Monday, November 7, 2016

How Fostering a Shelter Dog Made my Pets Overweight

I'm one of those people who plans their day around meal time. When people come to visit, activities are planned around which restaurants we can try. My best friend and I built our friendship in college by eating every single meal together for the fist several weeks of school (and we missed very few meals together during the rest of our 4 years there). It was no surprise to me when I ended up with two extremely food-focused pets. Soth gets hangry and destroys things when his bowl gets empty. Barley will crawl through tiny cat doors, walk on tables, and climb on counters to get a crumb of food. 

So, when foster pup Sal arrived at our house and needed to gain weight, we were embarking on a whole new adventure. I've had to learn to measure Barley and Soth's food very carefully. I had to measure Sal's food, too, of course, but he got a lot more than Barley. When he first arrived, he was getting 4 small meals with wet food on top, plus snacks in the afternoon and before bed. 

There were also a lot of treats involved in cohabitation training.

When Sal was in quarantine, I had to do a lot of space swapping to give Barley attention and Sal attention. Barley doesn't do well when she's isolated--if I'm not home, she's content to be in her crate, but if she knows I'm home, she gets a little panicky if she has to be shut away somewhere. Unless she gets a snack. If I gave her a Kong or a chew of some sort, she'd snack and then take a nap until I came back to her.

Sal also got eggs as one of his snacks to help with his skin and coat. Barley loves eggs, so I always gave her a bite while I prepared Sal's afternoon snack.

If Barley doesn't eat out of her dish, she's convinced she never got fed, so using her meals in her Kong or a puzzle feeder wasn't a realistic option. She'd spend the rest of the evening running to her bowl. Occasionally, I'd put half of a meal in a puzzle feeder, but those take her about 1/2 a minute to figure out, so she'd usually finished it before I had even made it out of the room and back to Sal.

I didn't think too much of the extra calories because we were still getting in our 3 miles of walking most days and playing in the backyard more than usual. Then about a month into the fostering experience, Barley and I went on an adventure and when I looked at our pictures, I noticed she was a little chubby.

Usually in "paws up," she has a well defined waist line.

Keeping Barley at a healthy weight is so important. Every extra pound makes it harder on her joints when we do agility, so she needs to maintain a good weight to keep her from being injured. We started cutting back on her meals, I started putting carrots in the Kong and with her peanut butter and freezing it so it would take longer to eat, and she quit getting snacks when Sal got his eggs. Barley started returning to her usual weight.

Except she kept stealing cat food, so she was still a little on the chubby side. Since Barley was often shut in the kitchen behind the gate to give Sal a chance for more freedom in the house, she would sneak over to Soth's bowl and clean it out before I could even get out of my chair to intercept her. 

You'd think that Soth would have lost weight having to share his food with his sister, but the opposite happened. Weight has been something Soth's struggled with his whole life--thanks to a vet that prescribed a lot of steroids, he doubled in size the first three months I had him. We've struggled to keep that weight off ever since. When Soth's weight is lower, he has fewer problems with FLUTD. But when Soth's bowl is empty, he starts knocking things around (ex. there have been mornings I've woken up to have my glasses case, my contacts case, the soap dispenser, and my brush all in the bathroom sink). It's a fine line of keeping him feeling full and keeping him from having FLUTD outbreaks. 

Barley would dive into his wet food and even though I only give him tiny portions of a can at a time, we were still going through wet food really quickly. I either have to order large cases of one flavor (and his highness prefers variety) or I have to drive an hour to stores where I can buy Soth's brand of food. So, I started giving him a few extra kibbles when he'd get hungry. It was easy to dip into his dry food and give him a few kibbles here and there--he'd gobble them up and there wouldn't be much leftover for Barley to eat. 

Soth's always looked chunky--even when he was underweight at the shelter--his little sides poked out and he looked like a pregnant goat. It can be hard to notice when he starts gaining weight because he's just oddly shaped.

Look at that kitty tummy!
One day recently, I was walking beside Soth and looked down and he looked like a box on legs. His swisher was swaying from side to side as he trotted down the stairs. I knew he had gained a lot of weight from the way I'd been feeding him without exact measurements.

Thankfully, my parents visited recently and my mom had built him a dining table so that I could keep his food off the ground--making it harder (but not impossible) for Barley to get to it. Since Sal is gone, now we can use the gate the way it was intended and shut Barley out of the kitchen and the food is off the ground for when she is in there with me.

For about a week, Soth has been back on his exact measurements of wet and dry food every day. I can already see a difference in the size of his swisher--but he still has a little ways to go to get closer to his ideal weight of 11-12 pounds.

Fostering Sal was a good reminder of how easy it is for animals to become overweight in a short amount of time. Both Barley and Soth are back on track now and I'll be able to carry this lesson with me any time we have another canine guest in our house! 


  1. I think Mr. N may have actually lost weight when we fostered but said foster dog was overweight so he was on a diet. Mr. N participated in the weekly weigh-ins so everyone stayed/became slim lol.

    1. That definitely would have been the better situation for at least Barley! Poor Soth probably still would have been stuck with Barley eating his food and getting strange portions of things to make up for it, but Barley probably would have benefited from a dog that didn't need 4 small meals plus snacks every day :)

  2. When routines and other things change it's so easy for it to effect the diets too! The important thing is that you were aware of it and took the steps you needed to to correct things. We're struggling with Cricket slowing down now, and I've had to remind my hubby that she should not get the same number and size of treats that Luke and Sheba do! It used to be OK when she was far more active than them, but not anymore.
    I chuckled about Barley not thinking she'd eaten if she didn't eat out of her bowl. It reminds me of Cricket. Treats are kept in the same place, but occasionally I might have something special in the fridge. If they get a treat from the fridge, Cricket will still go stand by the pantry door looking for her treat from there! They can be so funny, but frustratingly stubborn sometimes!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

    1. Barley and Cricket definitely seem to have the same mindset! If Barley hasn't eaten out of her bowl (and we aren't home for the night), she's certain it wasn't actually dinner. If I have to go out again after her normal dinner time, I either have to wait to feed her dinner until I get home or give her half before I leave and the other half when I get home.

  3. Ugh, weight gain is too easy for dogs. Sorry your pets had to deal with it! Glad they are back on track though :)

    1. I'm glad they're back on track, too. Especially that Bunny cat!

  4. That weight is always a struggle. When hubby was in the hospital, I really cut back the dogs' food because they were not getting exercise. They were looking good. When hubby was up to it, he took over feeding them again and now they are chunky (because hello! still not getting their normal exercise hunting). After a discussion, hubby will cut them back and measure food. lol

    1. Yes--I swear all three of us can just look at food and we get the calories! Barley's looking really good now that it's cooler and she has crazy energy, so we've been walking and doing agility in the yard. Of course, now she's certain she's starving, so I just can't win ;)