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Pet Health: Managing Obesity in Dogs

By Jennifer Stachnik DVM
PEF Board of Directors

Approximately
three out of four pets are overweight.  With long, cold winters, multiple
people in the house on various schedules who might not be sure if the pets were
fed, and those longing eyes…it’s easy to understand why.   However,
it is very important to keep pets lean.  In one study conducted by Purina,
puppies from the same litter were divided into two groups.  Half of the
puppies were fed about as much as they wanted, while the other half were fed
less to maintain a lean bodyweight.  Both groups were followed for life,
and the lean dogs lived about two years longer and had fewer health issues. 
Obesity in dogs can lead to joint problems, back problems, skin issues,
breathing difficulty, and has been linked to a higher occurrence of cancer.  

People often want to
know what their breed of dog should weigh, or want to compare their dog to the
breed standard.  However, because there can be so much variation even
within a breed, and because so many dogs are mixes, it is best to try to get
your dog to his or her ideal body condition and not worry about the guidelines
in a book or on a website.  Your veterinarian can help you assess your
dog’s current body condition and customize a plan to help your pet safely lose
weight.  Body condition scoring involves feeling your dog’s sides over its
chest – you should be able to feel ribs easily with the flat part of your hand,
but not see the ribs.  You should also assess your dog’s waist – ideally
all dogs should have a well-defined waist similar to what you would expect a
Greyhound to look like.  If your dog’s abdomen sinks as far or farther
than its chest – that’s a problem.  

If you or your
veterinarian determine that your dog is overweight, there are three things you
can do: feed less, exercise more, or combine the two.  Generally, unless
otherwise directed by your veterinarian, dogs only need a complete and balanced
dry dog food.  Canned food, table scraps and
dog treats are generally high in calories and should be reduced or eliminated
if your dog is overweight.   It is best to measure out the amount of
food with a measuring cup and be consistent.  Feeding charts on the back
of dog food packages usually over-estimate the
amount of food the average pet needs.  Feeding two to four small meals per
day is better than feeding one large meal because it will help speed up your
pet’s metabolism and help prevent bloat, low blood sugar
episodes, and vomiting bile from an empty stomach.  You can set one of the
“meals” aside to use as treats throughout the day.  Most dogs
are just as happy to get a few pieces of their kibble as they are to get a more
fattening treat.  Once you have cut back on treats and you know how much
food your pet is getting, you may need to cut back by about 25% if your dog is
still overweight.  Periodically monitor their weight and body condition
score (your veterinarian would probably be happy to let you bring your dog in
for a quick weight check).  If no improvement is seen in 1-2 months, you
may need to cut back the amount of food further.  Consider a gradual
switch to a fit and trim or senior formula food.

Exercise can help to
speed weight loss by burning calories and building
muscle
, and it can be a fun way to spend time with your pet.  You
can take your dog for a walk, jog, swim, or play fetch.  You can throw
pieces of your dog’s food up the stairs or across the room and have them go
find it.  You can set up an obstacle course inside or in the yard for your
dog to negotiate.  Send your dog to “boot camp” and drill him on
basic commands; repeating “sit,” “down,” “stand,”
etc. is like puppy push-ups and helps reinforce basic obedience as well as
providing exercise.  You can enroll your dog in doggy day-care or a playgroup
so that he or she can get exercise playing with other dogs.  You could
enroll your dog in an activity such as agility, herding, or rally obedience.  You should take your dog to the
Run For Rover in Lasalle Park on the Buffalo waterfront on Sunday July 12th for
either the 5K run or 1-mile pet walk to benefit the Pet Emergency Fund and help
other pets in need (register at 
www.PetEmergencyFund.org today).  Both
people and pets will be getting some exercise this day.

Our pets can’t
understand calories and the long-term consequences of over-eating.  They
rely on us to make good decisions about how much they should eat and how much
activity they should get.  Try to show your dog you love them by taking
them for an extra walk or letting them play with a doggy pal rather than giving
them extra snacks; they will still love you, I promise.

Image: Google

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