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Plump puppies may be cute, but when it comes to canine health, lean is better.

Still, as is true with humans, too many dogs are overweight, according to the Association For Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). In its eighth annual survey of the girth of American pets, released in March 2015, the organization found that 53 percent of the nation’s dogs are overweight.

International research suggests that this is a global problem, with surveys from various parts of the world showing that the incidence of canine obesity around 40 percent or more. Most investigators say that this health issue gets worse each year. Another part of the APOP survey showed that in 2014, 17.6 percent of dogs were clinically obese (30 percent or more overweight). That was up a full point from just one year before.

Courtesy of APOP

Even worse, 95 percent of owners don’t realize that their plump dogs need to drop a few pounds. The APOP calls this a “fat pet gap,” in which a chubby dog is identified as normal.

Dr. Ernie Ward, veterinarian and founder of APOP says, “Pet owners think their obese dog or cat is a normal weight, making confronting obesity difficult. No one wants to think their pet is overweight, and overcoming denial is our first battle.”

Health Problems Caused By Dog Obesity

There are many diseases and conditions that come along with extra pounds. These include:

How to Tell If Your Dog Is Obese

The rules range for people, but for pets, figuring out whether your dog is overweight or obese is a matter of both appearance and touch. You should, for example, be able to feel your dog’s ribs when you press her sides. Several dog-food manufacturers have canine body-condition charts that can help you determine if your dog needs to drop a few pounds. Here’s an example:

What to Do If Your Dog Needs a Diet?

As with humans, there are a few tried-and-true methods for slimming down. First, you should check with your vet to make sure that the excess weight is not the result of an underlying health problem or disease. Also, before you change food or reduce calories, you’ll want to get your dog a checkup and talk to your vet about the best options. After taking these steps, check out these helpful tips:

Measure Meals: Keeping a diary is one of the most important steps in any human weight-loss program. Since dogs can’t write, you’ll have to do it for him. Keep track of how much kibble you are feeding by using a measuring cup.

Establish a Schedule: If you free-feed, leaving food down all day, offer meals on a set schedule. Put the food down for a certain time, perhaps 15 minutes, and take up any food that the dog does not eat.

Limit Between-Meal Snacks: Dogs get a lot of calories in addition to their regular kibble. These can include anything from training treats to a biscuit slipped over the fence by a friendly neighbor. Those calories add up. Find out where the extras are coming from and manage how many extra goodies the dog is getting.

Choose Low-Calorie Treats: Many store-bought treats, especially biscuits, can be fattening. The same goes for chews. Some dogs will be just as happy with fruits or vegetables, like bananas, carrots, green beans, and apple slices, for example.

Certain chews, such as the popular bully sticks, are higher in calories than most people believe. A recent study from Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University examined the nutrients found in 26 different kinds of bully sticks. Each inch contained between 9 and 26 calories. “While calorie information isn’t currently required on pet treats or most pet foods, these findings reinforce that veterinarians and pet owners need to be aware of pet treats like these bully sticks as a source of calories in a dog’s diet,” Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., DACVN, professor of nutrition at TCSVM, said in a news release describing the study results. Several companies have developed low-calorie commercial treats. When you try any new treat, offer just a small portion to make sure it agrees with your dog’s digestion.

Get Moving! This may be the best thing you can do to help your heavy hound. Before starting any exercise regime, have your dog checked by your veterinarian to make sure it is an appropriate and reasonable activity. Start slow and work up as directed by your vet to prevent possible injury. There are so many activities you and your dog can do together that it’s impossible to mention them all. Here are some of the best to start a weight-reducing program:

  • Swimming is low-impact and can build muscles and burn calories without hurting joints.
  • Walking, also low-impact, has the added benefit of getting both of you out of the house and into the fresh air.
  • Fetch is fun, and its quick sprints will do a lot to raise fitness levels.

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.
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