With human obesity on the rise, the nation’s pets are affected too - in fact, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s latest survey estimated that nearly 60% of dogs in the USA are obese. Possible reasons range from owners’ lack of time and energy to exercise, to a lack of understanding about proper pet nutrition and portion control. While the recent hot weather has made it a little more difficult to exercise safely in the heat, the autumn months are the perfect opportunity to reset your dog’s exercise and nutritional balance. You may even find that it really boosts your own health and wellbeing too, putting you and your canine companion on track for a happy, healthy new year.
Why obesity is so bad for dogs
Just as obesity can cause health problems for humans, it can have a similarly harmful impact on pets. Dogs who carry extra weight may be more prone to a range of health problems, including high blood pressure, breathing difficulty and diabetes. The additional pressure on bones and joints can also result in osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia, particularly in breeds such as German Shepherds, who are more prone to it. So how can you tell if your dog needs to lose a little weight? There are certain visual indicators for overweight dogs that can help you identify obesity, or you could speak to your vet if you’re unsure.
Getting moving for better health
Once you and your dog are in the swing of things, you may well find numerous creative ways to exercise together, from paddle boarding to yoga (yes, really). At first, though, start small. Short gentle walks a couple of times a day are a great place to start if your dog is very overweight, without putting too much stress on their bodies. As they become more used to the activity, you can increase the distance or the pace, until you both start to feel the rewards. You could also try a little swimming together, for a low impact form of exercise you can both enjoy. Be aware, though, that some breeds such as bull dogs, pugs and dachshunds are unable to swim; again, if in doubt, check with your vet.
Providing the right nutrition
Dogs require a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats just as we do, combined with water, vitamins and minerals. However, the difficulty can be knowing how much to give. In fact, APOP’s surveys have previously found that owners tend to gauge portions by eye or keep refilling until their dog seems completely full. Go back to weighing out portions, and try putting away the rest so that it’s out of sight. Another common problem is giving pets too many treats. It’s easily done, after all, dogs are much loved companions and it can be hard to say no. If you are going to help your dog lose weight and get back to full health, though, you will need to find the willpower for both of you. It may help to find other ways to show them you love them; a warm cuddle or an extra 5 minutes playing in the park, for example.
Helping your dog to lose weight safely is one of the kindest, most loving things you can do for them. Not only are you protecting them from the health complications which can arise from obesity, but you are also setting you both up for an active, happy lifestyle. Start slowly, with gentle exercise and a renewed focus on portion control and over time it will become easier and more natural. You’ll both soon be bounding with energy.