Is Your Sheltie Fat?
Vets say that one-third of dogs are overweight by 6 months old; a factor strongly associated with higher rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. What's more, obesity in dogs takes up to a year off life expectancy.
It's easy to overfeed a Sheltie, especially a food-centric one like Howard Woofington Moon. Yet you can't always tell when they're getting fat because it simply hides away under all that fur.
Sadly, obesity is a major health problem in Shelties. Even being moderately overweight is associated with serious long term diseases that could ultimately take your dog's life early.
Even in the short term, the extra weight puts excessive strain on their joints and bones. This causes pain and degeneration, can exacerbate underlying joint conditions, and reduces the amount they can exercise which simply makes the problem worse.
But don't worry, you can fix this. Here's what to do if you think you have an overweight Sheltie.
Is My Sheltie Fat?
First, figure out if your Sheltie is overweight or even obese by performing this simple fat test. No scales required.
Gently reach into your Sheltie's fur and take hold of all the soft tissue around his ribs. If you're holding a very thin layer of fat and can easily feel the bones of the rib cage, he's a healthy weight.
But if you've got a handful of fat, that's way too much. It's time for your Sheltie to go on a diet. Stat.
Reduce his serving size by 25-50% and perform the fat test again after a week. Then do it for another week. Keep going until the fat is just a thin layer. It may take a couple of weeks to start to see a difference.
Another way to determine if your Sheltie is too fat is to look at the shape of his body from above. This test isn't as reliable in Shelties because the double coat distorts the body shape, but with a keen eye you can see if he's looking a little too thick around the waist.
If you can get your Sheltie to sit still on the scales, you can measure his progress more precisely, but not all Shelties will comply. Vets have extra large floor scales to weigh pets, so drop in for a quick weight check if you're in any doubt.
How Much Should I Feed My Sheltie?
Ideally, you'll feed your Sheltie the right amount before it takes its toll on his body as obesity. But what is a healthy serving size for a Sheltie?
Now, to be annoyingly vague, the exact amount you feed depends on several factors. You need to take into account his body type, activity levels, health status, and whether or not he's intact—all of which determine his metabolism and calorie requirements.
This is why kibble manufacturers broadly say you should feed your Sheltie 1-2 cups of kibble per day. That's a 100% range between their high and low end estimates. Not helpful.
And remember, they're out to sell kibble. So unless you have a particularly active or large Sheltie, stick to the lower end of this range.
If your Sheltie eats dog treats and table scraps as well, he may need less than one cup of kibble. There were certainly times when we were feeding our Shelties half a cup of kibble per day along with limited scraps.
Also remember that the typical American Sheltie weighs 22lbs (10kg) and the English Sheltie weighs 18lbs (8kg). Shelties are small dogs who don't need anywhere near the same amount of food as humans.
Indeed, feeding a Sheltie just 28g of cheese is the energy equivalent of a human eating an entire burger. What we see as a snack is actually an entire meal for a Sheltie!
How Often Should I Feed My Sheltie?
The latest science is mixed. Currently, many pet organisations suggest splitting feeding time into two meals about 12 hours apart. This is based on the fact that when the stomach remains empty for much more than 12 hours, it starts to become hyper-acidic which can make your Sheltie nauseated.
However, a large survey of 24,000 dog owners recently found that dogs fed just once a day are less likely to be diagnosed with age-related conditions. This also aligns with their evolutionary history as predators. Indeed, wolves go for days without eating.
So the healthiest feeding frequency is not entirely clear, but official guidelines point to twice a day: morning and night. That one cup of kibble should be split evenly between each meal.
What If My Sheltie is Hungry Between Meals?
If your food-obsessed Sheltie whines for food between meals, you can offer him small amounts of low-calorie scraps, like cooked or raw vegetables.
Just bear in mind that some common human foods are actually these toxic to dogs. These include innocent-seeming foods like grapes, tomatoes, certain vegetable peels, fruit pips, and seeds.
How Can I Get My Sheltie to Eat Slower?
Our own My Gobble Guts always ate too fast, swallowing his kibble whole in a frenzy before anyone else could. He seemed dissatisfied immediately after a meal, like he have gone on to eat a horse. Mealtimes were rounded out with hiccupping and weird snuffling noises like he'd literally inhaled the stuff.
So we got Howard and Piper a slow feed dog bowl each, which basically stopped them from vacuuming up large volumes of kibble in one go. The bits fall into various nooks and crannies of the bowl, which dogs have to fish out carefully in small amounts at a time.
Slow feed bowls have the seal of approval from vets and prevent bloating, hiccups, and regurgitation. We also found they take the competitive aspect out of eating, enabling each dog to focus on his own dinner without rushing to race to the other's bowl.
How Else Can I Get My Sheltie to Lose Weight?
Besides cutting back on the calorie count, ensure your Sheltie gets to run outdoors every day. It's not enough to just have him potter around the yard—he needs to go on an outdoor adventure with you.
Exploring the territory beyond the house excites him to run around and discover all kinds of smells, sights, and other dogs. A healthy Shetland Sheepdog needs 30-60 minutes of exercise every day, and more if you're trying to accelerate his weight loss.
Swimming is excellent for obese Shelties as it burns lots of calories without straining his already overworked joints. If you live near water, it's well worth desensitizing your Sheltie to water wile he's still young.
Helping your Sheltie lose weight comes down to the simple mantra: move more, eat less. And it works. Once you've got his weight down to a healthy level, he'll be much more likely to live a long, disease-free life.