Often we show our love for our pets with the provision of food. Show affection while keeping your pet from being overweight with these tips.
Each year I attend pet-friendly events to support non-profit or to promote my equine and canine massage therapy business, Heather Wallace, Animal Massage Therapy. The majority of dogs attending these events are overweight. This is not a judgment but an observation. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize the strain extra weight causes on their dog’s body and feel withholding food makes them a bad pet parent. The truth is, I too feed my pets treats and use food in training. But in doing so there must be a balance.
Most people do not realize their pets are overweight and how it affects their health. For example, I took Gonzo to his veterinarian for his annual wellness exam. I take pride in the health of my dogs and that they are at their ideal weights for their activity level and body types. Often my vet is thrilled with their body condition. However, the last time we spoke about Gonzo showing signs of hip dysplasia.
Slowing down the symptoms of hip dysplasia is very similar to the steps taken to prevent and slow arthritis, which most dogs over the age of eight years old experience. An anti-inflammatory diet, natural therapies including massage and acupuncture, pain-relieving supplements, and a tailored exercise plan are all part of the process. An animal’s weight affects pressure on the joints and the more weight, the more strain.
While my interest is primarily muscular by trade, the added fat content in the body affects everything from lung function, heart function, and even puts the animal at risk for cancer. In my work, it makes it harder to determine changes over time as fatty deposits are prevalent.
So what can owners do to help their pets lose weight but also stay happy and feel loved?
Consult Your Veterinarian
Questions about your pet’s health should always be directed first to your veterinarian, whether they are modern, integrative, or holistic as a specialty. Your veterinarian sees your pet regularly and should be a line of first defense for any questions or health concerns. They will also provide honest feedback on your pet’s weight. Please note if your veterinarian tells you your pet needs to a diet, they are not fat-shaming your dog. They are legitimately concerned and wanting to help.
During my consultation for Gonzo, who is in fact in the “ideal” weight range, my veterinarian voiced a concern that Gonzo should perhaps lose one or two pounds to relieve pressure on his hips.
Analyze Your Dog’s Current Diet
To begin the process of losing weight, first, you must determine what you are feeding your dog in a day. ALL food, including a treat here or there. I will begin by stating an often unknown fact- pet food companies direct you to feed your pet more than is usually necessary. Do not follow directions on the pet food canisters, bags, or websites for which there is no factual basis. Ask your veterinarian the amount of food per day, and the type of food you will be feeding: raw, homecooked, kibble, etc. If you are in doubt, there are some companies like Farmer’s Dog and NomNomNow that provide pre-portioned meals ready to eat based on your dog’s weight and activity level.
However, you should note that if your dog is overweight and you were already following these provision guidelines, it will be necessary to reduce the amount.
Account for Supplements
Not all pet owners/ guardians/ parents feed their dogs supplements, although I do. I often feed coconut oil, pumpkin puree, and joint supplements to my dogs. These all have fat content and calories associated with them. Include these in your overall list of food you provide your pet.
Overweight and senior dogs slow down and can often seem like it is difficult for them to move. That is because it is true. The excess weight and arthritis create pain and inflammation. However, regular exercise and limited movement should be encouraged. Rather than one long walk during the day, it is better for your pet to take more frequent, shorter walks allowing your pet to stretch periodically throughout the day without overtaxing themselves, or straining their muscles.
As your pet begins to lose weight and increase muscle tone, you may gradually extend the time and distance of your walk.
The walks should be an exercise for your pet, not a sniff fest. There will be plenty of time to smell when relieving themselves. Keep a nice pace, without frequent stops. After all, you don’t see human runners stopping and talking to everyone they pass, do you?
Keep in mind that your pet needs to build up to a fitness level to prevent injury.
Leave Room for Treats
I love to give my dogs (and pony) treats. I use them for training and sometimes even bribery to achieve a specific behavior. The important thing is to pick healthy treats and to keep within the recommended nutrition of your dog. Not always an easy feat.
I like to mix up my treats and either use dedicated training treats or something that I can tear up into smaller pieces.
My favorite healthy treats for dogs are:
- K9 Granola Factory Coconut Chips. These tasty treats are crunchy, taste great, and provide a nutritional benefit for your dog containing healthy fat, and much more.
Natural Balance® Natural Balance Mini-Rewards Dog Treats. Small, easy to put in your pocket, and perfect for training sessions. The treats are less than 5 calories a piece!
- Wellness Core Freeze Dried Treats. These are the perfect choice to give as a high-value treat for special occasions. 100% turkey meat, freeze-dried raw, they are portable, easy to break apart into smaller pieces and delicious for your pet!
- Fruitables Pumpkin Dog Treats. These tasty treats are free of Wheat, Corn, Soy, By-Products, Artificial Ingredients, and Preservatives. More, they are under nine calories per treat and high in fiber!
Keep in mind that even a few calories add up over time. While it may seem daunting and your pet may act hungry, keep in mind that you are doing what is best for your animal. You are showing love while providing exercise, sustenance, and helping your pet to be at their ideal body condition.
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