As you get more involved in ensuring that your dog or dogs have long, healthy, and fulfilling lives, one of the aspects that you may want to really focus on is their weight. After I got out of the military, I admittedly put on a few pounds. I was able to notice how this extra weight effected my body, and how it effected my everyday life. The same is true for our dogs!
The biggest difference between humans putting on a few pounds and our dogs putting on a few pounds is that those few pounds are a much bigger deal for our dogs! If I have a 10lbs dog who gains 1lb, that would be like an average person gaining 20lbs! Its a big deal!
Who’s to blame for my dog getting fat?
To be honest, it almost seems that American culture has made it increasingly difficult to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Years ago, you could take your dog just about anywhere with you, but with more and more restrictions on where our dogs can go, they end up spending more and more time stuck at home in their kennel or lounging on the couch.
Additionally, so many pet industries capitalize off of our dogs being overweight! Look at how many treat companies are out there, and even entire bakeries dedicated to making goodies for our dogs! There is nothing wrong with the occasional treat, but we may have a tendency to get carried away.
Let’s Start With Their Dog Food.
You may be able to go out and buy the best, highest quality dog food available, or maybe your only able to afford your average kibble or dry food. In either case, the dog food company is actually working against you. In my experience, I’ve usually fed my dogs about half or less of the recommended daily amount listed on the bag of food for my dogs!
Think about it, the more you feed your dogs, the more food you're buying. Of course the dog food companies want you to overfeed your dog!
If your dog is overweight, its not a good idea to drastically reduce their food intake suddenly, but it doesn’t hurt to start feeding them less if you’ve noticed that they have been gaining weight. We’ll get a bit more into diet later in the article. If you are concerned that they may be missing out on some essential nutrients, you can suppliment their food with a vitamine additive!
Now, I don't believe that any veterinarian wants your dog to get fat, but if your dog is a little bit on the heavy side, its unlikely that they will even mention it. Generally, its been my personal experience that unless the dog's weight is becoming problematic they don't seem to bring it up. Why not?
I've told a number of clients over the years that their dog or dogs could really benefit from losing a few pounds. (Catching it early is extremely beneficial). Their response has always been "The vet said that he's the perfect weight."
If you think about it, the veterinarians do make more money off of sick dogs, but I don't actually believe that this is at the heart of the issue here. It seems more that they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Regardless, of why, waiting until your dog's weight starts causing health problems can become exponentially more detrimental to quality of the rest of their lives.
The Hard Truth
Doctors will always tell you that the only way to loose weight is to eat healthy and exercise. Its true to dogs too!
If you are saying to yourself, “but I let my dog out into the backyard all of the time, he has plenty of space and time to run around and get exercise!” I want you to think about what your dog actually does when they go outside. Aside from occasionally barking at the neighbors or chasing occasional squirrels, how much do they really exercise?
Don’t feel bad, life gets busy and we don’t always have the time to take our dogs for an hour long walk 2-3 times a day.
The solution: Find small ways to help your dog get some short exercise sessions throughout the day. I like to spend 5-10 minutes throwing the ball or frisbee in the morning before my dogs get breakfast, and a few fetch sessions in the afternoon. You can also make feeding time exercise as well but using a puzzle feeder! You’d be surprised how many calories mental stimulation burns.
Walking is also great for your dogs! If you have the time to go for a long 45 minute walk, that’s awesome! If you don’t have that much time, but you still want to get your dog to burn out that energy, use your walk as a training session. Take about 10-15 minutes and work on heeling. You don’t have to go far, and you might not even make it out of your driveway, but you’ll see that you dog is exhausted by the end.
We’ve already mentioned a few ways that you can use mental stimulation to help your dog burn some extra calories, and we really mean it! You’d be amazed at how quickly a dog will get tired during a short training session! The same dog that might be able to chase a ball back and forth across the yard for 45 minutes at a dead sprint, may be ready for a nap after just 10 minutes of real mental work.
Great ways to get your dog using their brain include: Training, obedience training, trick training, clicker training, interactive feeders, interactive toys, puzzle toys, puzzle treat dispensers, task training, scent detection, and so much more!
You can teach your dogs to do new things that actually allow you to do less work. Its a win win! Busy getting work done at the computer, teach your dog to get you a drink from the refrigerator! Your dog gets exercise and mental stimulation, and you don’t have to break your work flow!
How Do I know If My Dog is Overweight?
Whether or not your dog is overweight, paying attention to your dogs physical state, their diet, and their exercise habits is always a good idea.
If you’re not sure if your dog is overweight, you can ask a veterinary professional or you can use some simple guidelines.
When you look down at your dog from above, can you see clear definition where their waist is?
Can you see at least 1-2 ribs (breed and fur dependent)
Can you see some muscle definition in their shoulders and thigh muscles?
If you answered yes to one or more of these, your dog is probably in decent shape or better.
Different Standards for Different Breeds
Different breeds do have different guidelines for what is considered a healthy weight. I have a greyhound who is a good weight for her breed, and you can see ALL of her ribs! You can also see that she has an enormous amount of muscle mass in her shoulders and thighs, which indicates that she is not underweight.
I also have long haired dogs so its very difficult to see their ribs, muscle definition, or even a clearly defined waist.
If your still not sure if your dog is in good shape, a simple recommendation is to find a facebook group dedicated to canine fitness, and simply post some photos like you've seen here, and ask for opinions. You can even get some great recommendations for dieting tips for your dog and fun ways for your dog to get more exercise!
You can find lots of great ways to help your dog exercise to lose excess fat, or how to exercise to build muscle or strengthen their stability muscles. You can even find way to change their diet, or even switch to raw feeding!
When all else fails, you can always ask your vet's opinion. And if you notice any medical problems that may be related to your dog's weight, exercise, or nutrition, you should also ask your vet for their medical opinion as well!
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Now go out and exercise your dogs!!!