Everybody knows that obesity can cause a host of health problems for people — but it also causes medical issues for dogs.
More and more people are becoming health conscious and watching what they eat and making sure that they get enough exercise. This is important for pet owners to do for their pups too. A recent study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention shows that a staggering 54% of American dogs are overweight or obese, and the number is climbing. In other words, it’s an epidemic.
Because our beloved four-legged friends don’t live as long as we do, most doggie parents want to do all they can to ensure that their pet will have a long and healthy life.
The question is, what’s the best way to help your dog lose weight and get back in shape?
First, Get to the Vet
We’ve all seen the thousands of “get in shape” infomercials — especially around New Year’s — that boast instant six-pack abs or super-firm buttocks in 1 month. You don’t need to admit that you’ve watched any, but I’m sure that you’ve at least caught a glimpse. The only thing that they all, and I mean all, have in common is that they suggest that people see their doctor before starting any dieting or exercise regimen. This is absolutely true for your faithful friend too.
You should call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment for your dog. The veterinarian will do a complete evaluation of your pooch’s physical condition and let you know if he is healthy enough to start on an exercise program. A dog that appears to be overweight and not in optimum condition could have underlying health issues such as thyroid problems, diabetes or Cushing’s disease. It’s vital that you talk with the vet before changing anything in your dog’s schedule or diet. Your vet will also be able to provide pointers on dieting and exercise, and should be able to determine a target weight that is realistic.
Enter the Personal Trainer (You!)
All right, so you needn’t hire a personal trainer for your puppy, but you will need to act as his personal trainer. You will need to create a personalized plan for the conditioning routine. Naturally, all dogs are different and the exercise schedule for a Chihuahua will be completely different from that of an Afghan Hound.
Begin with increasingly longer walks. Do this at a brisk pace at first — no stopping to smell the roses every two minutes. This is a weight-loss walk, not a leisurely stroll. And warmups and stretches? Forget about ’em. Dogs are built to run at a second’s notice. However, don’t overdo it or you’ll be carrying your poor dog home.
So, again, what we’re talking about here is a brisk walk, not a full-on run. There should be a little sweat on your forehead after a few minutes.
Additional exercise tips:
- Set aside time — at least 15 or 20 minutes daily — just for playing. Dogs need a lot of play time; and research has proven that this is also beneficial to you, as it will you reduce your stress levels. Throw a ball or a squeaky toy that your pup would love running after and picking it up. Or try a laser pointer; cats do not hold a monopoly on this fun toy, after all.
- Do you have a two-story house? Excellent. Then move your dog’s food dish either upstairs or downstairs to make him work at getting that food!
Do not overindulge your dog with food. Especially avoid feeding scraps from the table. Because his digestive system is different from yours, your dog will tend to put on more weight from human food. Never overfeed your dog beyond his daily ration of food. You might find it helpful to use an automatic pet feeder with a timer. The timer is important; you don’t want a feeder that will dispense food every time your pet wants it.
And now, a word about snacks and dog treats…
Let’s face it; our sweet and lovable dogs love to snack. Come on. Admit it: You do too! We all like snacking. However, both canines and humans need to eat healthy snacks and not pig out on potato chips and milk bones all the time. We all feel the need to reward our precious friends with treats. It makes them happy, and it’s a small thing that we can do to make them feel special.
There are healthy options that will satisfy your puppy’s need to nosh without him packing on more pounds. Believe it or not, most dogs love baby carrots. They’re cold, crunchy and quite tasty. Celery sticks are also healthy and low in calories. These are great snacks that the both of you can enjoy. Healthy snacks for dogs are among the easiest ways to get your dog to lose weight sensibly.
Check out this quick video from Vet Vid, where April Miles, DVM, discusses the dangers of obesity in both dogs and cats:
- Association for Pet Obesity Prevention: Weight loss in dogs fact sheet with lots of helpful tips [PDF]
- Lorie Huston, DVM: Weight loss tips for dogs
- Gun Dog Magazine: Pre-hunt dog training in 30 days
Photo: Stewart Black/Flickr