Dogs, like humans, are prone to obesity if the conditions are right. The problem is that although overweight dogs are kind of cute with their rolls of chub, they are also deeply unhealthy. So, if your dog is on the large side, here’s what to do about it.
The Facts About Dog Obesity
Research carried out in 2014 revealed that 53% of dogs were clinically obese. In 2016, that figure had climbed to 54%, so the problem is not going away.
The sad truth is that obese dogs usually have obese owners. 35% of adults in seven states are obese, with West Virginia having the worst obesity rate (38.1%). Many of these people will own dogs, and many of those dogs will take very little exercise because their owners are not fit enough to walk around the block.
Obese dogs struggle to take exercise. The excess weight they carry puts pressure on joints and organs. Many overweight dogs suffer from painful arthritis and breathing problems. Type 2 diabetes is also a problem. Being obese will limit your dog’s life, just as being overweight contributes to numerous health problems in humans.
Neutered animals are more prone to excessive weight gain and some breeds are more susceptible than others. For example, Labradors are famously greedy and there are many fat middle-aged Labradors out there. However, no dog is immune to weight problems if they don’t live a healthy lifestyle.
Symptoms of Obesity in Dogs
Aside from rolls of excess fat, an obese dog will be very reluctant to exercise, jump up, or play. He will probably want to eat more than is good for him and be quick to gain weight if a non-optimal diet is given.
If you are concerned that your beloved pet may be a tad overweight, take him for a health check at your local veterinary clinic. He can be weighed and checked for weight-related health problems. Your vet can also advise you on a suitable diet and exercise program.
Having a health check is wise because there are a few health problems that cause obesity in dogs. Pets can develop thyroid issues, just like humans, so if your pet has an underactive thyroid, no amount of exercise or low-calorie food will keep his weight at an optimum level. Insulin resistance can also cause weight gain.
A Healthy Diet
Weight problems are often diet related. Many pet owners make the mistake of feeding their pets treats and human food, as well as their own pet food. This is not good for your pet’s health. For starters, human food is not good for dogs and many ingredients are actually bad for them. Feeding your dog toast and butter for breakfast will do him no favors. Just because your dog is giving you puppy dog eyes, it doesn’t mean you should allow him to polish off a plate of roast chicken and gravy. He needs to learn some self-control!
Make sure you instruct all members of the family that the dog must not be given any extra treats. There is no point restricting his diet if your kids are surreptitiously feeding him biscuits and toast because they feel sorry for him. It is also wise to move tempting treats well out of harm’s way, locking them in a cupboard if necessary.
Some dogs will go to enormous lengths to thieve food and steal treats from kitchen counters and tables. Food is a great motivator, and if your dog has been put on a low-calorie diet, he is likely to become very motivated! Yes, move the cat tray well out of harm’s way, or you won’t need to empty it for a while.
Look at low fat dog foods for your pet. Older pets need a low-fat dog food that reflects their lower activity levels. Some owners continue feeding an older dog the same food they’ve enjoyed since they were an energetic 12-month puppy. Senior dog foods are more appropriate for an older pet and contain the right levels of nutrients your dog needs. If in doubt about the which food your dog should be eating, ask your veterinarian for advice.
Exercise for an Obese Pet
Overweight pets need to boost their activity levels, but you can’t expect an obese dog to feel like running for miles around the park. It’s unfair to push him too hard, too fast. As with an obese person, exercise should be increased slowly and carefully.
Devise an exercise program that suits your dog’s age and health. The more obese your pet is, the more careful you will need to be. If he’s extremely obese, aim to reduce his weight through diet initially and then start an exercise program.
To begin with, try walking him for 10-15 minutes a day at a speed that suits him. He will be unwilling to go far, as it will be uncomfortable for him, but persevere and make sure he goes out at least once a day. When you notice some improvement, introduce a second short walk, and then gradually make the walks a bit longer.
As the weight falls off your dog, build up his activity levels and encourage him to play with toys. Even older dogs like to play, so throw a ball for him and play fetch in the park.
The more active your dog is, the easier it will be to maintain a healthy weight. Get into the habit of walking your dog at least twice a day; it’s good for his mental health as well as his waistline. If you don’t have time, ask a family member or pet sitter to walk the dog. In any event, it is unfair to expect a dog to stay home alone all day long while you go to work, so a daily visit from a dog walking service will help to keep him active and stimulated.
Being a dog owner means making a lifetime commitment to your pet’s health. A healthy dog is a happy dog, and if he’s fit and active, chances are, so are you.