Do you let your dog lick the dinner dishes every night or always give him/her the last bite of your sandwich? Patterns like these can be hard to change because your dog now expects food rewards. But snacks or treats can add a surprisingly high number of calories to your dog’s total intake and potentially interfere with a weight loss plan.

Reducing your dog’s meals should help, but he/she may still beg. Try combating “snack factor” damage by substituting another type of treat – play, a walk, petting. Realistically, though, you may still want the option to use food treats at least occasionally. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian about appropriate choices. Here are 5 tips for successful snacking:

Make treats small!

A food treat should be about the size of your pinkie fingernail. For store-bought treats, you will probably need to break the packaged pieces into smaller bits. Moist treats, which can easily be broken apart, may be better choices than hard, biscuit-type treats that are difficult to split into small enough pieces. Be sure to prepare “resized” treats ahead of time. Often dogs are not particular about the kind of treats as long as they receive something. Try setting aside a portion of your dog’s food for the day and using the pieces as individual rewards, or consider purchasing a separate low-calorie food that is used only for treats.

Stick to the limit!

Treats require portion control. Calculate the total number of small food treats that can be included in your dog’s daily intake and stay strictly within that maximum.

Choose low-calorie “goodies”! Picking low-calorie treats contributes to the success of your dog’s weight loss plan. Fresh or frozen vegetables are excellent food treats. Dogs commonly prefer carrots, celery and green beans, and many also like unbuttered popcorn or rice cakes. Some prefer cooked lean meat. Ice is a treat for some dogs; but hard cubes can damage their teeth, so crushed, smaller pieces of ice are a safer option. If your dog eats fruit, you can give berries and mini fruit pieces as special snacks; but note that grapes are toxic to dogs so avoid feeding them.

Make treats last!

Your dog may benefit from an occasional long-lasting treat. “Puzzle” toys, such as the Twist n’ Treat and the Squirrel Dude by Premier Pet Products, are examples of ways to turn a small treat into a prolonged activity. Another option is to place a small dog biscuit or piece of rice cake inside a rubber toy, such as a KONG Toy, and make him/her work for the treat rather than simply feeding it. Still another option is to freeze low-calorie, low-sodium chicken broth in a KONG Toy. Seal the small end opening with tape, fill the KONG with soup, and freeze until solid. When ready to give the KONG treat to your dog, remove the tape and inside the toy is a doggie “popsicle”! The safety of giving long-lasting treats like rawhide chews should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Beware of calorie pitfalls!

Calories sometimes hide in sneaky places … the remaining cheese sauce on a dinner plate, melted ice cream in the bottom of a bowl, the butter-coated knife in the dishwasher, the extra French fries at the bottom of the bag, etc. High-fat foods can be dangerous for some dogs, and even small quantities of these high-calorie items can significantly disrupt a weight loss plan, so take steps to prevent your dog’s access to those and other high-fat items. Substituting a healthier low-calorie snack is a smart alternative.

If your veterinarian has determined that your dog is carrying a few too many extra pounds, you’re not alone! It’s estimated that about 17 million dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, and those numbers are increasing. Obesity is more than just a problem with your dog’s appearance. Obesity is a medical problem that can have serious health consequences.

The good news is that weight loss – even in small amounts – can result in a significant improvement in your dog’s health and quality of life.

What are the some of the health risks of obesity in dogs?

Arthritis – Joint disease is one of the most common health effects of obesity. The excess weight adds extra strain to joints and ligaments, worsening pain and making it harder to move around. Obese dogs often have trouble going up stairs, getting into cars, or simply going for a walk.

Breathing Problems – Does your dog huff and puff on walks or during playtime? Excess body fat can increase pressure on your dog’s lungs and interfere with normal function. When expansion of the lungs is restricted by fat in the chest cavity, the lungs have to work harder to provide oxygen, which can result in shortness of breath.

Heart Disease – Does your dog seem to have less energy? Those extra pounds may be putting a strain on your dog’s heart. Obesity can be associated with high blood pressure, or hypertension, in dogs, which, just as in people, can lead to a variety of complications.

Increased Risk with Surgery – Excess body fat can make surgery more challenging for the surgeon, hindering access to internal organs and tissue and, thus, prolonging the procedure, which, in turn, increases the risks of complications associated with anesthesia. For these reasons, elective surgery is sometimes postponed until the overweight dog has lost weight.

Decreased Activity – Have you noticed your dog just isn’t as interested in chasing after a ball or interacting with the family? Those extra pounds can slow your dog down, often due to a combination of the conditions just listed. Pet owners whose dogs have lost weight reported noticeable improvements in their dog’s energy level and willingness to play.

Losing weight is not easy but, with time and commitment on your part, you can help your dog get back in shape. Even a small amount of weight loss can have a dramatic effect on your dog’s health, improving quality of life and reducing the risk of serious health problems.