It is thought that humans domesticated the dog somewhere between 18,000–32,000 years ago. Since the days Fido was helping early humans hunt down woolly mammoth, we’ve evolved in parallel. Over the millennia, dogs have become particularly attuned to our emotions and actions, allowing us the unique ability to understand and communicate with one another.
Considering the history, it may not come as a surprise that in today’s modern world, dogs have developed some of the same problems as humans—namely obesity. With more than 50% of dogs reportedly overweight or obese, it appears that an unhealthy lifestyle can have the same consequences for our dogs as it does for us. Indeed, excess weight has been linked to some of the same negative health consequences.
“It’s really important to help keep your dog in shape, as long-term studies have shown that the skinnier your dog, the longer they live—by an average of almost 1.5 years,” says Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, a Minneapolis-based veterinarian and author of “It’s a Dog’s Life…but It’s Your Carpet: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Four-Legged Friend.” “It also helps ward off osteoarthritis, diabetes, ACL tears, back injuries and cardiopulmonary problems, all of which are worsened or exacerbated by obesity.”
It you suspect your pup may be overweight, now is the time to address the issue. As all dog lovers know, their life span is shorter than we’d like, so there is no time to waste. The first step is to figure out whether or not your furry friend is currently at a healthy weight. Lee suggests that eyeballing your dog’s general shape can help you determine this.
“You should be able to see and feel your dog’s ribs easily, and see an abdominal tuck or waist,” she says. “If you can’t, it’s time to go on a diet.”
For pooches packing extra pounds, here are three changes to consider making in your dog’s regimen:
1. Examine your dog’s nutrition and consumption.
Lee suggests that simply cutting back on the portions you’re feeding is a good first step, saying, “My general rule is for dog owners to cut back by 25%. A lot of pet owners interpret the instructions on a bag of food incorrectly and they feed for an 80-pound dog when their dog really should be 70 pounds.”
Research backs up the 25% rule. One study by the American Veterinary Medical Association paired a group of Labrador retrievers, feeding one 25% less food than the other in each pair throughout their lives. Results were conclusive, showing that restricting food by 25% increased median lifespan and delayed the onset of the first signs of chronic disease.
2. Consult your vet to discuss how specific dietary changes can impact your dog.
For extreme cases, your veterinarian may suggest something more specific. “There are prescription diets designed to specifically help your dog lose weight, including ones with higher fiber to make them feel more full, one targeting nutrigenomics, and ones that have less protein for senior dogs who are obese,” explains Lee. “When in doubt, check with your veterinarian.”
3. Increase your dog’s (and your) physical activity.
Of course, physical activity is also an important part of the weight-loss equation. Unless you’re planning on training your dog to walk on a treadmill, there’s mutual benefit for you and your canine when it comes to increasing exercise.
“Studies have shown that if you exercise your dog more, you and your dog will both lose weight—so get out there and walk your dog,” says Lee.
Indeed, if you need more evidence of how closely our lifestyles are intertwined with that of our dogs’, one study published by the American Veterinary Medical Association concluded that: “Less active owners generally had less active dogs.” Put simply, the more you move, the more your dog likely will, which leads to improved health outcomes for everyone involved.
At minimum, dogs should be participating in two 15-minute play sessions a day. If you aren’t sure whether your dog is getting enough exercise overall, consider purchasing a health monitor that clips to his collar. Just like fitness trackers work for humans, these devices can offer vital health metrics on everything from your dog’s activity levels to things like resting heart and respiratory rates.
“If your dog needs to lose weight, remember these three things: Feed less, exercise more and weigh your dog every two weeks,” adds Lee. “With these simple steps, you can help your dog stay happier and healthier.”
Photo by Mackenzie Lobby.