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Easy habits will keep dog at healthy weight — and get you moving, too
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Easy habits will keep dog at healthy weight — and get you moving, too

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It is common for dogs to slow down a bit as they get older, but it is still important to keep them fit and healthy. Here are three things you can do to prevent obesity in senior dogs.

Our pets have been there with us through the pandemic, from the good (the extra companionship) to the bad (overeating, binge-watching TV and not exercising regularly).

Unfortunately, our altered lifestyles have also taken a toll on our dogs, including their eating habits, activity level and weight gain, which can affect their quality of life.

One study found that with people spending more time at home, treats were often given as a form of love, and more than half of people say they’ve been giving their pets treats for no apparent reason.

A recent survey from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, conducted in partnership with Kelton Global, found that while pet obesity has been on the rise for years, COVID-19 has intensified the problem. According to veterinarians, more than 71% of pet professionals say the pandemic has impacted the way pets eat.

Since the start of COVID-19, one-third of owners with an overweight pet say their pet became overweight during the pandemic.

More concerning, nearly two in three veterinarians say most owners act surprised or even defensive when learning that their pet is overweight.

Risks of canine obesity

About a quarter of the canine population is obese, and nearly half of dogs ages 5-11. Dogs are considered technically obese when they weigh 20% or more above their ideal body weight.

Obesity shortens a dog’s life and makes them more likely to develop disease. It was always accepted that heavy dogs had a shorter lifespan than lean dogs, usually by 6-12 months; but a lifetime study of Labrador retrievers found that being even moderately overweight can reduce a dog’s life expectancy by nearly two years.

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Obese dogs are also at an increased risk for:

  • Cancer, diabetes mellitus, heart disease and hypertension
  • Osteoarthritis, and faster degeneration of affected joints
  • Urinary bladder stones
  • Anesthetic complications, as they are less heat tolerant.

Veterinary help

Before starting an exercise or weight reduction program for your dog, consult your veterinarian. They’ll assess your dog’s current weight status and the goal weight, and diagnose whether there are underlying medical problems contributing to the increased weight, such as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) or Cushing’s disease (overactive adrenal glands). Your vet will form a plan to achieve a balanced weight loss and create an exercise program individualized for your dog’s needs.

If it’s determined that your dog is technically obese, your vet might make specific suggestions for certain types of food made to help with healthy and safe weight reduction in dogs. In cases of obesity, it isn’t appropriate to simply reduce the volume of food, as this could cause malnourishment over time.

Better eating habits

It’s important to feed your dog food with low overall caloric density that also has an appropriate nutrient balance. Your veterinary health care team can help you determine which diet is best suited for your dog, and for how long.

Proper portion sizes must be determined, and treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. Fresh or frozen green beans, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and air-popped popcorn make excellent snacks if approved by your vet.

Weigh your dog every 3-4 weeks to ensure that their weight loss isn’t excessive or too rapid.

Ways to keep weight off

Once an ideal body weight and condition have been achieved, it’s important to maintain that weight. Your veterinarian can help you find an appropriate food and portion for weight maintenance. Yo-yo weight loss and gain is just as unhealthy for dogs as it is for humans. The benefits of normalizing body weight and condition make the effort well worth it.

Staying fit and active is good for you and your dog. A dog with a healthy weight will live a longer, happier and healthier life. The most recommended and safest exercise to improve fitness is walking. Walking improves muscular strength, circulation, memory and weight loss. It also increases energy, helps with sleep and reduces stress. The American Heart Association recommends that people walk a minimum of 150 minutes per week.

In 2018, the American Kennel Club developed the AKC Fit Dog program, encouraging people and their dogs to walk together on a regular basis to improve their health and strengthen their bond. Dogs and people in good shape are expected to walk for at least 30 minutes, five times per week, for a total of at least 150 minutes for about three months. Senior dogs can be walked for about 15 minutes twice a day, at least 10 times per week for at least three months. Visit the AKC website to learn more about participating in the AKC Fit Dog program.

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