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Canine Couch Potatoes

By Dr Katrina Warren on April 11, 2011 in Other

Australia has a huge problem with obesity and it’s not just us humans who are piling on the kilos. Evidence suggests that over 20% of all dogs in Australia are clinically obese and most of their owners don’t realise that this can seriously affect their pooch’s health.

Obese pets have high blood pressure, are exercise intolerant, tire more easily and can suffer breathing difficulties. Just like humans, obese dogs are prone to heart problems and may contract other diseases such as diabetes. Arthritic dogs will have their condition worsened by the fact they are carrying extra weight.

How do you tell if your pet is overweight? A simple test is to stand your dog up and run your fingers along the sides of its chest. You should easily be able to feel its ribs, not a layer of padding.

Obesity in dogs is caused by exactly the same factors that affect humans and usually reflects a lifestyle of over-eating and under-exercising. An overweight dog is taking in more calories than it is expending and the rest is stored as fat.

Some of the common causes include:

• Not adjusting food intake to an animal’s energy requirements.
• Providing food ad lib and assuming the dog will regulate its own intake.
• Ignoring the caloric value of treats and snacks – you may be surprised how the little treats from you, the sandwiches from the kids and the leftovers from the neighbour all add up.
• In households with more than one pet, you’ll often have one animal helping itself to more than its fair share of food.
• Lack of exercise.
• Pampering your pooch and indulging it when it begs for food.

Before starting any kind of diet or lifestyle change with your dog, be sure to visit your vet for a thorough medical examination to rule out any underlying medical conditions such as hypothyroidism.

To help your dog lose weight:

• The whole family must follow the same rules.
• Cut out all of your dog’s snacking or substitute with healthy treats like a carrot stick or slice of apple.
• Reduce caloric intake – your vet will calculate the weight loss that should be achieved and provide you with a calorie-controlled diet.
• Provide prescription diet foods, which are great because they provide bulk to give the feeling of fullness but with half the calories.
• Aim for your pet to lose about 15% of body weight over a period of 16-18 weeks.
• Increase meal frequency – split the daily amount of food into two or three meals. This will help alleviate hunger and burn energy.
• Exercise is a crucial part of any weight loss regimen (and it might just do you some good as well). If your pet is unfit, start with gentle on-lead walking – say for 15 minutes twice a day. Gradually build this up over a month to at least an hour of daily exercise and include off-lead running when possible.

Motivation is the key – use your pet’s new exercise regimen to enjoy the great outdoors yourself. Make it a team effort and you will probably lose a couple of kilos yourself.

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