Pet Obesity – Being Overweight Shortens Life: Is Your Dog at Risk?

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention,  In 2018, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were overweight or obese. As little as 5 extra pounds puts your dog at risk for some pretty significant diseases like osteoarthritis, Type 2 diabetes, Respiratory and Heart disease, Kidney disease, High blood pressure, Chronic inflammation and several forms of cancer – especially intra-abdominal cancers. With all these risks, it’s no surprise that your chubby pup will have a shorter life expectancy than his fitter, leaner friends. We need to be proactive in obesity prevention to keep our furry friends healthy and happy.   

Not new information?

It shouldn’t be new information that packing extra pounds poses serious health threats, but according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, “We are just now learning how serious and threatening a few extra pounds can be for both humans and our critter companions.” I think the question isn’t whether or not being overweight is unhealthy for our pets, it’s how do we prevent it? We love our playful pals. They’re family. I want my dogs to share as much of my life with me as ‘humanly’ possible. So what can we do to “tip the scales” in the right direction? 

1. Find out your dog’s healthy weight and actual weight. 

I mean, if it ain’t broke…right? If your pup is already where he needs to be. Great job! You are rocking the diet and exercise habits. Share a picture with us or even leave a comment down below to tell us how you keep your hound so healthy. 56% of us need to know. Do your community a service and share!

2. Talk to your vet.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53% of pet owners said their vets started the conversation about weight and risks of obesity. 20% said that they had to ask specifically about it. So always ask. Check this link below this article to see the ideal weight for your pup’s breed, then pay attention when your pet is weighed during regular check-ups. 

Personally,I think we all need to learn everything we can about our pets breed. The only way to ensure we’re always keeping them healthy is to stay informed. It’s hard because we can never know all the things we don’t know. Even though our vets are professionals and definitely the gurus when it comes to pet health, we need to know the basics about our own pups breed. It’s crucial. We need to know which diseases they’re prone to and which conditions they are likely to be afflicted by so that we can keep an eye out for signs or symptoms of them. Early detection and treatment saves lives. Be in the know and talk with your vet. 

3. Cut calories.

          Again, don’t do this without talking to your pup’s doctor. There’s a lot of hullabaloo about the different kinds of food brands, their ingredients and how they were made and all kinds of different opinion-based factors. The bottom line is count and cut the calories. 

Yes, you can talk to your vet about which food to feed your pet, but odds are, you’d get different recommendations depending on the doctor. My pit-mix, Jordan, sees an allergy doctor and a primary doctor. Her allergy doctor recommends a different brand of food than her primary doctor. The recommendations are not based solely on her allergies, either. They just have different belief systems, so they like different foods for different reasons.

Neither of them are wrong. They’re both fantastic professionals who take wonderful care of my girl. In the end, we choose to buy the food Jordan likes most and works best for our budget. I have no guilt over this and you shouldn’t either. You don’t have to get the fancy, crazy expensive brands to be a good pet parent. There are a lot of reasonably priced top quality options out there. Check the ingredients. You can and should ask your vet about important nutritional values to keep an eye out for and which ingredients to avoid.  

4. Measure Meals.

It makes sense that if we’re counting calories, we need to measure our food, right? I taught 4th grade for a long time, and even my students could tell you that you can’t count something without using measurement. 

If you are like I used to be and just leave the food bowl full all the time, please stop. If your pet isn’t overweight now, you are definitely helping him get there. You also shouldn’t just simply fill the bowl just to fill the bowl or guesstimate. It needs to be accurate.

 The easiest type of food to buy when measurement must be considered, is canned food. I mean, the weight is right there on the can! It’s hard to go wrong and you don’t really need any extra tools.

But, I have big dogs. My little 8 pound Shorkie does get the luxury of wet food, but my two pit-mixes eat dry food. It’s just more cost effective.  

 I used to use a measuring cup. We measure human food with a measuring cup. I should have been good, right? To my surprise, I learned that the only way to be completely accurate is to weigh the food with an actual food scale. I didn’t think it was a big deal until I read that, “The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has done studies to show that feeding as few as ten extra tiny kibbles of food per day can add up to a pound of weight gain per year in indoor cats and small dogs.” 

Have your vet help you calculate the number of calories your pet needs each day. Then divide that by how many times per day you feed your friend and voila, you’ll know how much food you should serve for each meal. 

5. Tone down the treats.

This goes right along with counting calories, doesn’t it? If I’m on a diet and I work really hard to plan and measure my meals, why would I spoil it by eating an entire bag of chips? It’s pretty counterintuitive. Can I sneak a yummy light yogurt as a snack? Sure. There isn’t much harm there and probiotics are very beneficial, right? And so, snacking works the same for your pooch. It’s recommended that you choose treats that are no more than 10 calories per serving.Fruits and veggies make for a healthy and tasty snack for dogs.    

You can use the link below to check the List of Fruits and Veggies Dogs Can and Can’t Eat from the American Kennel Club. Some of my favorite “can eats” from this list are bananas, carrots and oranges. p.s. – If you would peel it before you eat, you should peel it before feeding it to your pup.

Check out the American Kennel Club’s list here.

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When tackling treats, always remember to add them to the total daily calorie intake. Even healthy treats can add up to unwanted pounds. A good way to monitor treat distribution is to set aside the allowed amount for the day. If you know your pet can only have one carrot and half a banana per day, set the carrot and sliced banana aside. Then break these into smaller parts so you can continue to reward your pet with these smaller-sized  treats throughout the day.  Of course, this portioning method can be applied to any of the treats you choose to include in your pets diet, not just fruits and vegetables. 

6. Avoid fad diets.

Some may work (for a while), but most probably won’t and some may not be able to meet your pets nutritional needs. Since you’re already talking with your vet, ask about any diet you think you’d like to try, then make an informed decision.  

7. Exercise your pet regularly.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says, “Pet health is more complicated than just overeating and taking too many cat naps. Obesity in pets can be caused by poor lifestyle, hormonal imbalances, genetics or bacteria in your pet’s stomach and gut.”  

I was surprised to find that exercise wasn’t in their obesity- fighting arsenal. They did, however, speak to the topic in a separate article and suggested we keep a few things in mind. First, be sure to check with your vet before implementing any exercise routine. Be mindful that walking for weight loss is different than simply taking a casual stroll. To ward off obesity, you need to walk at a “brisk” pace – which means you should be breaking a sweat. They say you should start brisk, right out the door. If the walk begins too leisurely, your pooch may not be inclined to cooperate once you speed things up. For a small dog, you should be taking about 15 minutes to cover a mile. The leash should be drawn close to you, so that your dog has only about 2-3 feet of freedom.  

It is recommended that time goals be set. If your dog has a normal heart and lung function, normal blood pressure and isn’t suffering from other injuries or medical conditions, a 30 minute walk 5 times a week is recommended. 

If your dog isn’t in the habit of taking brisk walks, here is a recommended schedule which can help him ease into this new routine:

Ease Your Dog Into a Walking Routine

Week 130 minutes total10 minutes brisk followed by 20 minutes casual pace
Week 230 minutes total15 minutes brisk followed by 15 minutes casual pace
Week 330 minutes total20 minutes brisk followed by 10 minutes casual pace
Week 435-40 minutes total30 minutes brisk followed by 5-10 minutes casual pace
Week 5+35-60 minutes total Two 20-30 minute walks per day: 15-25 minutes brisk
followed by 5 minutes casual pace

8. Consider adding supplements to your pets diet.

Yes, another topic of discussion for you and your veterinarian. Supplements can help provide key nutrients and ward off some of those digestive problems mentioned earlier.  

The American Kennel Club states that about one third of American pets are on some type of dietary supplement. They go on to report that there is no evidence which proves the effectiveness of these puppy pills, although there is ““encouraging evidence to support their use.”  

The AKC said the most popular supplements for dogs are: 

Glucosamine which is supposed to help with arthritis and improve mobility. 

Fish Oil which has many benefits. It’s most commonly known for improving coat quality and shine and alleviate skin allergies, but there is also reason to believe it helps with arthritis, heart health, and joint health.

Antioxidants are popular for counteracting some of the effects of aging, such as memory loss and cognitive dysfunction. They’re also used as a treatment for heart disease in dogs and to reduce inflammation.

Probiotics are used to treat diarrhea and other digestive problems.

Although none of these supplements seems to directly impact obesity, they all thought to help improve the overall health of your pet. Again, you should check with your vet before adding supplements to your dog’s diet. 

If your pet is overweight, it is also recommended that you talk with your vet about the “therapeutic diet”. This diet was created by doctors and ensures that your pet is healthy and full by providing different levels of fibers and fats.

We love our pets and they love us back. It is our responsibility to keep them safe, healthy and happy. Even though it’s best to start them off with the proper diet and nutrients, it’s never too late to take steps toward change. Stay informed about your pets health and be mindful when caring for him. 

Do you have an older dog or pooch prone to joint problems? Keep ’em comfy. Learn how by checking out our How To Choose The Best Orthopedic Pet Bed post.

Check out this podcast to learn how to use essential oils for your pet. Use this worksheet to help guide your learning.

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