You are what you eat, and so is your dog. What he eats, how much he eats and how many calories he burns all have big implications for his long-term health.
“Overweight dogs have an increased risk for a variety of conditions,” warns Tony Buffington, D.V.M., DACVN, professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, among them osteoarthritis, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart and respiratory disease, kidney disease and many forms of cancer.
Given that a whopping 45 percent of our nation’s dogs are overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, misery has plenty of company.
The good news? Pet obesity is entirely preventable. Try these tweaks to help an overweight dog shed extra pounds.
Figure out his ideal weight. Run your hands along your dog’s sides toward his tail. You should be able to feel (but not see) his ribs. You can also check out the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s website for a list of ideal weight ranges for 100 popular dog breeds.
Consider calories. The average 50-pound dog receiving less than 30 minutes of aerobic activity daily requires only 700 to 900 calories. For small dogs, it’s even less: A 20-pound dog only needs 325 to 400 calories every day. (The average woman needs 2,000 per day.) Think about it: If your dog eats half your child’s dinner every night, he could easily be taking in double the amount of calories he needs.
Revisit feeding guidelines. If you’re like most people, you haven’t recently read the feeding guidelines that come with your dog’s food. Take a fresh look – have the guidelines changed now that he’s a little older and less active? Should he switch to a food formulated for seniors (defined as dogs in the last 25 percent of their expected lifespan), or one for overweight dogs? Visit your veterinarian to discuss the best option. A vet may also want to run tests to determine whether there’s a medical reason behind your dog’s weight gain.
Bump up exercise. It’s one of the easiest ways for dogs to shed pounds. A few simple ideas: Increase the amount of time you walk your dog or adopt a regular walking routine if you don’t have one already, visit an off-leash dog park or play a rousing game of catch in the backyard.
Stick to smart snacks. If you must give your dog special between-meal treats, offer him low-cal ones made for overweight dogs. You can also offer a variety of healthy human snacks (in moderation, of course), including cut-up apple, peanut butter stuffed inside a Kong toy or a taste of cooked chicken.
The payoff? “Better health and longevity,” Buffington says. Just what the doctor ordered.
Maureen Kochan is a DOG FANCY contributing editor.