave the room. When she leaves, the beagle will finish both dishes. My question is this: I have started buying a RX weight control dog food for my beagle... is it necessary to feed her a different dog food, or will just portion control be enough? Do weight control dog foods REALLY have fewer calories than regular dog food?

If the term weight control is used it means nothing.  It must say restricted calories, weight loss or low calorie. There is much misinformation on pet food labels.  A good portion of Chow Hounds is devoted to helping you decipher these labels and choose the best food.

I have a hard time keeping my smaller dog's weight in line with what it should be. He is a small miniature poodle, probably about 8 or 9 years old. We got him from a rescue about three years ago; he had been starved and abused and was down to 8 pounds when the rescue folks got him. Up to 10 pounds when we got him, and now is around 14 pounds. He should be about 12 pounds. I give him walks and exercise and do a little bit of agility training with him, but his natural activity level is not very high. My other dog, a tall miniature poodle (he's overgrown the "mini" category, actually) is the opposite. He is a young dog, adores running, tears around the back yard like a gazelle, and we do agility training together. I feed him twice as much as our little guy, but he's still bony and slender. I'd like him to put on a bit more muscle. What can I do to help our little guy lose weight, and our taller boy to remain healthy and build some muscle? Adjusting quantity of food (a high-quality dog food) by itself doesn't seem to be doing the trick.

Separate feedings with different foods is your best bet. L-carnitine can help with weight loss and maintain lean muscle mass. 

My method for maintaining my 9-year-old dog's ideal weight is to mentally calculate how many treats he has had and shake that amount out of the scoop before putting it in his dish. He got a bit heavy when he was about 2, transitioning from puppy to adult, but has been at ideal weight ever since. Do you approve of this approach?

I'm not that good at math. If it works for you, great! For everyone else, do the math!

Can you shed some light on "free-choice feeding?" When I was young we tried to do that with our dog (terrier) and it was a mess. He got cranky and fat. Friends of mine recently had to take their small dog off free feeding because he couldn't fit through the dog door anymore. Are there any dogs for whom this might work? It seems kind of silly otherwise. Also, my in-law's dog is also hugely overweight - mostly because he has my MIL trained to feed him when he whines "just so that he will shut up." What can I do to help them? Sometimes I want to take the dog to our house for a month just to get him off the whining thing. But he's almost 8, that might not even work at this point...

Diabetics and dogs with other medical conditions should be allowed to free-feed. For everyone else, measure it out.

There's no mystery. If people stop carrying their dogs around and let them walk, then they would get the exercise they need.

I always laugh when I see those people carrying their Newfies in their shoulder bags.

Okay, this isn't related to dogs, but to our two cats. They're from the same litter, but one has a much larger frame than the other. At our last appointment, the vet said that the larger one was at a good weight for her frame, but that while the smaller one is at a healthy weight for now, we'd probably need to watch it to make sure she doesn't become overweight. Is the only solution to feed them separately in order to make sure they're each getting the correct amount of food? They both tend to graze on their food over several hours, so I'm worried that feeding them separately would involve shutting them in different rooms for extended periods of time.

First begin by measuring the number of calories you are feeding. For weight loss, it often requires separate feedings. Many cats can be "trained" to accept feedings in a timely fashion. Definitely talk to your vet for more strategies.

As we tend to think of our dogs more and more as part of the family and that they should eat people food along with us, I presume they are getting the same fatty foods we people eat. Is it safe to presume that dogs begging at the table were healthier back when our diets were healthier?

I think that's a safe assumption. We are eating junk food and so are our pets.

Hello! I have a 4-year-old Cattledog/German Shepherd mix weighing around 45 pounds. I follow Science Diet's directions of giving her two to three cups of dry kibble per day. Recently, I've noticed other dogs where their ribs are visible. I can feel my dog's ribs, but I can't see them the way I can with these other dogs. Is my dog getting fat, or are those other dogs too skinny? Thanks!

Being able to barely see a dog's ribs doesn't necessarily indicate that they are too thin. In fact, being a little thin often translates into longer life and less disease. 

Also, I forgot to mention that I walk my dog three times a day for 30-45 minutes.


The problem of overweight dogs also resembles the problem of overweight people. One design problem that has been noted, in our trend in moving to suburbia and exurbia, is that we no longer walk as we did when we lived in cities or rural areas. We drive more to get to places. Many new developments don't even have sidewalks, which forces more driving. We need to take our dogs out walking more, for the health of both.

Amen, brother!

Just a comment. As a former foster parent to dogs, I was amazed at the number of people who refused to commit to walking dogs. One woman said she wanted to paper train a 40-pound basset/beagle mix to avoid going outside when it was "inconvenient." Other people planned to leave the dogs in the yard, or take them out for a few minutes stroll just so the dogs could relieve themselves. It was frustrating, and I am sure that whatever dog they ultimately adopted ended up overweight.

Doing this for almost 20 years, I share your frustrations.

Isn't the solution the same as for humans? Diet and exercise. For my standard poodles, a well-formulated dry kibble for food. A run, not just a walk, with the human. Best of all, off-leash dog parks. We need more of them.

You are certainly correct. Unfortunately, it's easier said than done. In Chow Hounds, I dig deep into the causes and solutions and give dog lovers simple steps they can use to help their best friend.

An 11-year-old at 48 pounds and a 3-year-old at 54 pounds - Pembroke corgis. I've cut way back on their food and treats, and added things like rice and vegetables to their food. We don't get a lot of outdoor exercise, but weekends we are out almost constantly. Vet wants to put them on a new medicine that will block some excretion from stored fat that makes them always feel hungry. Would you recommend that?

I use medications in morbidly obese cases. Your veterinarian is the best judge of when you should resort to behavior modifying prescription drugs. Maybe also swap the rice for a lower glycemic food such as quinoa.  

I have two dogs. One is a 7-year-old Kerry with stomach troubles and the other a 5-year-0ld wirehaired hound who is hyper and picky. The terrier gets extremely underweight when she has a bout of stomach trouble (allergy and stress are her issues). And because her diet is already restricted, it sometimes takes a little while to put it back. Are there foods with moderate protein and fat that are packed with calories? I don't want to overdo the protein (don't want to tax her liver) or fat (don't want to tax her pancreas).

First of all, you need to have a definitive diagnosis for your pet's stomach problems. Secondly, there are many super and ultra premium diets that have moderate protein and fat with high calories. As long as your pet is healthy otherwise your vet should help you select the appropriate diet.

I have a 17-month-old poodle/Shih Tzu rescue dog that I've had for two-and-a-half months. Her eating problem is that she chews and swallows EVERYTHING she can get into her mouth: rubber flipflops, ballpoint pens (many), the corners of hardback books, etc., etc., etc. Her favorite thing - until I closed them away from her - was to use our cats' litterboxes as a buffet table. She also chews on grass and leaves when I take her on walks. I know about putting bitter spray on things like her leases that I know she likes to chew, but what can I do when I never know what she'll grab next? A couple of times she's acted like she doesn't feel well for a day or so, and I'm convinced it's because she's swallowed some awful thing...

I have a patient today that swallowed a large cloth napkin! Pet-proofing your house is critical for your babies.

I have a 5-year-old Chihuahua/rat terrier mix that weighs about 8.5 pounds, but the vet says he should be about 6.5 to 7 pounds. I walk him for 45 minutes every day and feed him about 1/4 cup of adult food (once in the a.m., once in the p.m.). What am I doing wrong? Also, do chihuahuas tend to gain muscle as they get older? He seems to generally be thicker and more muscular now than when we was younger.

Again, it's all about the calories. Your dog is probably not gaining more muscle although I wish it were true. How many calories are you feeding per day (and don't forget the treats)?

We have a male dog who's never had a weight problem. A vet once commented that it's because he was never neutered. (He's a house dog who never leaves our sight, so the pet population is not an issue.) He gets a diet of premium food and dog biscuits, plus an occasional bit of leftover meat to "jazz up" his dinner. Could hormones (or the lack of them) be a factor in the pet obesity epidemic?

Yes. Sex hormones definitely play a role in obesity. However, with over 4,000 pets being euthanized each day because they don't have a home, I recommend simply feeding a little less than producing more unwanted litters.

What are the benefits of "grain free" dog foods? Does the amount of grain or a certain grain in dog food contribute to weight problems?

Allergies, insulin sensitivity and satiety are all benefits of grain free diets. Having said that, I typically recommend  diets that contain a healthy mixture of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. 

Dr: We have four cats at home. Three of them are normal/healthy size and one is huge! I'm not sure how to go about addressing this problem since it is limited to only one of the cats. We leave dry food out (Iams) and feed them wet food once a day. The fat cat is the youngest of the bunch. He was a feral kitten that showed up on our porch and tamed himself and we eventually brought in. He has plenty of energy and likes to play with us and the other cats and bounds around the house so I don't think lack of exercise is the problem - we have plenty of space. Thanks!

Separate feedings, perhaps even timed, are a first start. Second, you must calculate and measure their calories. All day buffets lead to obesity.

We have been talking exclusively about dogs, but what can I do about my fat cat? She is entirely indoors. She eats a dry food designed for "weight control" and I restrict the amount to the recommended amount for weight loss. She gets very little exercise, however, unless she feels the need to flee from my 4 year old. Would wet food be better for her?

Wet food is preferred, especially for weight loss in cats. Weight control means nothing on the label. Try a higher protein diet and calculate her daily caloric needs.

Hi! I have five (I know) cats. They all used to go outside and were at healthy weights. Since we moved, they all stay in. Three of them are at healthy weights, the other two are waaaay overweight - one male, one female, both neutered, both about 10 years old. I give them Purina Indoor Formula food (available all the time), plenty of water, and no treats -people food or otherwise. I play with them (teaser wands and toy mice), but they tire quickly (not surprising). Besides feeding them individual portions to cut back on calories, can you suggest other actions?

Free feeding = all day buffet. Separate feedings are almost always required in multi-cat households including my own.

During our annual visit to the vet, my vet was concerned that my Yorkie has become overweight. He's about 18 pounds, but doesn't look "fat," at least in my eyes. He's got a belly, but the rest of his body looks porportional and muscular. I had been feeding my dog, two times a day, roughly 1 cup of dry dog food per meal. Since then I've been feeding my Yorkie 1/3 of cup per meal, still twice a day. Now he sits by his bowl looking for more food. Should I continue the regimen? He just looks so sad.

That is some Yorkie! What you described is what I call the "fat gap." That is, people view overweight as "normal." Small frequent feeding of a high protein diet are a start. When you see him looking sad, take him for a walk. He may also be suffering from "food addiction" (seriously).

Wondering what your opinion is of "Greenies" and other snacks. We took our dog off the Greenies after hearing that they posed a health risk. I recently found some chew sticks made of rawhide and sweet potatoes. Are those okay if the dog is supervised while chewing/swallowing them?

Greenies are one of the few nutritionally complete treats. This means if you feed 100 calories greenies and reduce dog food by 100 calories, you haven't sacrificed any nutrition. I don't like rawhide chews because of choke risks and bacterial contamination (not to mention high calories).

Green beans are used by many rescues and others to help their dogs lose weight. You want to use fresh if possible and keep the sodium content very low. Green beans take up space in the dogs' stomachs and make them feel full. And remember, unlike us dogs are carnivores. They need meat and some veggies. And not all grains are okay. Some dogs, especially the herding breeds, often are allergic to corn.

Ummm, where's the chat?

We're still here! Try refreshing your browser:

We have an overweight domestic shorthair cat and, despite the various food switches we've made, she seems to keep gaining weight. Even on prescription diet food! I've heard various techniques from no corn or carbs to all wet food, but at this point I am suffering from information fatigue. My vets (tried a few of these too) never seem to help other than to say, "You're right, she's overweight." What shoud I try next?

Count calories and switch to a high protein (>35% min) diet. You can get weight off your cat safely.

My dog supplements her food by eating her own poop, but I tend to think that's a zero-sum game, calorie-wise.

Not to mention pretty icky!

Hi Dr. Ward, I have a 2 1/2-year-old Norwich with a great energy level. I also have a Vizsla of the same age. We exercise the dogs together, so the Norwich (Cricket) gets plenty of exercise. However, she is about 11 pounds, 7 ounces and the vet recently told me she needs to lose about half a pound. According to the vet, Cricket should only be getting about 1/4 cup of food per day. Is this right? It seems excessively low.

It's all about the calories and activity levels. Your vet knows best.

I know this chat is more geared toward dogs, but I have a question about my cat. He is on vet-recommended dry food, but he also gets some wet food during the day. He's a healthy weight, but I know his wet food isn't of that high quality food (Fancy Feast). When I try to buy the more expensive wet cat food, he refuses to eat it. Any suggestions for what to feed my cat?

Try a canned super or ultra premium high protein fish based diet.

What are some of the worse foods that people eat that should never be shared with dogs? I have heard chocolate is one. I presume that is true? What other foods should not be shared?

Chocolate, onions, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, etc. In Chow Hounds, I go into great detail on  the foods that are harmful and the many foods that are myths.

A healthy dog will not starve itself to death, it will eat what is put in front of them if it knows its human isn't going to replace it with something better. If your dog doesn't eat what you are giving them, remove it after five minutes and try again at the next meal time. You are the alpha and you will tell your dog when to eat and what to eat. It's simple.

I have a 3-year-old Austrailian Cattle Dog. I'm 30 and extremely active, and I walk him four miles a day at a minimum. He's still tubby. I recently cut his food back from the 2 cups of kibble a day the vet recommended to half that. Before the change he would eat the food throughout the day, now he scarfs it down as soon as it hits his bowl. I have also eliminated treats completely. Is a drastic change like that harmful, or does it outweigh the long-term ills of being overweight? BTW, he's 53 pounds. When I got him 2 years ago he was 41 lbs, but looked way too skinny from being in a shelter. Thanks.

Forty to 45 pounds may be his ideal weight. Remember weight loss is not about starvation or deprivation. This is why I recommend specially formulated weight loss diets as opposed to just "cutting back the food."

My dog tries to turn over or kick his food bowl so he can eat off of the floor. Why? My dog also eats food off the counter, table and nasty rotten food off the street. How can I train my dog to stop?

Dogs are curious and orally-fixated by nature. The best defense is a good offense - invest in a good head halter.

My 5-year-old black Lab is restricted to 2 cups of dry dog food (diet/low-calorie) twice a day and gets walks two-to-three times a day (about 20 minutes each time). He loves apples and gets one when he gets his nails trimmed. Occasionally he gets table scraps in his food bowl. When he goes outside he loves to find sticks (has to be certain length and diameter!) and chews them. It does not seem to bother him except for having to defecate more often. Should we wean him off sticks? How to do it?

While not ideal, most sticks don't pose a significant health risk. Use common sense and try to substitute with safe chew toys whenever possible. Sounds like my dog!

Is it true that dogs will basically eat as much as they can? I remember being told they would eat until they explode. Since I have not seen any exploding dogs, I still presume they don't have a sense of when to stop eating?

Well there was that one 1954 case in East Siberia....

Most dogs eat until the are full and tend not to overeat. The reasons that dogs overeat are largely due to the changes in dog food formulation, hence the term "Kibble Crack" I use in Chow Hounds. I go into great detail on how pet food companies have added sugar and fat to trick a dog's normal appetite.

When I first got my standard poodle, he was a pretty good self-regulator and also did not get into our food. His weight has been holding steady at 70 pounds, give or take a couple. After a bout with a nervous stomach when I cooked for him (ground beef, because we also think he has a chicken allergy), he's become a constant food-seeker. Right now, we're doing a mix of ground beef/rice/vegetables with Wellness's whitefish formula, fed twice a day, and a glucosamin-chondroitin supplement in his water (for hip dysplasia). Is this food-seeking behavior normal or is he actually hungry and needing more?

Hard to say from this brief description but I like you overall nutritional approach. Bottom line is he is maintaining a healthy weight. Weight gain or weight loss over a three month period indicate you need to change something. Also vary your home recipe monthly.

Similar to how one should never see how an "all beef" hot dog is made, how bad are the "all meat" foods for dogs? Are we really talking about hoofs and mouths and organs and less meat, or are some brands really meat and no filler?

Some brands are worse than others. It really is horrible how 99% of the meat, poultry and pork is raised in this country.


We have four cats, including an obese, 13-year-old female, and an underweight 18-year-old female (our "old lady"). The other two are a fairly healthy weight. Our challenge is to get the older cat to eat enough and the obese cat to eat less. We let them graze during the day, and put the food away at night, and also feed the old cat some special canned food for urinary tract health. We both work full time, so no one is home during the work day. What suggestions do you have? Thanks!

Older cats need higher protein due to decreased digestibility with age. I definitely recommend feeding cats canned food separately in a multi-cat household. Try adding a late evening feeding for your older cat and perhaps a taste for the younger cat.

Where can you find out how many calories are in the Kong filling? How do you convince a spouse to stop projecting his food needs onto our dog?

Contact the company. As for your spouse, I suggest you call Dr. Phil! This is a big problem and my best advice is to explain to your husband that we never want to "kill our pets with kindness." Maybe have your husband prepare some of the home-cooked meals or treats I provide in Chow Hounds.

I have an 8-year-old female Lab that weighs about 85 pounds. She gets 3 cups total per day of breed-specific dry dog food. The problem is that when we have put her "on a diet" in the past by decreasing her food at each feeding, she turns into a Land Shark. This otherwise well-behaved and content dog becomes a shameless, stealthy counter surfer. Is she really hungry or is there something else going on here?

This is hedonic begging I describe in Chow Hounds. I wrote the book for land shark counter surfers like yours. You can overcome this issue.

This might be covered in your book (feel free to tell me so!), but what are your views on feeding dogs veggies and fruit? My parents never fed any of their pets veggies and fruit because that wasn't food that the dogs would eat in the wild (I guess they meant the dogs' far, far ancestors). But I know loads of people whose dogs do eat fruit and veggies, and seem happy to do so. What's your take on this?

I'm a fan of veggies and a little fruit for dogs. I hope you enjoy Chow Hounds!

Hello, I am a proud owner of a fit beagle named Lucy that was rescued from the PGSPCA back in 2001. My wife and I take great measures in keeping her weight ideal. Also, having a brother that works at a vet helps. We don't overfeed her and we take her on multiple walks a day. Moreso when we are home. But aside from her many walks, some that go as long as one hour, Lucy does not get a ton of exercise. When she has run about, we will notice that her stamina is not like other dogs. She'll get tired faster and will simply not run. She is also nearing double digits in age. And don't get me wrong, these symptoms are only when she tries to runs at top speed for 20 yards or more. Otherwise, I don't think she has any complaints. Heck, I don't think she really cares that she can't run around as long as some of her younger counterparts. Thanks, Slow Lucy's Daddy.

Make sure your vet checks for heart and respiratory disease, thyroid disease and cushings disease.

As someone who works in the pet food industry and is frequently in pet stores, here are valid observations I have observed:

--Bad economy motivates feeding cheap high carbohydrate/high grain/low quality foods which pack on the pounds.

--In our increasingly alienating society, people dote on their pets (rather than people) and the excess feeding regimen begins results in overweight.

--If you look at most overweight dogs, their owners are also overweight.

--Just like people, these pets tend to be at the vet's more than the pets who are on a normal, well balanced diet.

--Many pet owners refuse to believe that more expensive pet foods are better for their pet and that the difference in price is minimal considering the ingredients on the label.

I agree except for the fact that the pet food industry grew by 4.8 percent in 2009 and the fastest growing by far are the super and ultra-premium dog foods. In a tight economy it appears as though many pet owners are choosing to spend their money as wisely as possible. Great observations.

I like to carry my little dog around in my purse. Is there anything I could get for the dog to exercise while in the purse? You know, like a wheel for him to run in?

I recently patented the "pocket treadmill." I would be glad to sell you a prototype.

Food is not food. Each animal species is different biologically and requires a slightly-to-majorly different diet. Particularly our pets, who are primarily carnivores, need a specific diet that is adjusted to their biology. Why do you not like the term people food? It is far more accurate than just saying food is food.

Food is food. It's just what you eat or need. Based on the current science, dogs are classified as omnivores and cats as carnivores. Dogs are not as dissimilar to humans in terms of nutritional physiology as people have been led to believe.

What do you feel about "free grazing," for dogs? Typically I leave out a bowl of high-quality kibble for my guys and when I get home I'll give them a 2-ounce nugget of Primal (raw food diet), sometimes 4 ounces depending on whether they ate the dry food. Weight hasn't been issue... just wanted to get your thoughts. Also, for dog foods that are market human grade quality - does that indicate that it could be sold on the shelf of a supermarket for people?

If it works for you, don't change it. Many obese pets cannot free feed. I specifically address the human grade issue in Chow Hounds. Let's just say, all is not as written.

I take my dog for a 30-45 minute walk most days of the week, but I struggle to get him the aerobic exercise you mention. He stops at every mailbox or smelly patch of grass. I know he needs the sniffing time too, because it's good for his brain and senses, but how to balance that with getting him the exercise he needs?

My general recommendation is the out portion of your walk is at a brisk pace and the return portion is meant for smelling the grass. You can train your dog to walk for exercise or they can train you not to.

My vet told me to follow the instructions on the bag of kibble on how much to feed my dog. I did, and she got fat. She was an extremely active dog (standard poodle, but more like an unguided missile), so she took off the weight pretty quickly, and my vet was kind of alarmed at how much was actually recommended on the bag. He hadn't actually looked in years (he was great, by the way). But any comment on the changing of portions, perhaps pushed by kibble companies? P.S. My biggest challenge to keeping my dogs from eating too much was keeping my friends from sneaking food to them.

Pet food labels are designed for adult, intact, active dogs. This means your indoor spayed or neutered dog is receiving 25-35 percent more calories than he/she needs.

are baby carrot sticks! My dog loves these, and I can cut them up into little pieces to use as training treats, or feed him a whole one when he's being cute, and I never feel guilty about it.


I have a golden retriever that hates to exercise (running or walking). She is the only dog that I've ever seen that rolls over on her back when you get the leash rather than run to the door. She only has two cups of Eukanuba a day and is always looking for more food. Obviously she has a weight problem. Any ideas on how to get her to exercise more? I've changed her diet and that has no effect.

It is rare to find a retriever breed that rejects their instinct. This may be a different behavior. Try making your walks fun and exciting by making a big deal about going outside and even using veggies as rewards. Even before you get the leash out, try to engage your dog in play so that it's excited to go for a walk.

Is it okay to give dogs a bit of olive oil or other oil with their normal food? I heard that this can help dogs with dry skin.

Not a fan of adding oils to diet. I recommend omega-3 fatty acids or diacylglycerol (DAG or Enova Oil) if you must.

My cat was at a pretty healthy weight when I lived in a house that had three levels. Now I'm in a one-bedroom apartment and she just doesn't have the room to run around and has put on a few pounds. I don't feel like I'm overfeeding her (Innova recommends 1/2 cup per day for her weight, but she barely eats a 1/3 cup per day, plus a bit of wet food). She gets bored by the usual laser pointer/ mouse toy games, so I need ideas to spice it up. How well do cats take to leashes to go on walks?

I have many patients that are able to walk their cats on a leash. Premier pet company makes a great walking harness for cats.

I have a Borzoi that had her shoulder, upper arm and left removed for bone cancer over three years ago. She was given 30 days to six months. She is still happily with us and frisky as a puppy. We have been able to keep her weight down, or maybe I should say she has been able to keep her weight down through exercise. I feed her a commercial dry dog food with canned chicken plus a supplement for joint health. Should I give her any extra supplements because of her medical history?

Glad your baby is doing well. There are many nutritional supplements and foods that may help your dog. Because cancer is a complicated disease process I recommend you seek a veterinarian with an interest in this area to give you specific recommendations. I believe diet plays a significant role in the prevention and treatment of many cancers. Good luck.

Dr. Ward - While I understand that animals are an important part of our ecosystem, and many pets provide comfort to humans, I find it really reprehensible that there's even a chat devoted to this topic. It appalls me that some pets are treated better than human beings in this country - and world - and are coddled and spoiled. So there are fat dogs when food banks are suffering?

As a veterinarian I took an oath to  eliminate animal suffering. To me, addressing obesity is part of this issue. There are certainly many other more important challenges our planet faces. This happens to be part of what I have chosen to combat. 

When doing training with a highly food motivated Labrador, I make a point of staying away from "packaged" treats for several reasons, but especially when doing a 20-30 minute session of repetitive drills. They are much too rich to use a reward every time I need to reinforce a behavior and are too large and take too long to eat, causing an interruption in the training. I substitute good ol' Cheerios! Less than a 1/4 cup will last through an entire session and my Lab thinks every single O fed from my fingers is worth getting excited about.

I prefer healthier alternatives such as  vegetables or liver snacks for training. Great tip, though!

I have been feeding my rescue grey a locally-made organic food, but they changed the formula in January and he really does not like the new food. His weight has been pretty steady and he could stand to gain a few pounds. Any recommendations for the breed? Finding no corn options is tough.

I like the fact that you are feeding locally grown food. As for specific recommendations, I encourage you to begin by asking your veterinarian.

I've found that grain-free food and timed feedings (no free choice!) has tremendously helped my cats and dog keep off the weight. I also not do not feed any table/human food or many treats.


My dog won't eat or drink in the morning; he makes the connection between me leaving for work and him not being able to relieve himself until I get home. So, I only feed him once a day, right after I get home. So much is made over when humans eat and the right amount for that time of day, I wonder if it affects dogs as well?

Dogs have a specially adapted stomach that allows them to eat one  large meal daily. I agree that timing may play a role, however, there is little scientific study into this area.

We do. she's been tested, tested, and tested. We feed a combo of homecook and Honest Kitchen, varying the ingredients. That and Sojos are the only commercial foods she can tolerate. Our vet is helpful on diet, I was just wondering if there was a miracle ingredient we could give her to put a little weight back on after a bout. For example, is banana biologically available to dogs?

Ask your vet. I'm not sure what your specific disease process/issue was. There are several maximum calorie diets available.

BTs are infamous for their gas problem, so I've been feeding mine Eukanuba for Sensitive Stomachs, and it seems to have helped. Do you think it's for real or a marketing ploy? The package even has a Boston on the label.

If it's working for your dog, great. 

How does one calculate caloric needs for a cat/dog? Thanks!

It is based on gender, age,  and lifestyle. In Chow Hounds I have numerous charts and formulas you can use to make sure you are feeding your pet the proper amount of calories.

Don't you think that to some extent, we feed our animals much the same way we feed ourselves? Whatever is affordable and easy. That means dry food vs canned or raw. Like most cat parents, I believed the advertising and thought "premium" foods were the best possible. It was only a few years later than I wised up and bought grain-free foods for my cats. They now eat grain- and carb-free canned food, supplemented with a tiny bit of grain-free kibble. My cats have lost fat and gained muscle. The cost is only a bit more than mainstream food--$1.35 vs $1.19 per can.

Yes, you are preaching to the choir.

My 3 1/2-year-old Boston is 35 pounds - 10 pounds more than he should be. But he is not fat at all. He is incredibly solid and muscular. I don't overfeed him. I am not sure if he was breed to be larger. Should I be concerned that he is much bigger than the breed standard, even if it's not fat?

Make sure your vet does a Body Condition Score (BCS) to be sure.

Will your book be published in an electronic or audio format?

It is available for the Kindle and will be available for iPad soon.

Can you point out a resource to learn how many calories a dog should have for each day?

Chow Hounds is a great resource for all things nutrition and weight related for dogs.

We have a not quite four-month-old Bouvier that is crazy for bully stix. Is it okay to let him have these?

Would you eat one? I'm not a fan. I recommend real whole foods for snacks.

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Ernie Ward
Ernest Ward, D.V.M., is a practicing veterinarian, author, speaker and athlete who is dedicated to helping pets and their humans live healthier lives.
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