Obesity is a disease of the 21st Century. According to the World Health Organization, obesity has tripled since 1975 and continues to spread at an alarming rate all over the world. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults aged 18 years and older were overweight. Of these over 650 million adults were obese.
Unfortunately, this also applies to our pets. A 2018 study conducted by Banfield Pet Hospitals found that 51% of dogs are overweight, meaning that they were at least 10% to 20% heavier than their ideal weight.
Overweight pets have a "higher incidence of serious illness including:
- Metabolic abnormalities
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Joint disorders
- Decreased immune functions.
In other words, overweight pets suffer from being overweight in the same way we humans suffer.
There are two main causes of obesity in animals: overfeeding and endocrine disorders.
Weight Gain Causes
As pet owners we tend to dote on our furry family and cannot refuse those adorable imploring eyes asking for extra food. Many animals are food motivated and become tuned into our normal human food preparation schedule. They will join you in the kitchen, knowing you might toss tidbits their way between feedings. While this is cute, it disrupts the pet's regular eating habits, causing numerous food disturbances and allergies.
Many doctors believe that endocrine diseases are just a consequence of excessive weight. A dog can gain excess weight even in old age because a decrease in metabolism and physical activity doesn't necessarily mean a decrease in appetite.
If your dog is gaining weight and stubbornly maintaining it with a limited diet, you should contact your veterinarian-endocrinologist for advice.
In young dogs, neutering can be a cause of excess weight gain. The procedure causes a sharp change in hormonal levels and, as a result, weight gain.
Another cause of obesity can be a treatment for food or household allergies with hormone-disrupting drugs.
Some breeds are just more pre-disposed to obesity, including Retrievers, Labradors, Basset Hounds, Pekingese, and Bulldogs. Make sure you adhere to guidelines for caloric intake for dog.
Overweight health issues
- Motor dysfunctions, joint diseases, ligament ruptures
- Respiratory failure
- Problems with the spine
- Increased risk of respiratory diseases
- Obesity of the liver and internal organs
- Violation of the appearance of the coat
- Malfunctions of the endocrine system, predisposition to atherosclerosis and diabetes, increased cholesterol levels
- Problems with the heart and blood vessels
- Violation of lipid metabolism in tissues and skin
- Decreased immunity of the dog
- Increased risk of complications during surgery and the use of anesthesia
The good news is that you and your furry family can help each other stay healthy... together.
#Healthy Pet, #Healthy Me
As with humans, if excess weight is caused by overeating, and not by serious illness, then you need to reduce caloric intake and increase your pet's physical activity. In other words... feed less and walk more!
How to change usual patterns of behavior:
- Stop giving treats and food scraps from the table
- Feed on a regular schedule
- Remove food from visible places
- Do activities with your pet for at least an hour a day
- Measure out the food you feed your pets
You may have to reduce the amount of food you give your pet if they are still gaining weight. It is generally recommended to reduce it by about five percent at a time. Monitor carefully how much food your dog is getting. Avoid giving her those extra goodies. Check your dog's weight for three to four weeks, and adjust the amount of food as needed.
Most dry food bags list the recommended amount in grams for a specific size and weight. But these numbers are not entirely accurate. These caloric intake values are based on the dog's age and size but do not take into account its physical activity. The Border Collie, who is a very active dog, consumes more calories than the Cocker Spaniel who enjoys lying on the sofa all day. You need to determine the right amount of food for your dog based on suggested daily feeding AND your pets activity level.
The Pet Nutrition Alliance has an easy to use Calorie Calculator for Dogs to help you figure out exactly how many calories your pet needs per day.
Do you feed your dog once a day? Consider switching to twice a day feedings of smaller amounts, or better yet, divide daily food into several meals. A dog's stomach is empty from eight to ten hours after eating, and then he is hungry again. Splitting feeding time into several meals a day, keeps the stomach busy, tricking the metabolism into working more often.
Just like with humans, calories burned by a pet is directly related to her activity level. But this does not mean exhausting yourself and your furry pal with a grueling marathon. An extra five minutes of play every day is enough for you both to burn a few more calories.
The simplest way to create a fitness regime for your dog is with walking. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of walking a week for general human health — a simple goal to set for your dog walks.
Gradually build up your activity level together. Start slowly and carefully with walks, increasing them by a few minutes every day. Walk up and down hills and stairs. Walk faster. Maybe even jog together.
The American Kennel Club has a program called AKC FIT DOG program which makes it very easy to exercise with your pet.
Overweight animals can be less motivated to run and jump, so encourage them to be active by playing with them. Here are a few games you can play together:
- Roughhouse on the grass or floor
- Playing tog-of-war with a rope toy
- Hide treats all over the house and have her find them
- Try hide & seek - no really!
Men's Health Journal has an extensive list of fun ways you can include your dog in your workout routine.
Scientific studies show that time spent with our pets improves our mood and emotional well being. Doing activities with your furry family has the added benefit of helping you both get healthy! Let' go!
Go for a jog with your fur baby. If you haven't run before, our friends at HEALTH have good advice to get your started. Whether you run in the city or run on a trail, be sure you outfit your doggo with a Scollar Trek smart collar with best in class GPS tracking and activity monitoring to ensure you know exactly where she is and how she is doing while you run together.
You can have a fun time with your dog, for which you can also get a medal. You've seen those cool photos of dogs leaping in the air catching the frisbee. Yeah, that takes a lot of practice, which gives you the perfect opportunity to spend lots of time playing together. Puppers needs to learn to catch and you need to learn to throw the frisbee correctly. The more time you spend training together, the better you both will become at the game.
There are even leagues you can play in, both amateur and professional, which gives you an opportunity to show off your skills together. These leagues differ in the set of tricks, the dog's height and speed, the difficulty of throwing the disc, and the degree of understanding between the pet and the owner. Healthy dogs of all breeds are allowed to compete. But it the dogs that seem to perform best are the Border Collies, Jack Russell Terriers, and Shelties.
The goal is to train your dog to complete the obstacle course while you run alongside her. This requires you both to be in good physical form, understand spatial thinking, and communicate very well with your dog. Success depends on both of you maintaining the desired pace while your pet navigates the course. Training for this sport can be a lot of fun and will keep you both from getting bored.
If you want to combine cycling and walking with your dog, this sport is for you. In bikejoring, the dog must pull the athlete following it over rough terrain, so you should not expect a calm and relaxed ride. You control the dog only with voice commands. So you will train your muscles AND your ability to train your dog to respond to your commands.
Bikejoring is used by sled dogs to train in summer to keep fit. Usually, the route is 3 to 10 km in length, but sometimes the distances are longer.
Get Healthy Together
One last thing to consider... always do your research before you start exercising with pets or alter their diet. Many of the same concepts for human health and well-being are applicable to pet health and well-being. Use common sense and do your homework. Dr. Google is a good way to find information as long as you go to reputable sources. And, as always, ask your veterinarian for guidance about exercise and diet.
This article is contributed by Alina Andreeva, Content Editor for thepets.net. She specializes in pet-related topics such as dog and cat care, health, wellness, nutrition, and training. She has one dog and two cats and loves to spend time with her furry family friends.