Everyone loves their pets. They give comfort, friendship and a loving relationship in ways that people can't. Dogs do not judge us, or require that lots of money be spent on them. They are yours forever if you just feed and pet them often. Not many human friends are content to accept only those basic amenities! Man's best friend brings enrichment and quality to our lives. What can we do to protect our animals to ensure they live a long and healthy life?
Animals are not just four-legged people. Since they cannot tell us if they don't feel well, they require our diligent attention in the area of health care. They are dependent on us to provide any such care they receive. Health issues that plague us often plague our pets as well. Today, national studies indicate that we both likely suffer from obesity and its related effects.
Overweight dogs suffer the same problems seen in the obese human population. Like the advice given to overweight humans, the best approach is to reduce calories and increase exercise to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way. The difference is that we humans feed ourselves, and we have to motivate ourselves to get up and get out there and exercise. But our pets didn't get fat on their own...and they can't get thin on their own either. The issue of animal health and fitness is in the hands of their owners.
Stop showing your love for your pet with food treats. Your dog loves nothing more than your love and attention – when you want to reward your pet, do so with lots of praise and petting instead of a biscuit. If you have been using food rewards until now, expect that it will take awhile for your pet to adjust to strokes and love instead, but ultimately the animal will be just as happy, if not more so.
Just as for the overweight human population, some dogs seem more prone to weight problems than others. Some species with this predisposition are Basset Hounds, Beagles and Cocker Spaniels. But remember, just like people, any dog can gain weight if it is overfed and under-exercised.
Before assuming that your heavy dog simply needs to eat a diet dog food formula that restricts calories, arrange for a veterinary check up. There could be a medical problem causing its weight gain, and many such conditions can be cured or corrected with treatment. Your dog could be suffering from Cushing's Disease or hypothyroidism, for example. If there is a medical cause at the root of the pet's obesity, it would be difficult - if not impossible - to resolve the problem without a veterinarian's help. Diabetes in dogs is very much the same as diabetes in humans; although it cannot be cured, it can be controlled with insulin shots. A good examination by your veterinary health professional can also uncover other conditions that may make your animal overweight. These could be anything from accumulated fluid in the tissues (edema) to a tumor or enlarged organ.
After these issues have been evaluated, then it is time to recognize that your 'fluffy' dog has a legitimate weight problem. Now what? The most important steps to prevent or cure obesity are few, but they have proven, positive results. Assess your dog's present eating habits. They can only eat what you give them. Cut down what you feed them daily by one fourth, or try a reduced calorie dog food. Never let a dog graze at will. Restrict treats and eliminate table food. Put this together with a rigid exercise schedule of walking or vigorous play several times a day and your dog will loose weight. And you might drop a pound or two yourself as well!
Above all else, follow your vet's instructions completely, as he knows your dog's health best.
Obesity in Dogs: Canine Weight Management and Obesity Prevention By Jenna Stregowski, RVT, About.com Guide
Effect of weight reduction on clinical signs of lameness in dogs with hip osteoarthritis by Joseph A. Impellizeri, Mark A. Tetrick, Peter Muir J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;216:1089-1091. April 1, 2000.
Evaluation of the effect of limited food consumption on radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis in dogs, by Richard D. Kealy, Dennis F. Lawler, Joan M. Ballam, George Lust, Daryl N. Biery, Gail K. Smith, Sandra L. Mantz J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:1678-1680. December 1, 2000.
Lifelong diet restriction and radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis of the hip joint in dogs, by Gail K. Smith, Erin R. Paster, Michelle Y. Powers, Dennis F. Lawler, Darryl N. Biery, Frances S. Shofer, Pamela J. McKelvie, Richard D. Kealy J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:690-693. September 1, 2006.
Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs, by Richard D. Kealy, Dennis F. Lawler, Joan M. Ballam, Sandra L. Mantz, Darryl N. Biery, Elizabeth H. Greeley, George Lust, Mariangela Segre, Gail K. Smith, Howard D. Stowe J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002;220:1315-1320. May 1, 2002.
Influence of lifetime food restriction on causes, time, and predictors of death in dogs, by Dennis F. Lawler, Richard H. Evans, Brian T. Larson, Edward L. Spitznagel, Mark R. Ellersieck, Richard D. Kealy J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;226:225-231. January 15, 2005.