Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, pet obesity has been on the rise. For many owners, tackling weight problems in pets feels like an impossible task, and vets agree that it’s not getting any easier. That’s no reason to despair, though. Taking things a day at a time, you can adjust your dog’s diet, change your reward regimen and start them on a fitness program — and soon your furry family members will shed those extra pounds.
How to tell if your dog is overweight
Obesity in dogs is a common problem and a leading cause of canine health issues. A few pounds too many, and your dog is at risk of developing arthritis, diabetes and heart problems.
If you’re not sure whether your dog is overweight, you can use a breed weight chart to gauge his ideal weight and then compare it to his actual weight.
You can also look out for the following signs of obesity:
- Looking from above, does your dog have an oval body shape or a clearly defined waist and straight sides? Oval equals obesity, while straight sides suggest a healthy weight.
- Can you feel your dog’s ribs? If your dog is fit, you should be able to feel his ribs without having to press too hard. If all you feel is fat and no bone, your dog needs to lose weight.
- Looking from the side, your dog’s abdomen should be tucked in. If it’s level with his chest, he’s carrying excess weight.
- Give your dog a quick physical examination, feeling for fat deposits on their hips and between their legs.
- Observe your dog’s behavior. Is he mostly inactive? Does he get excited about anything other than food? If not, chances are he needs to go on a bit of a diet.
How to adjust your dog’s diet for weight loss
If you’ve been free-choice feeding your dog, it’s time to stop. Unlike large herbivores, like cows and horses, dogs don’t need to graze throughout the day. In the wild, dogs rarely eat every day and may go for a week without food without any ill effects.
Most vets agree that feeding your dog controlled portions twice a day is ideal, although how much depends on your dog’s breed, age and the amount of exercise he’s getting.
Speak to your vet or a qualified pet nutritionist to establish the appropriate portion size for your dog’s ideal weight, or use a reputable dog food delivery service that provides pre-portioned meals tailored to your dog’s unique dietary needs.
What you feed has as much impact on your dog’s weight as how much. Try to avoid commercial feeds high in carbohydrates, and opt for those that offer a balance of protein and fat and are designed to support a healthy weight.
Steer clear of brands that use artificial ingredients and preservatives, and instead choose dog food products featuring recognizable ingredients such as grains, meat, fruit and vegetables.
Change the way you reward your dog
Treats are a big part of most dog’s lives, but they don’t have to be crafty calorie carriers. Stop buying dog high-calorie treats and replace them with healthy, homemade treats instead.
Switch out any human food that your dog’s getting, replacing it with healthy, crunchy vegetables like carrots, snap peas or asparagus spears.
Don’t forget, food isn’t the only way to reward your dog. Maybe your dog has a particular trick that he loves to perform, in which case, you can reward him by asking him to do his favorite trick instead of giving him a treat. If your dog has a great love of socks, reward him by letting him chase a sacrificial sock on a string.
The more you engage with your dog and observe his behavior, the easier it will become to identify the things that bring him joy and use those to reinforce good behavior while cutting back on the calories.
Put your dog on a fitness course
A fitness course has many benefits for your dog and for you, including helping you both to maintain a healthy weight!
What are the benefits of exercise for dogs?
A regular exercise routine not only improves your dog’s physical condition but also improves his mental stamina. Because many behavioral problems are linked to a lack of activity, a few minutes of exercise a day may be all it takes to rid your dog of nuisance behavior like chewing or persistent barking.
Fitness games also reinforce obedience training and offer a fun way to improve your ability to communicate with your dog and get the responses you’re aiming for.
How much exercise do dogs need to lose weight?
It’s OK to take it slow at the start. Just as you wouldn’t go from the couch to an hour-long gym session on the first day, you shouldn’t expect too much from your dog in the beginning. Introduce exercise to your dog’s life a little at a time, remembering that even five to 10 minutes of exercise a day can produce excellent results.
What kind of exercise is best for overweight dogs?
Dogs that are overweight and unfit put more pressure on their joints, so you need to begin with low-intensity, low-impact exercises.
Walking on flat ground is ideal if you’re able to get out and about. Swimming is also a good option if the weather’s good, but it doesn’t give you much opportunity to bond with your dog.
Indoor games are a great way to get your dog moving and have some fun together. Hide and seek is simple and requires nothing more than a few homemade treats and some cardboard boxes that you scatter around the room. Hide a treat under or in each box, and let your dog run around the room, hunting down his rewards.
Even simple movements have big rewards. For instance, a dog that shifts from a standing position to lying down without moving his paws is engaging his core, and working through the full range of motion in his shoulders and hips. That means he’s burning fat and stimulating blood flow to his joints at the same time.
To make sure you’re not asking too much of your dog, keep an eye out for signs of fatigue, and give him regular breaks and rest days.
Even if you’re only doing as little as five to 10 minutes of exercise every other day, you’ll still reap the rewards within the first week.
Your dog may not drop weight immediately, but you will see him become increasingly mentally engaged and excited about the prospect of his next training session.
Tackling your dog’s weight problem doesn’t have to be an insurmountable challenge, nor does it have to take up hours of time.
A well-managed, high-quality diet combined with a healthy reward system and a tailor-made fitness program will deliver noticeable results early on and give you a sustainable way to manage your dog’s weight in the long term.
Not only will your dog start to lose weight, but he’ll also have more mental stamina and better at basic obedience. Better still, you’ll also have a closer bond with each other.
A weight-loss program delivers many rewards for your dog, but you get the ultimate prize – a happier, healthier dog who’ll be around to keep you company for many years to come.