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The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that over a third of America's pets are overweight. People often think that an obese animal is not in physical danger, but nothing could be further from the truth. Just like with humans, too much weight can cause serious health problems. It leads to diabetes, heart disease, joint, bone and ligament damage, high blood pressure, intolerance to heat and more.
Remember, unlike humans, pets only eat what they are given. If your dog is overweight, it's more than likely because their owners made them that way. Biscuits and other treats can be high in calories, so be careful when including them in your pet's overall caloric intake. It's important to read the nutritional labels on foods, treats and snacks as well - just as you would your own. All too often, your pet's snacks can contain toxic chemicals and preservatives and don't include quality ingredients that promote good health. Try choosing smaller snacks - even with large pets - they won't know the difference. Also consider providing healthy snacks that are less fattening and more nutritional. For example, many dogs love fruits and vegetables, so try small amounts of apples, carrots, broccoli, green beans, and pears (remember though, too much can cause a stomach ache). Avoid raisins and grapes as they can be toxic.
A recent study has even discovered that some elderly dogs, especially beagles, have a better learning capability with a diet rich in antioxidants and with plenty of stimulating exercise. Stimulating exercise can be chasing a ball or even rolling around with another dog; so be sure to schedule those increasingly popular play dates.
It's time for owners to "step up to the plate" and discipline ourselves to make the right food choices for our pets, as we discipline them to eat right and exercise.
The signs of obesity in animals are easy to see once you know what to look for. A dog should have a distinguishable waistline. Their waists are supposed to go in after their ribs and then out again to their hips - a modified hourglass shape. If there is no indentation, or even worse, if their waists are wider than their shoulders, or there is no visible tuck in their bellies, then they are more than likely overweight.
Dogs tend to become overweight in their middle-aged years because they become less active. And certain breeds are more prone to packing on the pounds than others, such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Dachshunds, Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties), and Basset Hounds. However, don't use the breed as an excuse. Still be diligent in watching your pet's diet and getting him plenty of exercise. It's a simple and consistent fact: all mammals that take in more calories than they burn off will gain weight.
Again, just like human side effects, extra pounds mean extra stress on bones, joints and ligaments which can cause pain and discomfort and shorten their lifespan. The clinical signs of arthritis and hip dysphasia will be exasperated in overweight dogs. Few people realize that 20 pounds overweight for a dog is comparable to about 50 pounds overweight for a person. That is a lot of extra weight for them to be carrying around.
So, what should you do if you think your pet has a weight problem? First, schedule a physical for your dog with your local vet. Prior to your visit, keep a log of his dietary and exercise habits. Write down the amount and type of food your pet consumes each day, the time of day they consume it, how much daily exercise your animal receives (and this should include the type of exercise plus the duration), and any other physical problems you may have noticed.
Your vet will use this information to help determine if there are any underlying conditions or if the main issue is a weight problem. Your vet will probably recommend an exercise plan and a change in diet. There are many excellent products available that are lower in calories and provide good nutrition. It is usually easier to give your dog the same amount of low-calorie food than to dramatically cut his portions. New toys, play dates, attention and exercise are great substitutes for treats.
Getting your pooch away from the dog bowl and burning calories with a physical routine is the best defense in fighting the battle of the bulge. Going for walks or playing catch is great exercise. Just like humans, pets need social interaction and physical stimulation. Having your pet play with other animals is also a great form of exercise. Sticking your pooch on the end of a lead in the backyard, however, does not constitute as physical activity and does not achieve the desired result. Walking, running and swimming are great ways to have fun with your furry friend and to get him on the road to recovery at the same time.
Let's face it; there isn't anyone that couldn't benefit from a little more exercise - man or beast. You can't go wrong increasing your activity level. And while you're promoting good health for your pet, you'll be promoting good health for yourself too! Eating too much and exercising too little is not only a recipe for weight gain, it's an exercise in futility - and those are not the recipes or the exercises we want. Walking your dog or taking him to the dog park can be a great social and physical outlet for both you and your pet.
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