Question: Somebody intimated recently that my dog is overweight. How do I know if that’s true, and if it is, what can I do about it?
Answer: It’s estimated that approximately 25% to 30% of the general dog population is obese, with roughly 45% of dogs aged 5 to 11 weighing in higher than normal. The good news is doggie obesity is preventable and treatable.
Personally, keeping my dog’s weight within healthy parameters has a lot to do with my mission of trying to get Tillie to at least 20 years (God willing). And before you roll your eyes, be advised the world record for doggie longevity is 30! Vets have always known heavy dogs lived shorter lives than lean dogs, usually by 6 to12 months, but a large lifetime study of Labrador retrievers found that being even moderately overweight can reduce a dog’s life expectancy by nearly two years.
The health problems associated with canine obesity include cancer, urinary bladder stones, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis and faster degeneration of Fluffy’s joints. Also, overweight dogs are less heat tolerant and more prone to complications from anesthesia.
Your vet can help you determine whether Fluffy is overweight, but for starters, if you can’t feel her ribs, she’s overweight. A normal size dog will have an obvious waistline. In other words, when you look at her from above, there should be a slight indentation or contour toward her hips, as opposed to a straight line. With a weight-appropriate dog, when looking at and her tummy line underneath from the side, you will be able to see a “tuck” toward her hind quarters instead of a straight line. And an overweight dog’s back will seem broad and flat.
Start with weighing your dog. Your vet can suggest a healthy target weight. Obviously the formula for Fluffy losing weight is the same as it is for us: More exercise and less food. Increasing her exercise just a little bit, along with reducing her caloric intake somewhat, can make a pretty big difference over time. And I hate to say this, but if you look at the ingredients of “weight management” dog foods, they’re not great as a rule. So if your dog has a pretty good dog food already, just make the portions a little smaller, and you can help her cope with an overall calorie reduction by feeding her smaller portions more frequently through the day.
Try cutting back on the treats and types of treats you give her too. Switch to fresh or frozen green beans, broccoli and cauliflower … or pieces of apple.
If you’re not walking Fluffy, start. It doesn’t have to be 5 miles. It can be around the block. Any increase in exercise will make a difference. And keep it moving. We’re not out here to sniff! We’re out here “on patrol” trying to get some exercise. You shouldn’t let your dog stop sniff any more frequently than every five minutes at the most.
Try adding the fetch routine to Fluffy’s schedule. If you have a pool, introduce her to it. When I introduced my dog to the pool, she started with a life jacket. That way she didn’t have to worry about paddling to stay afloat. Swimming is an excellent exercise for your dog. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
Finally, regular weigh-ins, at minimum once a month, are an important component of successful canine weight loss and it keeps everyone accountable. Weight Watchers has been using this principle for decades.
Ultimately not only will you feel better helping Fluffy strip off a pound or two, she will most certainly live longer. And I’m trying to push my dog’s final day out there as far as I can by virtue of the things I do now.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: GREGG FLOWERS: Fluffy depends on you to make healthy choices