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The Rising Problem of Obesity in Dogs
Obesity is a big issue – literally. According to the Canadian Obesity Network, an estimated six million Canadians are obese and may need support to control or manage their weight.
What you may not know is that obesity has become an issue with our pets too.
A recent study released by the Banfield Pet Hospital states that obesity in dogs has increased by nearly 160 percent over the past 10 years. That means one in three dogs is now considered overweight.
As pet parents, we want our dogs to be healthy, and managing their weight is an important part of that. If dogs become overweight, it puts them at greater risk of arthritis, respiratory problems, diabetes and more. Studies have also shown that just a slight increase in their weight can shave years off your dog’s lifespan.
One of the major culprits behind obesity in dogs is excessive feeding – particularly the overuse of treats to reward good behavior and show affection. Lack of exercise is also a factor – it’s been said that pet owners spend three times as much time watching TV as they do playing with their dogs.
To determine if your pup is overweight, look for a proportioned, slightly hourglass body shape when viewed from above, a slight tummy tuck and a thin covering of body fat over the ribs and spine. When running your hands along your pet’s body, you should be able to feel the ribs and hips without pressing hard. If you’re not sure, you can use a scoring chart like this one. If your pup needs to lose a few pounds, here’s what to do.
Step 1: Determine your pet’s current weight
Start with a visit to your vet. In addition to weighing your dog, they can check to make sure that there are no underlying health conditions to be concerned about. Your vet can also tell you the amount of weight your dog needs to lose.
For weekly follow-ups at home, you can weigh your pet using a bathroom scale. Weigh yourself, then pick up your pet and weigh again. Subtract the difference to determine your pet’s weight.
Step 2: Increase exercise and play time
It’s possible you’re feeding your dog properly, but just not getting enough exercise. If this is the case, ramp up the activity level slowly to avoid undue strain on your dog. Start the process of weight loss by adding an extra block to your regular walking route and a few more minutes of fetch at the dog park.
Step 3: Determine whether a change in food is needed
If your pet only needs to lose a little weight, you can keep feeding them the food you do now and just reduce the amount slightly. If more needs to be lost, there are specific weight-loss recipes to reduce calories but keep your pet feeling satisfied. You can also replace unhealthy dog treats with healthy ones like a carrot or green bean.
Ideally, your pet’s food should be weighed. Weighing is more accurate and allows you to monitor exactly how much you are feeding. Using a smaller food dish and scoop may also help you to stick with the plan.
Step 4: Monitor progress and stay on-track
For pets, a 1-2 percent body weight loss per week is ideal. Weekly weigh-ins are important to ensure gradual weight loss, as a rapid decline in weight can be harmful to your pet.
After a few weeks, you should see progress. If too much or too little weight has been lost during the previous week, adjust the amount of food again until a slow and steady weight loss is achieved.
Continue adjusting food intake and assessing body condition weekly until your pet reaches an ideal body weight. Once your dog has reached their optimal weight, it’s important to continue monitoring it. Dogs that have been overweight once are more likely to become overweight again.
By managing your dog’s weight, you can ensure well-being and companionship for years to come.
About the Author:
Dr. Jennifer Adolphe graduated with her PhD in companion animal nutrition from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She has a Master of Science degree in human nutrition and is a registered dietitian. She is currently the Senior Nutritionist at Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a Canadian, family-owned company committed to offering superior quality pet foods.