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Lockdown, Our Lives, and Our Pets

The past year of dealing with the pandemic has been challenging for all of us. Our pets have been there through all of it with us from the good (the extra companionship) to the bad (overeating, binge-watching television, and not exercising regularly).

Unfortunately, our altered lifestyle has also taken a toll on our dogs including their eating habits, activity level, and weight gain which can affect their quality of life. One study found that with people spending more time at home, treats were often given as a form of love, and more than half of people say they’ve been giving their pets treats for no apparent reason.

A recent survey from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, conducted in partnership with Kelton Global, found that while overweight pets and pet obesity have been on the rise for years, COVID-19 has intensified the issue. According to veterinarians, more than 71% of pet professionals say the pandemic has impacted the way pets eat. Since the start of COVID-19, one-third of owners with an overweight pet say their pet became overweight during the pandemic. More concerningly, nearly two in three veterinarians say most owners act surprised or even defensive when learning that their pet is overweight.

Canine Obesity

In North America, obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs. Approximately 25% of the general canine population is obese, with nearly half of dogs aged 5-11 years old being over their ideal weight. Dogs are considered technically obese when they weigh 20% or more above their ideal body weight.

The Risks of Canine Obesity

Obesity shortens a dog’s life and makes them more likely to develop disease. It was always accepted that heavy dogs lived a shorter lifespan than lean dogs, usually by 6-12 months. But a large, lifetime study of Labrador Retrievers found that being even moderately overweight can reduce a dog’s life expectancy by nearly TWO YEARS compared to their leaner counterparts.

Fat used to be considered a relatively inactive tissue used to store excess energy calories and adding to body mass. Recent evidence however now reveals that fat tissue is actually biologically active. Fat secretes inflammatory hormones and creates oxidative stress on the body’s tissue, both of which contribute to many diseases. Thinking of obesity as a chronic, low-level inflammatory condition is a new approach.

Obese dogs develop an increased risk for:

  • many types of cancer, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and hypertension
  • osteoarthritis and contributes to faster degeneration of affected joints
  • urinary bladder stones
  • anesthetic complications as they are less heat tolerant

How Do I Know if My Dog Is Obese?

The very first step in dealing with any problem is to be able to recognize and acknowledge that there is a problem.

Before starting any exercise or weight reduction program you should consult with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will help you identify and assist you with an accurate assessment of your dog’s current weight status as well as the ideal goal weight and very importantly diagnose if there are any underlying medical issues contributing to the increased weight, such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) or Cushing’s disease (overactive adrenal glands). Your veterinarian will form a plan to achieve a balanced weight loss and exercise program individualized for your dog’s needs.

If your veterinarian has determined your dog is technically obese, they may make specific suggestions for feeding certain types of food made to help with healthy and safe and appropriately timed weight reduction in dogs. In cases of obesity, it is not appropriate to simply reduce the volume of their current food as this could cause malnourishment over time.

It is appropriate and important to feed a nutritional product that has lower overall caloric density, yet still maintains an appropriate nutrient balance. Your veterinary health care team can help you determine which diet and nutritional products are best suited for your dog and for how long.

Proper portion size must be determined and treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. Fresh or frozen green beans, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower, as well as air-popped popcorn all make excellent snacks if approved by your veterinarian.

Consistent weigh-ins, every 3-4 weeks at minimum are important in successful canine weight loss as it keeps everyone accountable. It is important to verify weight loss, to ensure that weight loss is neither too rapid nor excessive.

Once an ideal body weight and condition has been achieved, it is important to maintain that weight. Your veterinarian can help you find an appropriate food and portion for weight maintenance. Yo-yo weight loss and gain is no healthier for dogs than it is for humans. The benefits of normalizing body weight and condition make the effort well worth it.

AKC FIT DOG

Keeping active and fit are important for both people and dogs. The most recommended and safest exercise to improve fitness is walking. Walking improves muscular strength, circulation, memory, weight loss, increases energy, helps with sleep, and reduces stress. The American Heart Association recommends people walk a minimum of 150 minutes per week.

In 2018, AKC developed the AKC FIT DOG program encouraging people and their dogs to walk together on a regular basis to improve their health and strengthen their bond. Dogs and people in good shape are expected to log their activity and walk with their dog for at least 30 minutes, 5 times per week, for a total of at least 150 minutes for approximately 3 months. For dogs or people who would benefit from a walk that is shorter (ie. Seniors), they’re expected to log their activity and walk with their dog about 15 minutes per session (2 sessions per day), at least 10 times per week, for at least 3 months. Learn more about participating in the AKC FIT DOG program and how to get an AKC FIT DOG CLUB started in your area.

Don’t forget that before starting any diet or exercise program for your dog, always consult with your veterinarian about your individual dog’s needs. Then, be consistent and determined to maximize your dog’s success. Staying fit and active is good for you and your dog!  A dog with a healthy weight will live a longer, happier, and healthier life.

Related article: How to Improve Your Senior Dogs Quality of Life
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