An important aspect of being a responsible dog owner is being sure your dog is in shape. You may think your fat dog is adorable just the way he is, but the truth is he could already be at risk for health problems. Certain breeds will be affected more than others by even the slightest weight gain, so it’s important to maintain your dog’s fitness throughout his entire life. Also, you want to make sure your dog does not have any underlying health or metabolic conditions such as hypothyroidism, which might be making him or her overweight.
Different breeds have different silhouettes, and it’s important to understand what’s normal and appropriate for your specific dog. In a Labrador Retriever, for example, the underline of the dog is pretty much a straight line from the elbow all the way to the rear leg. A Rhodesian Ridgeback, by contrast, should have a little bit of a “tuck-up” (or waist ) and the ribcage should gently curve upward before it joins the body at the loin. A Ridgeback who has no discernible waistline is a fat Ridgeback.
Conversely, there are other breeds – including many of the Sighthounds, such as Salukis – that are naturally lean.
If you can’t see a hint of rib on an Azawakh, for instance, chances are it may be slightly overweight.
If you have a less-than-common breed, your veterinarian may not be familiar with its correct outline and weight. Check the AKC Website for that breed’s page and breed standard. If you are in touch with your dog’s breeder, don’t hesitate to forward some photos – ideally, taken from the side and above – to get another opinion.
Dogs gain weight the same way humans do: by eating too much and exercising too little. Dogs that eat excessive amounts of treats, table scraps, and food at mealtimes will gain weight quickly, especially if they are not very active. Before starting any new diet or exercise plan for your dog, have it approved by your veterinarian.
One simple solution to jump-start your dog’s weight loss is to feed your dog his normal food in the morning but replacing his second meal with mostly green beans (low sodium), a bit of kibble, and a doggie multi-vitamin in the evening.
Switching your dog’s treats to healthier options will help him lose weight, too. Cut back on calories by greatly reducing the number of treats given at a time. Also, try replacing biscuits, cheese, and other high-fat treats with fresh chopped carrots, apples, or green beans that are free of added flavoring. Your dog will most likely still enjoy this new, crunchy treat!
If you are training your dog and give treats as a reward, remember to subtract those calories from your dog’s food allotment.
Lastly, don’t make the common error of associating food with love. Plying your dog with food to the point of obesity will only likely shorten the amount of time you will have him in your life. And don’t put too much stock in your dog’s opinion, either: Many dogs will act ravenous even after they have met their caloric requirements for the day.
Lots of Exercise
Of course, additional exercise will help your dog lose weight. Most dogs love to go for a walk, run, swim, or hike, so be sure to get outside and enjoy some outdoor activities with him! For an obese dog, it’s best to start out slow and increase exercise over time once he starts losing weight. However, be sure you aren’t overexerting him, especially if he has a medical condition, and watch for signs of heatstroke.
Of course, additional exercise will help your dog lose weight. Most dogs love to go for a walk, run, swim, or hike, so be sure to get outside and enjoy some outdoor activities with him! For an obese dog, it’s best to get your dog checked out by your veterinarian and to discuss an appropriate exercise program for your dog. Start out slow and increase exercise over time once he starts losing weight.
Training to Run
If you opt to run with your dog, keep his age in mind. Youngsters can damage joints by running repetitively on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt. Many breeders, especially of large breeds, recommend avoiding jogging on hard surfaces until a dog is at least 12 months old, and ideally 18. Instead, try free play on grass or another suitably soft surface such as packed sand.
If you’d like to start running with your dog once he reaches maturity, be sure that he is in peak physical condition. Check with your vet to make sure that he doesn’t have a physical weakness – such as heart issues, orthopedic issues such as hip dysplasia, or a luxating patella (the doggie version of a “trick knee”) – that could make running painful or even dangerous. If your dog could use some strengthening in the muscle department, equipment such as exercise balls can be used to increase balance and stability.
Making Exercise Fun
Canine sports are a great way to exercise your dog while building the bond between the two of you. Agility, which is basically a timed obstacle course, requires you to be able to communicate with your dog via hand signals and body language, and all that zooming through tunnels and over jumps burns plenty of calories. If you’re a newbie, find a training class so you can introduce your dog – and yourself – to the obstacles you’ll encounter on the course. You can learn more about many of these activities through the AKC website.
Constantly be aware of how your dog looks and acts. Slow down or stop if he is panting excessively, and find a cool or shaded spot for some relief. Dogs of all breeds can overheat. Brachycephalic, or short-nosed breeds, can overheat very easily, so on hot days opt for a game of indoor fetch in the air conditioning or short walks in the early morning or late at night.
And no matter what kind of dog you have, remember that asphalt can be sizzling on hot summer days – keep those unprotected paw pads in mind! All dogs will need to get acclimated to running for extended periods on hard surfaces.
Health Problems Caused by Obesity in Dogs
Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and other long and low-bodied breeds that become overweight add strain to their backs and joints, making it painful or difficult for them to walk or sit. Brachycephalic breeds (meaning they have short noses and flat faces) such as Pugs, Boxers, and Bulldogs have an increased risk of breathing and respiratory problems from being overweight. In addition to shortened life expectancy, overweight and obese dogs are at higher risk for diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, breathing problems, and cancer. Have your veterinarian monitor your dog’s health and weight frequently to be sure he is losing weight and improving his overall health. Even the slightest difference will improve his overall quality of life.