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Did you know that 54 percent of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese? Specifically, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 57.9 percent of cats and 52.7 percent of dogs are overweight or obese. But unlike our everyday food choices – chock full of various food groups, diets, and cuisines to satisfy each nutrient we need – dogs’ diets are much simpler (and less fun) to maintain. Nutritionally, your dog should be getting all that he needs from his dog food, but depending on his age, he may be getting too much or too little. And depending on his lifestyle – how much or how little exercise he gets – he may be underweight or overweight. How can you tell?
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"You can get an idea of your dog’s BCS by feeling his ribs and looking down to visually assess his waist or lack of," says Cesar Milan, best-selling author, public speaker, and star of the TV show Dog Whisperer with Cesar Milan, in an article on his web site. When a dog is at his ideal weight, you should be able to feel the ribs along the side of his chest and see a slight hourglass shape after the ribs when looking down on him from above. If you don’t feel the ribs, it may be because excessive fat is covering them.Below, a chart by PetSmart helps visually articulate the shape of your pet:
Is your dog underweight or overweight, but eating well and getting plenty of exercise? Before we explore what you can do to help her get to her ideal weight, let’s first discuss what other reasons beyond diet and exercise that may explain your dog’s weight problem:
Age. Is she a puppy or a senior dog? If you have an overweight puppy, consider changing the amount of or type of food you’re feeding her. For example, if she’s still only consuming milk, you need to wean her off of her mother’s milk to regular dog food. (The weaning process should be begin between 3-4 weeks of age and commence when she is between 7-8 weeks old.) If you have an adult dog, don’t think all of his energy was burned when he was a puppy. His food allotment should be based on his size and energy output; the more active he is, the more energy and calories he’ll burn. And if you have a senior dog, remember, like humans, as his body changes, so, too, will his eating habits. (I ate ice cream and pizza religiously as a child and never gained a pound. When I eat ice cream and pizza now as an adult, I see it and feel it.) It’s important to make sure your senior dog is eating properly to help him maintain a healthy weight and overall well-being. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says, "When feeding your older dog, the main objective should be to maintain health and optimum body weight, slow development of chronic disease and minimize diseases that may already be present."
Breed. Breed affects weight so check out this chart by APOP to see how much your dog should weigh based on his breed.
Hormonal disorder. Consult your vet if your dog has an unexplained weight problem because he may be suffering from a medical disorder like Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland. What’s more, neutered and spayed dogs are found to be at higher risk than intact dogs.
According to APOP, healthy-weight pets can live up to 2.5 years longer than overweight pets. (And I don’t know about you, but since the life expectancy for dogs teeters around the already-too-short 11 years of age, I will gladly add 2.5 years to my dog Henry’s lifespan by keeping him healthy.) And just as in people (especially those living in the United States where obesity is a national epidemic), in addition to shortened life expectancy, obesity in dogs is also associated with various health problems including diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart disease, and hypertension. If you want your dog to run, play, and live longer, help her get to her ideal weight by:
Going to the vet. First, go to the vet to rule out medical problems and see where his ideal weight should be for his age and breed. Second, keep going to the vet once he is on the road to recovery aka Diet and Exercise Highway. As your dog continues to lose weight, make sure you’re keeping him updated with shots and checkups so you can ensure you’re safely and properly helping him get to his ideal weight and not pushing too hard.
Exercising. Take long walks with him once or twice a day or take quick walks multiple times a day. Play fetch, take him to the dog park, or run in your neighborhood. Go swimming or take him to the woods. Do something to keep him active and enjoy the time with him. His knees (and yours) won’t be this way forever.
Researching. Be a smart consumer. If you want to eat crockpot hot dogs in a bar at 4 A.M., let that be your personal choice and wave your freak flag high, but don’t subject your pup to your rash, horrible decision-making (I’m having a flashback). Read the labels on your dog food and make sure you’re giving him the proper amount daily. If something sounds odd in the ingredient list, research it and find out what it is.
Not free-feeding. If your dog is struggling with her weight, the last thing she’ll need is her bowl runneth over all day every day of dog food. Feed her the proper amount every day, nothing more and nothing less.
Medicating. If increasing exercise and decreasing caloric intake are not working, it may be worth considering medicating your pup (but only as a last resort). Milan says, "Dirlotapide also known as Slentrol is available by prescription from veterinarians and works by suppressing the appetite and hindering fat absorption. Pharmacologic intervention should only be considered as a last option and only as a part of an overall weight loss program because all too often people rely on the drug to do all the work and do not make the necessary lifestyle modifications of eating less and moving more."
Image: Justin Veenema
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