How to Keep Your Dog Fit and Healthy: Part 1

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Physical fitness and maintaining a healthy body weight is just as important for dogs as it is for humans. Unfortunately many dog owners don’t realize that their dog is overweight, and many are unaware of how much this impacts a dog’s health.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 53 percent of dogs in the U.S. are overweight. Excess weight leads to and exacerbates a number of health conditions in dogs including diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, lung disorders, high blood pressure, immune dysfunction, and some cancers. Dogs who maintain a healthy body weight can live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

I. Getting Started

First, ask your vet if your dog is overweight and what the healthy weight range for your dog is. Ask this question even if you think your dog’s weight is fine. It can sometimes be difficult for owners to recognize that their dog is overweight, so you may be surprised. If you can gently rub your hand over the outside of your dog’s chest and feel its ribs, the dog is at its ideal weight. If your dog’s weight is within the healthy range, your focus should be on helping your dog maintain a healthy weight. If your dog is overweight, you can help them lose weight by changing habits and developing new ones.

Dogs (and people) lose weight by burning more calories than they consume, so there are two components to weight loss: diet and exercise.

DIET

  • Ask your vet how much and what type of food you should be feeding your dog. Low-calorie and “diet” dog foods are available, but some are of poor quality, so ask for your vet’s recommendation.
  • If weight loss is your goal, you’ll want to calculate and track your dog’s calorie intake and activities.  You can find calorie content of many dog foods at the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website or use the SlimDoggy app to track consumption and exercise.
  • Do not free feed. Feed two or three meals per day at the same time each day.  Measure each meal.
  • The calories in treats can add up quickly. Substitute green beans, carrots, broccoli, apples and other fruits (except grapes and raisins) and vegetables for high-calorie treats. Make or buy low-calorie treats such as dehydrated sweet potatoes. Limit (or avoid) high-calorie human foods or dog treats. Look at the nutritional value in treats and try to get as much nutrition per calorie as possible.
  • If you’re using treats in training, adjust the amount of food at meal times.
  • Don’t share your food. Don’t give in just because your dog is incredibly cute and is staring pitifully at your double cheeseburger or ice cream cone.

EXERCISE

  • Get your vet’s approval before starting your dog on an exercise program.
  • Generally speaking, dogs should get at least thirty minutes of exercise each day.
  • Remember you should not exercise your dog right before or after a meal.
  • Be very careful exercising your dog outside when it’s hot, because dogs can easily overheat. In the summer, exercise with your dog during the coolest part of the day and for shorter periods of time. Summer is a good time to take your dog swimming or participate in activities inside an air-conditioned building.

See part 2 for fun ways to get your dog moving!

Rebecca Randolph is a blogger, writer, artist, and attorney, but most importantly, a dog mom. She leads hikes for her local Dog Scout troop and is an active member of a dog hiking Meetup group. You can read about her lab Garth and their adventures at The World According to Garth Riley.

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