Is Your Dog Fat...?
Are we spoiling our dogs in all the wrong ways?
It can be a rather touchy subject for a lot of people, but the truth is, by spoiling our fur babies, we may actually be doing them far more harm then good. Nowadays, there is a rather weird attitude around dogs and their weight; a chubby dog is thought of as cute and adorable, etc., when in reality, allowing your dog to become overweight can be almost cruel. Our dogs can have many of the same side effects of being overweight that we can, such as diabetes, joint problems, skin problems, some cancers; it affects their mobility and general quality of life. Overweight dogs tend to have a much shorter life span and will likely end up costing you big time at the vet. Now, let's be clear—no dog owner is knowingly being cruel when they have an overweight dog. Like I said, there is a strange attitude around the subject and most people are just not knowledgeable about it. How can a few extra treats or some table scraps hurt them, right? Turns out more than you think.
Now let's look at some of the things contributing to the growing issue. Some of the biggest culprits are the way we feed them, what we feed them, and how much we feed them. Different people have different ways of feeding. There is scheduled feeding, meaning the dog(s) gets fed at certain times every day and a certain amount each time; there is also just feeding them "when they look hungry," which can be a super tricky option, as you could just have a greedy puppy; and along the same lines, there is "Free Feeding." Now free feeding, for me, is probably the worst option of them all. It is when the dog's bowl is filled every time it gets low or empty. Let me explain why this option can end up being terrible for your furry friend(s). Most dogs—mine included—have an odd relationship with food, or at least we think it's weird; but in reality, it's very natural. Sometimes we forget that they are animals, and being animals, it is instinct to fill yourself up as much as possible because you don't know how long that food will be available and how long you may have to go until your next meal. Now this makes total sense if you're out wandering the woods hunting for your next meal, but for our dogs, this is not the case, so they end up gorging themselves on a regular basis. It's the equivalent to us eating Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner daily. Sounds lovely, I know, but you'd be hard pressed not to put on any weight eating that way. The difference is, our dogs don't understand that, and if they aren't spending their days running for hours hunting and such, they are going to get fat. Scheduled feeding can be a much better option and can easily be fit into most people's day to day routines. It's the option I've chosen to do with my puppy Maggie, and at five months, she's already got the routine down. She gets her breakfast at eight AM and she will remind me if I forget! A small meal at two (she is a growing puppy), and dinner at seven when we have dinner, as well. When she has finished growing, we will stop the mid day snack and it will just be two meals a day totaling her daily amount needed, which can easily be calculated by weight, age, and activity level. It is important to factor in age and activity level into how much you're feeding, as a more active dog will need more, and as they age and slow down, they will require less food; and it is very important that, as they age, there weight is kept in check, as that can really help them avoid discomfort and pain as they get older. If you are unsure how much your dog should be eating daily, check with your vet. They should be able to give you a good idea.
*** Important note to add if you are trying to switch to scheduled feeding: Your dog may not eat the first few meals as they are used to it always being there. THIS IS OKAY. They will not starve. You are not being cruel. Leave it for 15 to 20 minutes. If they aren't eating, remove it and try again at the next meal. It may take a day or so, but don't panic, they will get hungry enough and they will begin to eat at the set times you give them.
Now on to what we feed our dogs! This can be a difficult topic because everyone has differing opinions on what's best, just like everyone has different ideas about what's best for us to eat. The only difference is, our dogs really don't have a say. But there are some guidelines which most in the pet care world can agree on, the big one being STAY AWAY from grocery store brands. If you can get it at "Insert big box store where you can get just about anything," it's best to stay away. Most are like McDonald's for dogs. Just recently, three major brands found at most big box stores and most grocery stores have been recalled due to the drug they use for euthanasia found in the pet food, causing multiple pet deaths. It is very important to look into what is in your pet's food. The big problem is: pet food companies have very little rules and regulations. It can be different for every country, so do your research. Now I'm not saying you all have to go all out and start making your own raw with only the very best ingredients. Raw is not for everyone and it's not always possible for everyone, although it is a great option, but that's a whole other article. A safe bet for picking a good food is at a pet store, and to be honest, usually the smaller local places carry the best stuff, but most pet stores will, too. And check ingredients. Super super important: if the first ingredient on the bag isn't meat, it's best to keep looking, and try and stay away from dyes and "flavors" (hint: flavor doesn't actually mean that item is in the food). If you're really unsure, talk to someone at the store; they will at least be able to point you in the right direction.
Exercise, exercise, exercise...most people's least favorite topic, but an important one, nonetheless. Our canine companies, no matter how big or small, young or old, need exercise, and for most, that means going for a walk, which is an excellent time to bond with your dog. But are they getting enough? Usually the answer to that is no, as our lifestyles seem to be getting busier and more sedentary, our pups are following—unfortunately not of their own choosing. Roaming the house during the day, going out in the yard isn't enough even for the tiniest of dogs. It's still like being in a kennel all day, just of varying size. They are still stuck in one area all day. As a general rule, once a day should be the minimum for walks, even if it's a short one. Low on time? Consider waking up a bit earlier and taking them first thing. It will be good for you both! Unable due to health, age, etc.? Consider having a dog walker come a few days a week. Bad weather? Get creative and find things to do inside. Challenge them both physically and mentally; play games (besides fetch). It gets rather cold during the winter where I live, so on those frosty mornings, Maggie hops on the treadmill, which most dogs will do with time and some training. It doesn't replace the mental stimulation of walking outside, but it drains some of her energy and keeps her in good shape. There are so many options out there to keep your beloved dog in good health. Do your research, find out what's in your area. You never know. Wiggles might be the next flyball champion or agility star! Most communities have groups and events you can participate in. Meet new people; learn something new. Get creative. You will get more out of your relationship with your dog and they will live longer and happier lives because of it.
Some Sources you may want to check out: