Is your pooch carrying around a few extra kilos? Is he over-fed, under-exercised or possibly both? If so, he’s definitely not alone in the Australian canine kingdom. Around 40 per cent of Australian dogs are overweight or obese, which is a pretty alarming statistic when you start to think about all the potential health problems an overweight dog is at risk of suffering.
But while there are some contributing factors to canine obesity we have no control over, such as your dog’s age or any hereditary problems, there’s plenty that you can do to help your dog lose weight and stay in shape.
What’s so bad about an overweight dog?
Okay, so your dog’s a little too heavy – so what? Sure, he’s a little bit slow when you take him for a walk and his favourite winter jacket doesn’t fit any more, but it’s no big deal, right?
Wrong. The problem with obesity is much more serious than how he looks in the mirror or whether he can still keep up when you go for a walk. Just like it can in humans, extra weight can lead to a raft of health issues in our canine friends.
Overweight and obese dogs have a much higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, respiratory problems and even cancer, all of which can potentially be life threatening. Then there’s the simple fact that if your dog is too chunky, he’ll be carrying around more weight than his body is designed to handle. This puts unnecessary stress and strain on his joints, which can lead to the deterioration of joint cartilage and the pain of arthritis.
If your dog is obese he may have trouble exercising and tolerating warm weather, and he’ll grow old before his time. In short, an obese dog has a very poor quality of life, which is why it’s essential that you help him maintain a healthy weight.
Signs and causes of obesity
While there are some health problems that can cause your dog to put on weight, for example Cushing’s Disease and hypothyroidism, these conditions are very rare. The unfortunate implication for this is that the blame for your dog’s excess weight lies with you, his owner. Over-feeding and under-exercising are by far the two biggest contributing factors to dog obesity, which basically means that we are killing our pets with kindness.
With some breeds of dog, you don’t have to be a veterinary expert to know your pooch is overweight – the evidence is as plain as the nose on your face. But if you’re the proud owner of a long-haired or scruffy dog, that thick, luscious coat can be quite effective at concealing the plump pooch underneath.
Looking at your dog from the side and above, you should be able to make out a waistline just below his ribs. Run your hands through your dog’s coat and see how easy it is to feel his ribs; if it’s something of a challenge, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got an overweight dog.
If you think Rover’s carrying a little too much beef, take him in to your vet for a full check-up. Your vet will be able to confirm your suspicions and work out a safe weight-loss plan for your pooch.
How to help my dog lose weight
Keeping your dog in a healthy weight range is not up to your pet – it’s up to you. Not only will weight loss help your pooch live a long and healthy life, but it will also save you a whole lot of money in potential vet bills.
These simple tips will make it easy to help your dog lose weight:
- Consult your vet. Before you start your dog on any weight-loss program, take him in for a check-up. Your vet can rule out any underlying medical problems that could be causing the weight gain, and then give you advice on how you can help Fido shed those extra kilos.
- Start slow. Don’t expect your overweight dog to go from a couch potato to a fitness fanatic in the space of a couple of days. Gently ease him into an exercise program so as not to place him under too much strain.
- Feed the right food. Make sure you are feeding your dog a food that is appropriate for his breed and life stage. Stick to the recommended portion sizes and ask your vet if your dog could benefit from a special food designed to help him lose weight.
- Don’t feed table scraps. It can be tempting to slip your pooch the occasional meat off-cut or other tasty morsel from your own dinner, but ‘human food’ is often too high in fat and salt for canine stomachs. Avoid feeding table scraps whenever possible.
- Ignore those pleading eyes. Treats are only meant to be given occasionally – they’re not meant to form a significant part of your dog’s diet. Make sure to give treats sparingly.
With a sensible approach to dog weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight, you can help your dog stay in tip-top shape and ready to tackle whatever life throws at him.