Canine Obesity- How it is Affecting Your Dog and How to Fix It
Let’s just cut to the chase- your dog might be fat. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t concerned about your pet’s weight. And you are not alone- roughly 53% of the domesticated dogs in our country are anywhere from slightly overweight to extremely obese. Arthritis, diabetes, and heart problems are just some of the issues your pet may endure if he or she is overweight. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, it may even decrease their life expectancy by up to 2.5 years. So if being overweight is so terrible for our pet’s health, why are we letting it happen? Or more importantly, what are we going to do to fix it?
Step 1- Diet
Now that you’ve come to terms with the fact that your dog has a weight problem, the first step in weight-loss is taking a trip to your veterinarian for a weight assessment. This is important, because your veterinarian can tell you how overweight your dog is, the best type of food to feed for optimum weight loss, how many calories and how much dog food per day your dog should be eating. More importantly, they can also determine if the weight gain is purely from too much food and not enough exercise, or if it’s actually from an underlying health condition such as a low thyroid or a hormonal imbalance. If there is an underlying medical condition, it is best to find that out now before you frustrate yourself by cutting out all snacks, serving prescription diet food, or resorting to a diet medication.
Once you have ruled out any medical issues, have had a weight assessment, and figured out how much food your dog should be eating, it’s time to work on you. Yes, you read right- one of the most common causes of weight gain in dogs, after medical issues, is overindulging with treats and table scraps. Take one day, and every time you give your dog a treat write down what you gave. At the end of the day, take a look at how much you’re giving.
We don’t expect you to completely eliminate treats altogether- a no treat policy will only result in other family members sneaking a treat here and there because they feel bad for your dog. And since those hidden treats aren’t being monitored, it’s likely your dog will lose very little weight. Instead of your run of the mill dog treats, choose healthy alternatives such as veggies (carrots, green beans, and apple slices are great options).
Also, decide how many treats your dog is allowed in a day, put it in a bowl and when they’re gone, that’s it. This includes training treats- although most training treats do not have a lot of calories, you still want to include them in your dog’s daily treat allowance. Alternatively, you can use your dog’s kibble as training treats. The best way to do this is after you feed your dog their morning meal, measure out their food for their evening meal and either put it in a bowl on the counter, or (if your dog is prone to counter surfing for snacks), in a plastic bag in a cabinet. When training times comes around, grab a handful of your dog’s food from the bag. By doing it this way, you can ensure that you are not over feeding your dog.
Step 2- Exercise
It doesn’t matter how big, small, young, or old your dog is, they need daily exercise too. Without activity, your dog will become bored, frustrated and unhealthy. If your dog is an extreme couch potato, or is older and you have any concerns about what type and how much exercise your dog can handle, you should discuss your concerns your veterinarian during your weight assessment. You don’t want to pressure your dog into doing things that are too strenuous or you could end up with bigger problems. If your dog has not been accustomed to being physically active it is best to start slow- even a 15 minute walk may be too much if your dog has lived a sedentary lifestyle. As your dog gets used to the exercise, you can add additional activities or lengthen the time of your daily walk. Your dog should be happily tired, not exhausted, when you are done exercising her for the day.
It is important to remember that exercise is an activity you need to do daily, not just reserve it for the weekends. If, during the week you only have enough time for a 30 minute walk, that’s OK! It’s still exercise, and that’s what is important. If you and your dog can handle it, on the weekend you can go for longer walks, play fetch at the park, or even sign up for agility classes, trick training or doggy fitness classes to get an extra workout in for your dog.
No matter how you decide to deal with your dog’s weight, remember to start simple, without putting pressure on yourself or your dog. You will find that you are both looking forward to the time you spend exercising together.