Expert advice on how to keep your dog fit and healthy in the new year
After the excesses of Christmas, most of us will be on a healthy eating and exercise regime, but what about our dogs?
UK vets estimate that around half of our dogs are overweight or obese. So how do we know if they’re overweight? What are the causes? What are the health risks for an overweight dog? How can we safely reduce the weight of an overweight dog?
Sussex dog expert Kathy Hobson has some good advice for owners. Kathy is the canine first aid trainer for Dog First Aid Sussex and owner of mixed breed rescue dog Freddie. She says: “You can search online for the normal weight ranges for different dog breeds, so that’s a good starting point. When your dog goes to visit the vet he will usually be weighed and the vet will keep a record of this. Vets also use a scoring system to grade your dog, depending on how easy or difficult it is to see and feel the dogs ribs, spine, waist and abdominal tuck. So speak to your vet about your dogs weight, and expect to get an honest response! If your dog is severely overweight you may notice symptoms such as breathlessness, a sagging stomach, difficulty walking, reluctance to exercise and sleeping more.”
The usual cause of weight gain is from eating too much and not exercising enough. This causes the excess calories to be stored in the body as fat. There are other possible causes though:
Health conditions like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.
Age plays a part. A dog is likely to exercise less as he gets older and therefore his diet needs to be adjusted accordingly. There are medical conditions that reduce the dogs ability to exercise, such as arthritis – again the diet needs to be adjusted because being overweight can worsen these conditions. Neutering slightly decreases the dogs metabolic rate. Some medications such as steroids can increase appetite as a side effect.
Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk of numerous health conditions including arthritis, heart disease, urinary incontinence, cruciate ligament disease, breathing problems, heatstroke, injury and back problems. It can affect a dogs quality of life and will often shorten their lifespan, as well as being potentially costly and time consuming to manage.
Kathy advises: “For a dog that’s just a little bit overweight there are some very simple things you can do to rectify this. Reducing the daily food ration slightly and/or increasing the amount of exercise they get will usually do the trick. You can weigh your dog at home to monitor changes, we weigh Freddie every week.”
It is important that changes are gradual though, this is safer for the dog and easier to maintain. Here are a few things you could try: Add an extra 10-15 minutes on to their daily walk(s); encourage chase and retrieve games with a ball; weigh their food and decrease the amount they eat gradually; restrict treats between meals; substitute commercial treats for raw vegetables such as carrot; feed multiple dogs separately – dogs in multi-pet households may eat more with the quickest eater finishing the slowest eaters’ food; restrict fatty human foods such as bacon rind or fat from a steak; keep a log of exercise and food intake; don’t leave food down for your dog to graze during the day and keep human food out of reach. Reward your dog with a toy or a game or just some attention, instead of food.
For a dog that is severely overweight you should consult your vet or a canine nutritionist about creating a carefully managed weight loss program. Regular visits to the vet can help to keep you motivated and on track with this. When you see your dog every day it can be difficult to notice and appreciate the small improvements.
Why not include your dog in your own exercise regime? Not only will it benefit you both physically but the time spent exercising (especially if outdoors) will also bring mental health benefits and improve the bond between you and your dog. Think about taking up a new dog-related sport or activity such as agility or CaniCross. January is ‘International Walk Your Dog Month’ – what better excuse to up the mileage, lose a few pounds and shed the winter blues.
If you are interested in discovering other ways to keep your dog healthy, Dog First Aid offer the Continued Professional Development (CPD) accredited Emergency Canine Care (ECC) Course. The course is written by vets and is regularly updated. The four hour course is very comprehensive and includes topics such as choking, bleeding, CPR, seizures, shock, burns, poisoning, heatstroke, eye injuries, road traffic collisions and bites and stings, as well as how to examine your dog, how to check vital signs and what actions to take in an emergency.
Kathy Hobson is your local Dog First Aid trainer, covering East and West Sussex. You can contact her on [email protected]st-aid.com , 07498 557064, or on Facebook www.facebook.com/dogfirstaidsussex.