If you love your dog and want it to live a long, healthy life, it's important to keep an eye on your dog's weight. Sadly, obesity is quickly becoming one of the biggest medical problems veterinarians see with their patients. It is estimated that 45 percent of all pet dogs are now considered overweight or obese. Dogs with weight problems live shorter lives, have more joint and breathing problems, and are prone to develop diabetes. Here are some tips to help you determine if your pet is overweight along with a few ideas on how to solve the problem.
- Pay close attention. Too often pet owners don't realize their pet is gaining weight. The first step to determine if your dog is overweight is to look at it from above. A dog of ideal weight will have an hourglass shape with its chest and hips being slightly wider than its waist.
- Feel your dog's ribs. Take your hands and gently press in on your dog's rib cage. You should be able to feel the ribs with gentle pressure. This means that your dog has the right amount of fat over its chest. If you can't feel the ribs without pressing hard, then your dog is carrying too many pounds. Keep in mind that with long-haired dogs, you have to put your hands on the dog to feel what's going on underneath all that fur.
- Move to the hips. After checking your dog's ribs, move your hands along the sides of your dog's body until you come to its hips. You should feel a tucked-in area (the waist) between your dog's rib cage and hips. If it feels like a solid tube, your dog is overweight. Also, you should be able to feel your dog's hip bones with gentle pressure.
- Check the undercarriage. Take your hand and move it from your dog's chest to its groin. You should feel a tucked-in area just behind your dog's chest and before you get to the back legs. Again, if your dog feels like a solid mass or if you find any flaps of dangling fat, your dog is definitely tipping the scales.
- Weigh your dog. Your veterinarian will weigh your dog every year at its annual examination, but to keep things under control, you should weigh your dog at home every month. If your dog is too big for your bathroom scale, weigh yourself first, then pick up your dog and stand on the scale. Write down the results and watch for any changes. With really large breeds that are hard to pick up, you can probably talk with your veterinarian and run by once a month to use the office scale.
- Increase exercise. If your pet is on the chubby side, the best thing you can do is to increase its level of exercise. For really overweight or older dogs, you might have to take things slow at first, but increasing daily walks will help considerably. You don't want to suddenly start jogging with a dog if your dog has been a couch potato the last few months. Most importantly, check with your veterinarian before you start your dog on any exercise regimen.
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- Stop meal madness. Don't let your dog have free access to food all day. Some dogs will only eat when they are hungry, but the majority will gobble up every bit of food they can and then ask for more. So, don't just leave a bowl of food sitting out and let your dog help itself. And, if you do give your dog regular meals and Fido doesn't happen to finish one, take the food away and use it another time. Don't let your dog linger or fall asleep with its nose near a kibble-filled bowl. And make sure everyone in the family knows that treats or table scraps are off limits.
- Determine goal weight. Find out how much your dog is supposed to weigh from your veterinarian, then come up with a plan to help your pup lose 1-2 percent of its body weight per week. Learn how many calories it will take to reach the goal weight and then offer the food in two to four small meals a day. And measure food carefully. Don't just scoop some food out of a bin and toss it into your dog's bowl. Use a measuring cup to give your dog the precise amount of food for its caloric needs.
- Read the label. Not all "diet" pet foods are the same and some might not be the best choice for your tubby pet. Look for a pet food that's high in protein, low in calories, and low in fat. Your veterinarian can help you find the right brand for your dog's specific needs and tell you the right amount to feed. Don't follow the feeding guidelines on the back of the package.
- Consider the stages of life. As pets get older, they no longer have the same caloric requirements they did when they were puppies or active youngsters. It is also a myth that after a dog is spayed or neutered that they will automatically gain weight. If you keep your dog on a regular exercise program, it won't gain a pound after neutering. And never forget that the more you exercise your dog, the healthier both of you will become.