Erica C. Boling, PhD
Northeast K9 Conditioning
The love that many Americans have for their dogs is undeniable. We’ve all seen the headlines floating around social media. “Humans Love Dogs More than Other People” keeps showing up on my own Facebook page. Even Forbes magazine published an article in 2016 titled, “Why Are So Many Millennials Opting for Pets, Not Parenthood?” Many of us understand all too well the lengths that we will take to ensure good health and happiness for our canine family members. Our best intentions, however, are not always best for our dogs. People are not always aware of how their actions can be harmful. In the end, sometimes people are unknowingly doing things that are literally taking years off the life of their dog.
We give our dogs the best food that we can. We give them quality treats, and we ensure that they have toys to keep them busy and walks to keep them healthy. So how, exactly, are people killing their dogs with kindness?
How is it that some people are unknowingly loving their dogs to death?
It happens when people are giving their dogs too much food, giving them too many treats and/or not giving them the amount of exercise that they truly need. Did you know there is currently an obesity epidemic happening in the United States for our family pets? A recent study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has revealed that nearly 60% of our dogs are overweight or obese, and the majority of owners are completely unaware that their dogs are overweight. Other studies have shown that being overweight can take an average of two years (or more!) off the life of your dog (Bohn, 2019).
When we consider the statistics, the majority of the people reading this article have an overweight dog and don’t even realize it. Does this include you? Is your dog in danger? Do you know if your dog needs to lose weight? What can you do to get and keep your dog fit and healthy? Keep reading because answers and solutions do exist!
Is Your Dog Overweight?
One of the easiest ways to determine whether your dog is overweight is, you guessed it, by looking at him! There are different body condition scoring systems that you can use to determine whether your dog needs to lose weight, and one of my favorites is the Purina Body Condition System. This system rates your dog’s body condition on a scale of 1 to 9 with the ideal score being a 4 or 5. The scoring system provides drawings to illustrate what a particular score would look like for a dog, and additional detailed descriptions are provided. Do you know that you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily? Run your fingers lightly over your dog’s side. What do you feel? If you have to push down and search for ribs, your dog is overweight. Can you see a waist on your dog? Can you see a waist when standing above and looking down? Be sure to check out the scoring system to determine your own dog’s body condition.
What Can You Do?
Do an honest assessment of your dog. Your dog will pay the price if you can’t be honest with yourself. Is your dog in good shape? Could your dog lose a little bit (or a lot) of weight? Is your dog too skinny? If you think your dog needs to lose some weight, what could you do? There is no need to worry because you have options.
First, make sure your dog isn’t overweight due to a health condition. There are a number of health conditions and even medications that can make it very challenging for a dog to lose weight. If your dog is overweight and struggling to get fit, be sure to schedule a full veterinary check-up to ensure that your dog is healthy before beginning a weight loss program. If needed, your veterinarian can help you create a healthy weight loss plan.
Do you know that your dog is healthy but just needs to lose a few pounds? If yes, there are a couple of different ways to approach the issue. First, you can cut back on food and treats, decreasing the number of calories that your dog eats every day. Second, you can increase your dog’s activity level to help burn those extra calories. Third, you can do both… decrease food and increase exercise. I always like to increase my dog’s activity level because there are so many additional benefits to exercise, both mental and physical! If I need to speed up the weight loss process, this third option is the best bet.
There are so many fun ways to help your dog get more active! Going on your regular neighborhood walk? Simply pick up the speed and allow less sniffing and peeing along the way! Want to make it more challenging? Walk or jog in the sand, up a hill, or throw in some obstacles to crawl over or under. Spend more time playing with your dog in the backyard, or learn something new like trick training. Increase activity by participating in a sport like flyball, dock diving, or agility, even if it’s just for fun! My very favorite way to exercise my dogs is to do canicross and go running with them. This way, both my dogs and I get some great exercise together! Be sure to read next month’s blog when I teach you about dryland mushing and the amazing sport of canicross!
How Can You Stay Motivated?
It can be easy to lose motivation for exercise! A fourth way to help your dog lose weight is to mix things up! Do a combination of activities to increase your dog’s overall activity level and track your dog’s daily activity to see how you’re doing. My favorite way to track activity is by using BabelBark’sTM Health Monitor. It’s so simple to use and seeing the daily activity report on my dog really motivates me to get out there, get active, and do even more. And even if your dog is already fit and healthy, this is a great way to stay motivated and ensure that you keep it that way! For more fun exercise tips, be sure to read next month’s fitness blog!
Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) https://petobesityprevention.org/2018
Bohn, Ashley O. (2019). Obesity and the Canine Life Span. Retrieved from https://www.americanveterinarian.com/news/obesity-and-the-canine-life-span
Li, David. (2017). Humans love dogs more than other humans: study. Retrieved https://nypost.com/2017/10/31/humans-love-dogs-more-than-other-people-study/
Lowry, Erin. (2016). Why Are So Many Millennials Opting for Pets, Not Parenthood? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/erinlowry/2016/08/31/why-are-so-many-millennials-opting-for-pets-not-parenthood/#2db8ef253963