It’s tough enough for many of us to control and maintain our own healthy weight and fitness goals, so it’s understandable that a lot of dog owners also find it challenging to help their pet maintain a healthy weight. In fact, as much as 41 percent of dogs are considered overweight or obese, and for many dog owners, this can be traced back to simply not knowing how to identify their pup’s healthiest size and weight range appropriate for their breed.
There are a lot of dangers of dog obesity and not making an effort to tip the scales in a new direction. Just like people, dogs will have an increased likelihood of heart problems, decreased immune function, digestive orders, and a laundry list of other potential health risks. Studies have also found that 25 percent of overweight dogs develop joint complications, as overall size is actually one of the greatest determining factors in dogs developing arthritis. So even if you have a small dog whose breed is not typically at risk of cancer, being overweight can still increase their likelihood of a potentially painful life. Your dog is also more likely to have skin and coat problems if they are overweight because the skin forms more and different types of oils and the skin may fold in on itself creating pockets, which are ideal for developing infections. But above all else, obesity is a major factor in shortening the lifespan of your four-legged friend, so keeping him or her at a healthy weight really should be a top priority in your home.
How do you know when your dog has a weight problem and how to pinpoint the source of it, though?
Veterinarians use a body composition scoring system to officially determine if your dog is at a healthy size and weight.
"Numbers on the scale can be the easiest way to track the changes once it's been established that we need weight loss," says Veterinarian Claire Jenkins.
Jenkins says you should be able to feel a dog’s ribs easily, see their waistline from above, and see their tummy tucked when looking at them from the side.
So what happens if your pet is overweight and it’s time to help them out?
Monitor Their Treats
Who doesn't love spoiling their dog with treats? Our dogs perk up at virtually every small snack or table scraps that are put in front of them, and every single person is guilty of using this as either a reward for good behavior or coaxing a little bit of affection out of our dog. The thing is, it can also get out of control pretty easily when using treats to train for either everyday behavior or learning simple tricks.
"If you are training with your puppy or rewarding your pet for doing something well, you only need to give a very small treat,” says Jenkins. “It can be half the size of your small fingernail. It's not about the amount that is given, it's about it being a positive experience and tasting nice."
Be Mindful of What You’re Feeding Them
You might be surprised to find out that your pup may not differentiate between a sweetened treat and say, broccoli. Imagine A) the money you’d save by giving your dog a tiny nibble of broccoli every time you want to reward him instead of tossing a specialized doggie cookie, and B) the drastic difference in their overall diet through making that one switch.
Of course, this is just one example of how you can be mindful when choosing what to feed your dog daily. Just like snacking on vegetables instead of chips throughout the day or drinking water instead of soda will make a massive positive impact on our own diets, a similar approach can benefit our dogs.
"The pets aren't making the decisions about how much food they're given or what type of food they're given,” Jenkins adds. “We're making that decision for them, so the buck stops with us.”
Exercise Exercise Exercise
This is always a straightforward one. People try to make weight loss a very complicated ordeal when it comes to fad diets and trendy workout routines but the same equation that works for us more or less works for our dogs: calories in versus calories out.
Making longer walks and even afternoon jogs a daily routine will help you work toward completing this magic math. And having a dog is like having a built-in reliable workout buddy, depending on the breed, of course. So really, this exercise piece of the equation is beneficial for both of you.
Learn Your Nutrition Facts
Dogs don’t have the exact same nutritional needs as humans, so this part is really on you to nail down the educational aspect of it all. Learn your dog’s needs, from how much protein should be in their daily diet to which foods are toxic, what their caloric intake should be for weight loss versus weight maintenance, and the list goes on. It’s not as complicated as it might seem, and your pup will certainly live a happier and healthier life with a loving owner who’s taken the extra steps to learn what they should and shouldn’t be eating.
If you don’t know these things already, don’t be ashamed. You’re not alone. Recently, a study in the UK revealed that many dog owners know surprisingly little about their pet’s food. Surveys show that about 25 percent of dog owners make New Year’s Resolutions to help their dog live a healthier life through better diet in 2019, which is good news. But simply not knowing what ingredients are in their dog’s food, to begin with, or statistics like a third of pet owners aren’t aware that chocolates and onions are toxic to dogs, support the idea that a lot of dog owners may not be properly informed on how to give their pup a balanced and healthy diet. Do your research, ask your vet for pointers, and you’ll be surprised at how fast you start to learn the ins and outs of proper doggie nutrition.