Pet Obesity Day

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[Image source: Mr TGT]

Is Fido looking a little frumpy lately? 

It’s been known to happen. Perhaps you’ve been working long hours, unable to spend as much time at the dog park or running each morning. Maybe a member of the family is sneaking table scraps (more than usual) to him while your back is turned. It could even be that the measuring cup for that kibble is getting bigger and bigger…

Whatever the reason, it’s no laughing matter. 

Did you know? Obesity can lead to: 

  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Respiratory and Heart disease 
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Many forms of cancer – especially intra-abdominal cancers

Obese pets also live shorter lives than pets who are at a healthy weight or slightly underweight. 

Now before you jump on the diet-wagon, it’s important to visit your trusted veterinarian. There are some conditions that are associated with weight gain; hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease for example. These should always be ruled out prior to embarking on a weight-loss plan. 

There are some simple solutions to weight loss once medical issues are ruled out, but just because they’re simple doesn’t mean they’re easy or a quick-fix. Just like with people, we don’t need fancy food, diet pills, surgery or gimmicks. We need to do three things:

  • portion control
  • healthy choices
  • exercise

Sound familiar? I hope so! 

Portion Control

First, look at your dog food bag, if you’re feeding kibble. The dog food companies want your dog to eat more so that you buy more and you buy more frequently. Don’t follow their recommended feeding unless your dog is more of an athlete than a couch-potato. Decrease portion sizes slowly and gradually until your dog is at their recommended weight and then all you have to do is maintain. 

If you’re using treats to train, decrease the amount of kibble you’re feeding to make up for the extra calories in training. Use healthier choices for treats. Avoid store-bought products that contain colours, nitrates, preservatives, sugar (yes, that happens!) and other harmful chemicals. Try boiled chicken breast, ground beef, cheerios, freeze-dried liver. 

Also, try using slow-feeders or food toys to slow your dog down a touch and maybe even feed 3-4 smaller meals per day rather than 1 or 2. 

Healthy Choices

Speaking of healthy choices, look at your dog’s food. Would you eat it? Why not? Answer that question honestly and reconsider what you’re feeding your dog. Do you know how to read dog food labels? Here’s a crash course. Want to find a better choice for your dog? Contact Sabine who specializes in canine nutrition and for less than $30 you’ll be coached on the best choices for your dog.

Remember that major dog food companies have excellent marketing but if they’re putting all their money into marketing, how much is left over for quality ingredients. Don’t go for that big-box-store or grocery brand – you know the one…the one with the commercials of happy puppies and kittens munching and crunching while you’re bombarded with promises of “high quality animal protein” (read: euthanized pets), probiotics (read: just a touch so we can list it on the ingredients, but not enough to make a difference), and fresh fruits and vegetables (riiiiiight…). The words “natural” and “organic” are also a joke to me. Everything is natural. Kibbie is not. 

Kibble is simply meat (of all kinds, you will find out), grains, vegetables and fruits, grinding them up, steaming them at high temperatures and finally pushing them through a machine to make cute little shapes. Once the food is dry, it’s generally sprayed with flavour agents (many are carcinogenic), fats and vitamins to make it appetizing for the animal. 

Well. “Appetizing” is one word for it. It’s “life-sustaining”…that I’ll give it. We shouldn’t have to *make* food more appetizing to eat it. Food should taste fantastic as is. 

Bottom line? You have other options. There are higher quality kibbles out there, as well as home cooking and raw food diets. Each dog is different and there is no cookie-cutter approach. 

Exercise

I find that most people in Toronto exercise their dogs quite well and relatively appropriately, however visiting the suburbs, I see more overweight, sluggish dogs than anything else. When you have a backyard it’s easy to get comfortable and stop walking your dog 3-4 times a day. 

When increasing an exercise regime for humans or dogs, it’s paramount that we start small and start slow. I always tell people to research The Running Room program for people and use that same methodology; warm up well, one minute jog, one minute walk, repeat for a short time, then cool down. You gradually increase the distance and intensity, but you don’t go from couch-potato to marathon-runner in one week or even four weeks. Find the right type of exercise for your dog. 

Swimming is low-impact and great for water-loving dogs. Running is a good choice if you can find a softer surface than concrete or asphalt (terrible on the knees and other joints!). Agility classes can be a blast, as can frisbee, fetch, and flyball. Brisk walking is the most realistic for most people and dogs. Always choose something you both enjoy – if your dog is not enjoying it, get creative and find other ways to exercise where you’re both having fun – otherwise it’s not realistically sustainable. 

So when your dog is packing on the pounds, don’t turn to gimmicks and special food. Be sure they’re medically sound and then give them healthier choices and more activity in their lives. You might even find that you’re getting into better shape and that your relationship with your dog might get a makeover too! 

Happy Pet Obesity Day! 

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