As in humans, some dogs can be prone to gaining too much weight. And, just like humans, this extra fat can cause a whole ruck of health problems. High blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory disorders, cancers, diabetes - Just a few of the ailments that being overweight can cause. Not to mention that being overweight restricts movement and makes exercise and play uncomfortable. So, obesity not only shortens a dog's life, but it also drastically reduces the quality of life.
So, what can we do to make sure that our dogs are at a healthy weight?
Weigh and objectively lay your hands on them regularly
Most vets have a set of scales in reception, and none will object to you popping in once in a while to pop your dog on the scales. Ask your vet what they think your dog should weigh, according to their breed and taking into account whether they are larger or smaller than the breed standard.
Also, make sure to lay your hands on your dog often. Do they feel firm and muscular? Can you feel their ribs? Or are they just a little bit squishy?
Stand back and take a good look at your dog. From the side their stomach should have a tucked up, firm appearance, from above, the dog should have a visible 'waist', with no pads of fat above the tail or overly bulky shoulders.
Feeding the correct amount
Now, this is easier said than done. The first step would be to feed the recommended amount according to the food packaging. Be aware, if feeding complete meat and biscuits, there is a real risk of over feeding. The guidelines on the tin or the bag will assume that you are only feeding that food, not mixing it with another. Therefore you may need to take some time to work out exactly how much of each your dog needs.
Now, lets say you're definitely feeding according to the packaging, nothing extra, and your dog is still fat. First of all, it could be possible that your dog simply isn't doing enough exercise. The packaging guidelines are based upon a dog doing average exercise - whatever that is! So the first thing to try would be to increase their walks and get them to be more active.
But what if your dog already has plenty of exercise? Well, it's a possibility that you have what's known as a 'good doer'. Some dogs (like some humans) just have a slower metabolism. We find here at the kennels, that Labradors especially, are notorious 'good doers', with many being just that little bit chunky, despite a healthy diet and exercise. Like some humans, certain dogs seem to need less calories. It might make sense to try and swap their feed to a low calorie brand, or feeding a little less. Slow feeding bowls are excellent for good doers, making their small portions of food last longer.
Keep an eye on treats
Treats can easily form a large part of a dog's calorie intake. Like the program 'Secret Eaters', we may not even realise that we are treating them too often. A half a digestive here, a scraping of leftovers there - after all, they do look at us with those eyes. If you enjoy feeding tidbits and treats, be sure to take them into account when making up your dogs proper meals. This also goes for dog treats. I was shocked to read on a 'Jumbone' package, that the treat contained 40% (!) of a dog's daily calories.
Do you have children? Keep an eye on your dog when it's meal time, they will probably be cleaning lots of bits off the floor, or perhaps even getting sneaky hand outs. I know when I first started weaning our little boy, I had to reduce our dog's food portions as she was cleaning so much food up off the floor.
Also, be aware whilst training and using treats to establish commands and reward good behaviour - it all adds up!
Of course, this is something we all know. Dogs need plenty of exercise, even smaller breeds. Be honest with yourself - Do you walk your dog enough? and is it an exertion for the dog? For example, a walk around the block and a stroll across the football pitches may take the same amount of time, however, take a ball with you to the fields and your dog will work off much more energy than a lead walk around the block. Perhaps arrange a 'play date' with another dog - They will run around and chase each other and burn off more energy than walking alone. We often find overweight dogs lose weight at the kennels, as we exercise the dogs together, the play can be quite energetic and also they are very motivated to play together. Also, arranging a regular 'play date' will make it harder to make excuses.
We're all so busy these days, the nights are drawing in, the weather's bad, always late home from work - There's plenty of reasons why we don't exercise them enough, or at all even! If it really is impossible to increase exercise, consider getting a dog walker to take them out, or perhaps letting them come to doggie daycare for a full days play with some other dogs. Perhaps get the kids to take them out into the garden and throw a ball for them before tea's ready. You could even invest in some innovative boredom breaker toys, to ensure that whilst they're home alone, they're at least being more active.
If your dog struggles to exercise, perhaps being elderly or disabled, try to do regular, gentle walks, or if your lucky enough to live close enough to one, visit a canine hydrotherapy center. Your vet can probably tell you where your nearest one is.
A full check up at the vets before undergoing any weight loss regime is recommended. Not only to find out what your dogs weight loss goals are and how much exercise is safe, but to make certain they aren't any underlying issues to the excess weight (such as Cushing's disease for example). Many vets do weight loss clinics, be sure to ask about them next time you go.
Don't be ashamed if your dog is fat! I've been there myself. When our dog Amber, (a dog who was always slim no matter how much we fed her) began her chemotherapy and started taking steroid tablets, the weight piled on rapidly. It was so very hard to find the will power to limit her food, after all, her time was short. So I totally understand how hard it is.
Dogs are innocent, they love food, they'd eat all day if they could, but will power is not something that dogs have. Unfortunately it's up to us to be the 'baddies'. Just like taking your dog to the vets for their injections, you have to limit their food for their own good. They don't know it yet, but they will feel much happier when they are lighter,with more energy and a greater lust for life. The changes you make may be subtle, but slowly, over time, it is possible for the weight to come off.