Keeping Your Dog in His Best Shape
Dogs that are overweight may have more health problems including hip and joint arthritis and pain, type 2 diabetes, and low exercise tolerance. These chronic issues can shorten your dog's lifespan, or cause unnecessary pain and discomfort. In most cases, slimming your dog down can help reverse or slow your dog's health problems.
Exercise is a key way to help slim your dog down. In addition to exercise, proper nutrition is important when keeping your dog in shape. Here are some ways diet and exercise can be used to slim down your overweight dog or keep your dog at a healthy weight.
How Can I Tell if My Dog is Overweight?
Most veterinarians use Body Condition Scores (BCS) to determine if your dog is at a healthy weight. BCS is measured on a range from 1-5 (sometimes 1-10 in other animals) where 3 is the “ideal” weight, 1-2 is underweight, and 4-5 is overweight. Several points on your dog’s body are measured for fat and muscle depth, as well as overall shape. Your vet can then point out problem areas, and make suggestions for improving your dog’s health.
What Are Some Ways I Can Slim Down My Dog?
- Diet Changes: Changing your dog’s diet is an easy way to help slim down. The reduction of calories eaten can reduce weight gain, and encourage your dog’s body to start burning fat and energy stored up. Most owners think of “diet changes” and only changing their dog’s food, however looking to reduce the amount of treats and people food given in between meals is usually the better option.
- Exercise Changes: In addition to a diet change, exercise habits should be changed too. Owners may need to start slowly with a short walk around the block before building up to more intense activities. Exercise increases calories burned, helping your dog slim down faster. For dogs with injuries or chronic medical conditions, water therapy may be a safer, healthier option for exercise. Water therapy helps build muscle and strength without extra stress on the joints.
- Hobbies & Fun: Walks and games of fetch aren’t the only ways to increase exercise and weight loss. Enrolling your dog in obedience or agility classes can be a great way to burn calories and challenge your dog’s body AND mind. Be sure to get the OK from your vet prior to starting these more intense activities, as it may be recommended to start slower for very overweight or arthritic dogs.
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What if My Changes Aren't Working?
If your at-home diet and exercise changes aren’t working, your vet can step in to help through examination and prescription foods.
- Time to See a Vet: In some cases, weight changes may be linked to underlying health conditions such as hypothyroidism, common to older dogs and certain breeds. Metabolic issues or even illness such as arthritis may slow down your dog’s energy levels, leading to weight gain. A thorough exam from your vet including X-rays and bloodwork can check for these causes which are often easily improved with daily medication.
- Prescription Diets: If over the counter food changes aren't working, your vet may place your dog on a prescription weight-loss diet. These diets also often come with special software your vet can use to monitor your dog’s progress. Prescription diets are usually high-fiber, low-calorie foods to increase your dog’s fullness with fewer calories eaten. Some diets may also reduce stress or other issues related to weight gain that could be stopping your dog from losing the pounds.
A Healthy Dog is Happy!
Weight gain can be worrisome in your dog, but there are several great ways to help keep him in shape. Diet changes, exercise and a visit to your vet are all good things to try when helping your dog stay his healthiest. In addition to your dog staying healthier, you may just get a few health benefits, too!
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