Most everyone has heard the old unattributed saying that having an overweight dog is a sign that you need to exercise more. It’s a backhanded stab at your fitness level that has less to do with your pup’s health than yours.
The truth is, every dog needs exercise, but different breeds require different levels. For example, an Australian cattle dog lives to work and a golden retriever loves to run, but a Cavalier King Charles, bred to sit at the feet of kings, may only need a once-a-day gallop through your house to stay healthy.
Much like an overweight human, an overweight dog may not be getting enough exercise, but he may also be getting too much food or too much of the wrong food. Humans can survive on fast food, but unless they’re burning those empty calories, they’ll likely gain weight. Similarly, dogs have basic nutritional requirements that you need to supply.
The Health Risks Facing an Overweight Dog
When your dog is overweight, the added pounds put additional and unnecessary stress on his muscles and bones, not to mention his internal organs. And the older your dog gets, the more health risks he faces, conditions such as:
- Hip dysplasia, a painful ailment
- Heart disease, which can take two or more years off your dog’s lifespan
- Doggie diabetes, a real and dangerous condition
- Back problems, including disc disease and ligament damage
- Joint diseases that can lead to arthritis
- Even cancer or reduced immune system functions
Since your little buddy is part of your family, take care of his dietary and fitness needs as you do for your two-legged family members. Proper nutrition and exercise extend your overweight dog’s life, as well as his ability to stay active. If you’re not sure if your pup is too heavy, check his shoulder blades and ribs: you should be able to feel them without difficulty.
Ways to Help Your Dog Lose Weight
Your vet can tell you if your beloved doggie needs to lose weight. And if you sense that already, consider these tips to help him recover his healthiest form:
- Add more protein and fewer carbs to your dog’s diet. Your dog loves protein, although he’ll eat anything you put in front of him. Dogs don’t even need carbohydrates, so consider cutting them out altogether. Regarding vital protein, he needs slightly less than one gram per pound of his ideal body weight. If you’re trying to get your overweight dog to lose pounds, give him more protein. Reduce or eliminate carbs and maintain an average amount of the healthier fats, which help him feel full.
- Feed your dog less per serving. Just like with humans, less food intake helps an overweight dog lose weight, all things being equal. But don’t suddenly drop his serving size; give him a little less each day until you reach a serving size that’s still healthy, usually within a week or two. If you do it gradually enough, like reducing his dinner by five percent at a time, he won’t expect any more.
- Find healthy treats and chew toys. Have you ever seen that cartoon of five dogs in a lifeboat, with a ship sinking behind them? One dog asks, “Who’s in favor of eating all the food right now?” and every dog has his paw raised. (Thank you, Gary Larsen.) That’s the relationship your dog has with treats and chews. So try half a treat instead of a whole one. Try a baby carrot instead of a biscuit. And for chews, give your dog the most natural, least processed rawhide chew.
- Track your dog’s weight. You can often tell if your overweight dog is getting lighter by feeling his ribs, but there’s nothing like measuring his weight over time. If you’re dog’s too jittery to sit on a scale, measure yourself alone and then once more with your pup in your arms. Subtract the first from the second weight. Measuring his weight once a month is often enough. Your veterinarian may help if all you want is a weight check.
- And yes, exercise more. January is National Walk Your Dog Month, so what are you waiting for? It takes 21 days to form a new habit. Instead of letting your little guy out into the backyard to do his duty, take him for a walk around the block. It’s a healthful activity for both of you. You can both work up to longer weekend excursions to burn calories and build muscle.