One of the most significant issues affecting dogs today is the extra pounds they are carrying around. Some healthcare professionals consider pet obesity an epidemic, but no matter what you call it the result is many dogs are living a diminished quality of life — with some projections showing a decreased life expectancy of up to two years.
As our country’s poor eating habits continue to spiral out of control, added pounds are finding their way to our furry friends. Table foods, over feeding, extra treats and lack of exercise are the primary causes of dogs being overweight and burdened with some of the same health afflictions seen in humans.
Carrying extra weight can cause dogs to have less endurance, energy and stamina. Some common health problems associated with an overweight dog are diabetes, heart disease, joint pain, digestive disorders, decreased liver function and increased blood pressure. The health risks go far beyond these few.
Current estimates indicate that 40-50% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight. Owners can play a huge part in improving their dog’s health and increasing their dog’s quality of life. We can help extend our dog’s life span through improved dietary habits, exercise and regular healthcare check-ups.
Checking with your veterinarian to rule out a medical condition related to your dog’s weight gain, discussing an exercise program that is suitable for your dog should be part of assessing your dog’s overall health.
Eating: Developing a food plan that works takes careful thought and a program to phase in dietary changes. Keep in mind that any sudden change in a pet’s diet can cause stomach upset.
Table Food – Skip foods that are high in butter, creams and sauces. Avoid raisins, grapes, nuts and chocolate, as these are potentially harmful. Salmon, tuna, lean meats, and vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower and celery are good alternatives to processed commercial treats that may be high in calories.
Snacks – Cut back on snacks in general. If you are going to give your dog snacks, look for healthier, low calorie alternatives to traditional treats. You can find a suggested list of options by clicking Healthy Snacks.
Weight Control Foods – Look for foods that promote weight management yet still provide nutrients required for your dog’s overall health.
TIP: Don’t let your dog’s begging wear you down! giving in will only reinforce the begging behavior and contribute to over-feeding.
Exercise; With our busy schedules, more and more dogs are exercising less and less. Regular exercise is essential to your pet’s weight management, and it can also help reduce hyperactivity, boredom and other behavioral issues.
Before engaging in an exercise program, have your dog checked to be sure he is in good health. Be considerate of your dog’s overall health, weight, physical condition, age and breed.
Walking – Take your dog for one or two daily walks three to four times a week at 15-20 minute intervals. This is good for the dog’s mental stimulation as well as helping to reduce and or maintain his weight. (It is also good for you!)
Fetching – Throwing a ball or other fetch toy is good exercise for dogs that are in good physical condition. It provides both mental and physical stimulation.
Other Activities – Based on your dog’s physical conditioning you may want to consider swimming, which is a great non-weight bearing exercise. If you enjoy running and/or bicycling, bring your dog along. Check with your vet first, as these provide intense levels of exercise and your dog’s overall health needs to be considered.