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Pet Life

Watching their weight - how to help your dog get in shape

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We’re often told that obesity is an epidemic amongst humans; however, did you know that our pets are getting bigger too?


Vets and vet nurses who took part in research about pet obesity for the PDSA’s 2018 PAW Report estimated that 46% of dogs that came in to their practices every week were overweight or obese. In contrast, 81% of dog owners who took part in the research described their dogs as being the ideal weight. Read on to find out what you can do if you think that your dog might be overweight.

It can be difficult to make sure we eat right and exercise regularly, especially in the winter. And that goes for dogs too. You may not even have noticed that your dog has put on a few pounds. However, if they’ve been less active during the colder months, and their food intake has also increased, it’s no surprise that your dog isn’t as lean as they were in the summer.

A weighty issue

While your dog’s optimum weight varies depending on their age, breed and gender, if you’re struggling to see or feel your dog's ribs or waistline, they may be carrying more body fat than they should be. Have a go at body condition scoring to check whether your dog is a healthy weight.

As with humans, pets that are obese are more likely to develop conditions including heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. They may also have difficulty breathing, particularly brachycephalic breeds, such as Bulldogs, Boxers and Pugs.

Counting the calories

If you think your dog could benefit from losing a few centimetres from their waistline, it’s important to firstly monitor what they’re eating. Try to avoid feeding them scraps from the table or leftovers, and ask family members to do the same, no matter how much your dog begs for them!

The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association encourages feeding to your dog’s ideal body weight, not their actual body weight. Check the feeding guide on your dog’s food (you’ll also be able to find more information on how much you should be feeding your dog on the manufacturer’s website), but remember to subtract any other sources of food on offer.

Petplan vet, Brian Faulkner says, “Weighing out the exact weight of food required for each meal makes a significant difference as opposed to using a volume measure. It is easy to be 10% over. 10% more food than required means 10% more body fat.”

Fitness first

It’s also important to make sure that your dog doesn’t miss out on regular exercise. You may already walk your dog daily, but in the winter you might find that you miss a few more walks than normal or take shorter walks, especially if it’s cold outside. Here are a few indoor games you can play with your dog to help keep them active at home:

Here, boy!

Enhance a game of fetch by introducing techniques used when training search dogs. Hide your dog’s favourite toy so that they must try to sniff it out. Guide your dog to the area in which it’s hidden, then watch them use their superb sense of smell to find the toy.

You could also try a game of hide and seek. Hide from your dog when they aren’t looking, then call them to you. As soon as your dog finds you, praise them and give them a treat, such as a small piece of chicken.

Resist temptation

This game helps to train your dog to come to you on demand. It’s also fun to play and dogs tend to pick it up quite quickly.

Ask a family member to hold your dog at one end of the room, and lay their toys and healthy treats, such as slices of carrot or apple, in two parallel lines. Stand at the other end of the room and call your dog to come to you, ensuring that they walk between the two lines. Each time your dog manages without succumbing to the temptation of picking up a toy or a treat, praise them for it.

Tug-of-war

Encourage your dog to grab their toy (one that’s soft and comfortable to hold is best) by saying “get it” or “grab it”. When they’ve taken hold of it, keep your dog interested by shaking the toy, up and down, and backwards and forwards.

During the game stop tugging and say “leave” (just once) whilst moving your hands towards your body and then keeping them still. Your dog may continue tugging, but will eventually release the grip. Allow your dog to ‘win’ the toy sometimes to help build their confidence.

Time to tidy up

Teaching your dog to put their toys away is a fun game (and helps you too). All you need is a basket and a few of your dog’s toys.

Scatter the toys on the floor near the basket. Encourage your dog to pick up one toy at a time and give it to you by holding out your hand. Each time they give you a toy, reward them with praise or a treat. Then show your dog how you put each toy they give you in the basket.

You may have to help your dog at first, but eventually they should put the toys straight in to the basket rather than giving the toy to you. Show them the basket and point to it every time they pick up a toy in their mouth. Remember to reward your dog every time they do this.

Brain training

Finally, let’s not forget it can be just as boring for dogs as it can be for us to be stuck indoors in the winter. Keep your dog entertained with an interactive brain game, such as the Kong Wobbler toy, which also encourages weight loss by making dogs work for their food.

Don’t forget that while treats keep these games interesting for your dog, ensure that any treats you give them are low in calories and that you subtract them from their daily calorie intake. If you’re concerned about your dog’s weight, especially if they have suddenly lost or gained weight, make sure that you speak to your vet.

And when the weather brightens up, here are seven ideas for exercising your dog outdoors.

What games do you play with your dog to keep active? Share your stories and photos with us on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #PethoodStories.

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