While they can’t join in the common New Year’s resolution of shedding the extra pounds gained from holiday treats, furry friends can still lose weight, and give pet owners up to two additional years of unconditional affection.
“If we can keep pets at a lean weight, studies have shown that they will live two years longer. It is truly a good way to get more quality time with your pet,” said Jessica Rhodes, D.V.M. at Countryside Animal Hospital.
Like humans, obese animals can be prone to diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and joint injuries. Due to their posture, seeing knee and hip injuries, arthritis and respiratory problems is not an uncommon sight for veterinarians.
To determine if an animal is obese, vets do not use a scale, but rather a body condition score. Healthy weight dogs should have an hourglass shape at their flanks, their ribs should be easily felt through their skin without having to press on them and their stomach should be tucked
“If you use that standard for every animal, you don’t have to necessarily see what the scale says. It is kind of a safer way to judge if they are a healthy weight or not,” Rhodes said.
Exercise is important, but Rhodes advises pet owners to be realistic in determining what they can do. She said a lot of pet owners try to schedule out and plan that they’ll take their dog on a 30-minute walk every day, but either their physical abilities or schedule do not allow them to.
“A lot of times people plan, ‘Well, I’m going do more with them. I want to exercise, too.’ If you have a crazy life and you can’t fit in a 30-minute walk a day, you can still maintain a healthy weight by feeding them properly,” Rhodes said.
Due to the growth rate of puppies, obesity is not seen as much until adulthood, at about 2 years old. Rhodes recommends that if the dog has a couch potato lifestyle, then they should not be fed like an athletic dog.
For spayed or neutered dogs, the calorie intake requirements decrease with the lost influence of testosterone or estrogen. Dog food packages that list the amount of food to feed a dog by their weight only accounts for non-spayed or non-neutered dogs.
“If you follow that chart and your animal is spayed or neutered, you actually need to feed it 25 percent less than what the bag is telling you. They require fewer calories because of the influence hormones have on the body,” Rhodes said.
The dog biscuits that are drool worthy among our four-legged friends may be more harmful to a dog’s health than worth the health effects. Rhodes said salty, fatty treats are similar to giving a dog a cheeseburger or dog biscuit each time they go and potty outside or behave near the dinner table.
“If you have a large size dog biscuit, that is the same as giving your dog
an extra fourth of a cup of dog food for each one of those biscuits. We are giving them a lot of junk food for being good dogs,” Rhodes said.
Not only are some of the over-the-counter treats harmful, but the extra table scraps can help pack on the pounds. Rhodes recommends staying away from feeding a dog bacon, gravy, bacon grease, hot dogs, hams and other fatty foods. Fruits and vegetables are healthy options for treat replacement and can make a dog fill full without added calories.
“Offer green beans instead of dog treats. That (green beans) is a source of fiber. They feel like they have something in their tummy, but there are no calories in green beans,” Rhodes said.
“You can get a bag of frozen vegetables. Those are crunchy because they are frozen. Sometimes they like the texture of that crunch.”
Apples are safe for dogs to consume, but stay away from toxic fruits and vegetables, including grapes and onions.
Some medical conditions such as hypothyroidism make dogs less active and losing weight a struggle. If at-home weight loss attempts do not show results over a few months, Rhodes said the dog should be examined to determine if there is a medical cause.