Pets: Tackling the challenge of canine obesity

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By Kim Gilliam

Heading into the winter months, many of us start thinking about how to avoid weight gain, with cold weather threatening to limit outdoor activity and the prospect of holiday food indulgences.

It’s a good opportunity to remember that dogs are not exempt from the battle of the bulge; they too struggle with weight gain and the health problems that come along with it.
Dogs don’t realize the ramifications of eating to excess or not getting enough exercise. Keeping them healthy is their owner’s responsibility.

Sadly, while most of us are very aware of the health hazards associated with a person being overweight, we don’t realize this also applies to our pets.

Studies show that as little as five extra pounds will make a dog susceptible to diabetes, heart issues, respiratory disease, hypertension, intra-abdominal cancer and osteoarthritis. Obese dogs can die up to 2.5 years earlier than dogs at their ideal weight, while suffering a decreased quality of life due to weight-related health issues.

A 2017 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found 56 percent of U.S. dogs to be clinically overweight or obese – while 93 percent of dog owners think their dog is a healthy weight – making it one of the most common preventable diseases in dogs.

Not sure what your dog’s ideal weight is? Check with your vet. They consider your dog’s body condition and overall physique, looking for a distinct waistline behind the ribs when viewed from above, with the ribs slightly visible when viewed from the side and abdomen tucked in (no hanging belly).

Similar to the Body Mass Index used for humans, they use a Body Condition Score grading scale from one-to-nine for dogs, with an ideal body weight around five and a seven or higher indicating a dog is overweight or obese.

If you are trying to slim your dog down, here are some things to consider:

Count calories with your dog

One study found that dogs burn an average of 0.8 calories per pound per mile. This means a 20 pound dog walking at four miles per hour will only burn about 64 calories during a one-hour walk. Even at twice a day it’s only 128 calories. So be very conscious of the calories they are eating – measure their food and count caloric
intake in the form of treats, table scraps, etc.

Don’t give in to a dog that looks hungry or begs If your dog’s nutrient and caloric calories are met, then this is a behavioral issue. Dogs are master manipulators; don’t let them
convince you that they need more food when they don’t. If needed, you can divide their food into more frequent meals, set aside some kibble to be used for rewarding positive behavior, distract them by playing with a toy or tug/fetch or use low calorie/carb options like carrots or broccoli to satisfy cravings.

Consider alternative methods of exercise

It may be cold and dark outside when you get home from work, but you’re going to have to step up the physical activity to burn extra calories. There are endless ways to increase activity, even in the house. Get them to run up and down stairs or expend energy by eating
meals from a toy – smaller dogs can even swim in the bathtub. You can also schedule playdates with neighborhood pups or stop by your local dog gym.

Don’t be discouraged by a weight loss plateau

This can happen in any weight loss program, as the body needs time to adjust. Be patient and stick to the plan; with time and a consistent diet and exercise program, the weight loss will resume. Don’t succumb to frustration; remember this is important for the health
of your dog and weight loss is never an easy task.

Communicate with non-compliant family members

There’s one in every house: someone who derails your dog’s weight loss program. While a tough challenge to tackle, the best approach is to take them along to the vet appointments and let them hear it straight from a professional that they are killing your pet with their “love” and it needs to stop.

Think it’s just not possible? Think again. Frolick Dogs recently partnered
with FreshPet and Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre on the 2018 #FreshFit challenge. Over the last three-and-a-half months, the three contestants, Maddi the Lab, Buckley the bully breed and Chloe the Chiweenie, lost a combined total of a little under 27 pounds through diet and exercise. Check out the Oct. 27 episode of The
Pet Show with Dr. Katy on NewsChannel 8 for more on their major results.

Kim Gilliam co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.

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