Feeding my thriving rescue dog
June 15, 2015 3:29 PM   Subscribe

When we adopted River, a 2-year old German shepherd mix, from a shelter in January, she was very skinny. You could easily see the outline of her ribs and her shoulders jutted out sharply when she lay down. The vet said she could definitely stand to gain "a few pounds". With proper feeding and love, she has blossomed little by little every month, from a wispy 45 pounds to a strong and healthy 52 pounds today. We feel that this is her optimal weight. My question is this: How do we keep her at this weight?

Throughout her recovery, we've been feeding her the same amount of food every day (2 cups high-quality dry kibble). We weigh her weekly and she is still gaining . Do we cut back now, and if so, by how much? Or do we just keep feeding her the same amount, with the assumption that her metabolism will naturally adjust to keep her at her healthiest?
posted by rivtintin to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had three GSDs that a lot of people thought were too skinny but my vet said was just right and that she was seeing more and more chunky dogs. That being said, I just kept feeding them what I fed them and made sure they got lots of running around time and my smallest girl ended up around 58 lbs, my biggest guy was about 85 lb.

So in general, you should be able to feel their ribs easily and discern a waist when viewed from above, after that I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by stormygrey at 3:40 PM on June 15, 2015

In a similar situation, I cut out a small amount of food, like an 1/8th of a cup a day (or if you are feeding extra-meal treats, cut out some of that) and continued to monitor. If they start to lose weight, you can add it back in.

I find that if I want to maintain my dogs at a specific weight I have to periodically adjust for season/activity levels.
posted by muddgirl at 3:49 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sorry, I just saw that you give 2 cups a day - I cut out like 1/8 of a cup out of 4 cups a day. It might be better to look at the total number of calories you're feeding (it should be on the bag by weight or volume) and cut out some percentage.

If you continue feeding 2 cups a day with the same activity level, her weight will stabilize eventually, but it might not be soon.
posted by muddgirl at 3:52 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would up her exercise.
posted by ReluctantViking at 3:54 PM on June 15, 2015

I find that if I want to maintain my dogs at a specific weight I have to periodically adjust for season/activity levels.

This. We adjust out dogs food up or down to keep them near a target weight. Usually a 1/4 cup or so adjustment per feeding.

It's important to keep dogs, especially active ones, on the smaller end. Far less chance for a ACL or other injury.

posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:55 PM on June 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

For weight maintenance you really need to watch the treats. A single treat like a bully stick or a pig ear can be 10% of a 50-lb dog's daily calorie requirement. But as a baseline, does the side of the food bag not give you a chart for servings per day in grams to maintain a specific weight?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:55 PM on June 15, 2015

Wait. She was food deprived, and you want to continue that?

Sorry, but my specialty is animal behavior and I think you need to give the dog a window of time to self-regulate, or ad libitum. Weigh, measure, record.

I would do ad libitum until she recovers both psychologically and physiologically, and only introduce deprivation (measured amounts) later.

It is a trust, abundance, and neurological process. It takes time. I wouldn't restrict her unless she starts gaining unhealthily, like, chubbing out.

I'm an animal learning speavialist, not a DVM. but in my experience, deprived mammals recover better when they can turn down abundance.

Good luck to your rescue!

I'm interested to hear what DVMs say. I managed mammals in an experimental, not pet, situation.
posted by Punctual at 4:36 PM on June 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'd cut back by a 1/4 c and see how it goes for a month. If she's gaining weight on her current intake her metabolism isn't going to magically adjust to stop gaining except insofar as she might get too fat and require more calories to haul her excess weight around. And be prepared to cut back again in a few years if she slows down as she hits middle age. Beautiful girl!
posted by drlith at 4:39 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you are wanting to keep up quantity of food but stabilize weight gain you might want to look into diet food.
posted by wwax at 4:51 PM on June 15, 2015

It's going to be a bit of trial and error. I'd start with a 5-10% reduction in the amount fed. When animals need to actively lose weight, the guideline is cut back 20% so decreasing by 5-10% is usually about right for this sort of situation.

Weighing her every week is your friend. If she continues gaining, cut back further. If she starts losing, increase again.

I would continue to decrease/increase the food as needed in 3-5% increments until you hit the sweet spot where she maintains.

Also keep in mind that her metabolism will slow as she ages so you will need to continually keep on top of her weight. As pointed out above, GSDs are prone to joint problems/ACL tears/etc and keeping her slim will help her so much in that regard. It's much easier just to stay slim than to make her lose weight once she's gained it.

If you want to be super precise you can weigh her food.

I'm a vet but IANYV etc.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 4:56 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is how I would do it:

Gradually slightly decrease the amount of kibble given, but add a bit of canned pumpkin puree (100% pumpkin, NOT pumpkin pie filling) for bulk. Dogs like pumpkin, because it's slightly sweet and tastes good, and it adds fiber and "filler" to the diet without adding calories. Keeps them regular too, and can help with either constipation or diarrhea. Weigh your pup regularly (weekly?), and stop decreasing the kibble once her weight stabilizes.

Of course, it's best to ask your vet what he/she recommends! :)

You have a beautiful pup!
posted by Boogiechild at 8:31 PM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

The vet recommended that we substitute green beens for some kibble for our dog.
posted by oceano at 8:33 PM on June 15, 2015

Do NOT feed ad lib! That is a recipe for problems. The fact that she was food deprived is not a reason to free feed. Dogs do better with meals. Free feeding can lead to all kinds of issues from obesity to resource guarding to under AND over eating. Plus you never know how well your dog is eating, it can mess up housetraining, and you cannot predict when the dog will have a full stomach in case you ever need to medicate. I manage an animal hospital and we NEVER advocate free feeding. Ever. For any dog.

I would cut back very slightly and keep a close eye on her body condition. Her ribs should feel like your knuckles feel when your hand is lying flat and you run your other hand lightly over it.
posted by biscotti at 8:11 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for the excellent suggestions, everyone! We will decrease her food by a small amount and keep adjusting until her weight stabilizes. Exercise isn't an issue as she gets plenty - multiple daily walks totaling about 2 hours, plus play time. Biscotti, I appreciate your concern, but we never have and never will feed our dog "ad lib". She is fed on a strict schedule morning and evening. Again, we really appreciate all of your comments!
posted by rivtintin at 9:35 AM on June 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

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