Diet and exercise for your dog
Last week we looked at how to assess whether your dog needs to diet and some of the health implications that being overweight can have on your pooch. This week we’re looking at the various ways that you can help to get your dog fit and healthy with different types of exercise and a diet regime to whip them into shape.
As suggested last week, before you start on any kind of diet for your dog, check in with your vet to make sure that there are no underlying health conditions which may be affected by a change in regime. It’s extremely unlikely that any weight gain could be caused by a medical condition, but it’s important that they check this out too, just in case. They may also have some low-calorie food for sale and can also offer you some advice on portion control for your dog’s specific body type.
Write it down
Before you head to the vet it might be a good idea to keep a food diary for your dog and take note of everything they eat – including treats and scraps from the table – over the course of a week. This can help to bring to your attention any extra treats that your dog is getting and it’s important to get the rest of your household on board to make sure that no one is secretly indulging your dog and making them fat.
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If you choose to use low-calorie food from your vet they will tell you how much you will need to feed daily in order to reach your dog’s target weight. Try spreading the meals out into small portions over the course of the day to reduce hunger but make sure that you aren’t tempted to go over their allocated daily amount. Ensure that you deduct any treats from the daily ration and try feeding low calorie options, such as a piece of carrot, apple, or rice cake.
If you’re not using low-calorie food, try simply reducing the amount of regular dog food that you feed. Some dog food manufacturers make ‘light’ versions of their food and the Blue Cross recommends feeding three quarters of what they recommend on the packet feeding instructions for your dog’s target weight (not their actual weight). This will usually be about 15% less than their actual weight, but if you aren’t sure about this, then ask your vet for some specific steps to take. Many light foods are designed to help prevent weight gain, but they are not designed for weight loss, which is why you need to feed less than the recommended amount if you want your dog to lose weight.
If your dog fails to lose weight after a few weeks, consult your vet for more specific help on how much to feed.
If you want to make your dog feel happy you don’t have to give them food as a treat – playing, walking and giving them a fuss are all great ways of making them feel happier and they are good for you as well.
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Exercising your dog
Dogs are very active creatures so you can’t necessarily expect to simply walk or run the calories off. This is why you need to place them on a calorie-controlled diet too. It would be impossible to achieve the equivalent of a human gym workout with your dog as their bodies simply don’t work in the same way as ours. However increasing your dog’s exercise is helpful. Start gently and build it up gradually. Take care not to overdo it with very young or very old dogs. Exercise little and often until you can see an improvement and then build it up slowly. Play active games, throw a ball or run with them and get them doing more at home, making time to play in the garden or get them moving more. Many breeds of dog also like swimming too – so if there is somewhere near you that is safe for a swim then this should be encouraged as it gets their whole body moving without placing stress on their joints.
If you don’t have a garden or lot of room at home for exercising your dog you may be interested in our compact fold away dog treadmill – it’s the first one in the world that has been designed for use by both dogs and their owners!
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How long does it take?
The Blue Cross suggests that most dogs that look fat tend to be at least 15% overweight. So a 40kg dog may be 6kg overweight. A 12 kg dog could be 1.8 kg overweight. The breed of dog and the amount they have to lose will have some bearing on how quickly they lose weight, but as a rule of thumb, they should aim to lose 1% of their bodyweight weekly.
Once your dog reaches your target weight it is important to examine them again and see if they need to lose any more. Are they in shape? With a waist and a slim tummy? Can you feel their ribs? If not, continue with the diet until you can.
If the dog is in shape, don’t be tempted to slip back into old habits. Yo-yo dieting is not good for your dog so try to maintain their weight at the desired level rather than stopping and starting again. You can probably begin to feed them more dog food – maybe around 10%, but don’t start giving them lots of fattening treats again.
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What to do if the diet doesn’t work
Of course dogs can vary tremendously by breed and some might not respond as well to diet treatment as others. If the amount of food you’re feeding is above your dog’s daily energy needs then they may be burning calories too slowly and you will need to feed them even less. Before doing so check again that everyone in your household is on board with the diet and that your dog isn’t getting extra treats from anyone or stealing food that may have been left lying around – particularly in teenagers’ bedrooms! Explain that whilst it is OK to feel sorry for the dog they mustn’t feed them any extras as this is putting their dog’s health at risk. Suggest they give the dog a treat that is not food – such as playing a game, having a cuddle or going for a walk, until the dog hits their target weight.
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Treats you can give
The Blue Cross suggests that food should not be given as a treat unless you are training your dog. They recommend that a treat should be no larger than the nail of your index finger and if you want to give your dog a healthy training treat try them on some crunchy, raw vegetables, like carrot or cucumber, or a small piece of rice cake. You could also give pieces of dry food from your dog’s daily food ration as treats throughout the day so that you are not feeding them anything extra.
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Has your dog been on a diet? If you’ve got some good doggy diet and exercise tips we’d love to hear about them. Let us know in the comments section below.
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