Most people fundamentally understand that in humans, obesity is a bad thing. Obesity is a common precursor to serious health issues like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and it consistently lowers the life expectancy of people who deal with it. Yet when many people see an overweight dog, they often think it’s funny, cute, or a part of that dog’s personality.
The truth is, dog obesity can be just as dangerous to a dog as human obesity is to a human. If your dog is overweight, it will face a sharply increased risk of many negative health consequences, and will almost certainly live a shorter, more miserable life.
Thankfully, obesity is reversible, and after just a few weeks to a few months of work, you can help your dog become healthy again.
How to Correct Dog Obesity
There are several steps you can take to correct dog obesity, with some more obvious than others. Ultimately, these strategies revolve around guiding the dog to eat less and exercise more—the same solution to obesity in humans.
- Understand how much you should be feeding your dog. Too many dog owners simply allow their dog’s bowl to be full all the time, without thinking about how much their dog should be eating. While some dogs can exercise self-control and naturally maintain a healthy bodyweight, most will end up overeating if given unlimited food options. Start by researching the ideal food intake for a dog of your breed and size, and restrict total intake to this amount.
- Stick to a rigorous feeding schedule. Sometimes, it’s hard to make sure your dog is only getting the recommended amount of food—especially if you have multiple family members feeding the dog. Stick to a strict feeding schedule to avoid this, with one person responsible for feeding and immutable meal times.
- Avoid feeding table scraps and excessive treats. Most dog owners love sneaking their dog extra treats, whether it’s a dog treat in the morning after a long walk or a table scrap from dinner. In small quantities, treats are okay, but if your dog has an obesity problem, it’s a sign of potential overfeeding in these categories. Eliminate table scraps altogether, and only provide your dog a small quantity of dog treats.
- Introduce puzzles during feeding. Instead of dumping your dog’s food into an open bowl, consider providing food in the form of a puzzle; there are many commercial products available for this purpose. When dogs have to work to get their food, they tend to eat slower and more conscientiously. It also makes food a more rewarding and enriching experience.
- Go on more walks. Exercise is a perfect way to lose weight, so consider taking your dog on more walks. Walk at a brisker pace, and go on longer walks together; just make sure your dog is physically able to keep up. You can also incorporate other, more intense forms of exercise, like running or biking together. Generally speaking, the more exercise your dog gets, the better.
If the above solutions aren’t working, or if your dog’s obesity doesn’t seem to be the result of overfeeding, it could be a sign of a different underlying problem. For example, middle-aged dogs sometimes develop hypothyroidism, which greatly lowers metabolism, and Cushing’s syndrome in dogs can also lead to an increase in fat stores. An evaluation from a vet will be able to detect these problems, if they exist, and provide you with treatment options.
Is Your Dog Obese?
Dogs are considered to be overweight when they’re roughly 10 to 20 percent above their “ideal” weight, which varies by breed. However, you don’t have to know your breed’s exact ideal weight to get an idea of whether your dog is obese.
A healthy dog should have an obvious waist when viewed from above; you should also be able to feel the dog’s ribs without them being obviously visible. If the ribs are visible and easily felt, it could be a sign that the dog is underweight.
However, if you can’t feel the dog’s ribs without excessive fat blocking your access, or if you see layers of fat visible near the base of the tail, near the backbone, it’s a sign of a weight problem. Obviously rotund body shapes are also a sign of obesity. Roughly 53 percent of American dogs are overweight, so this is a frighteningly common issue.
If you’re not sure whether your dog qualifies as obese, or if you need further guidance in curtailing your dog’s obesity, your best option is to talk to a veterinarian. A professional vet will be able to weigh your dog, evaluate the severity of their obesity problem, and make recommendations for how to improve it over time.
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