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7 Tips to Prevent Canine Obesity

Fat dogs aren't cute or funny, they're more likely to suffer costly health problems and not live as long.

 |  Nov 26th 2013  |   10 Contributions


Two portly Pugs walked through an antique shop and, needless to say, everyone stopped to take notice. As they lumbered toward me like wayward floats in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, their labored breaths made it obvious that this was the most exercise they'd had. Then I read a New York Times story about the emergence of pricey fat camps for dogs, and I was fit to be tied.

When did it become cool to have a fat dog? 

More than half the dogs in this country are overweight, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Having a little extra junk in the trunk may be fine for Sumo wrestlers or reality stars, but it doesn’t work for dogs. Just one or two extra pounds on a small, furry frame result in human-size health issues such as diabetes and heart disease that come with supersize vet bills.

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"Um, I'm big-boned." Fat Pug by Shutterstock

While the average Veterinary Pet Insurance claim for a canine wellness exam was $46 in 2012, the average cost per dog to treat obesity-related health issues easily reached the triple digits. VPI clients submitted an average claim of $149 for hypertension, $669 for congestive heart failure, and $872 for diabetes treatment.

Fat camp programs are a fairly new tool to battle the bulge. For a fee varies from $40 to more than $100, pooches can burn calories walking on a treadmill or swimming laps in a pool. There’s also no shortage of dog low-calorie kibble made especially for our portly pooch population. But the blame belongs at the other end of that leash.

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Sorry, no more table scraps. Or steaks. Hungry dog by Shutterstock

It’s time for a little tough love and perhaps a reality check: Fat dogs are not cute. Overweight dogs have a shorter lifespan, and forgoing daily walks because it’s too cold/hot/windy/early/late only chips away at precious time with your dog.

As we kick off this season of conspicuous consumption, it's a good time to take action. If your dog has a little extra weight (and you know who you are), start trimming the fat with these holiday ground rules.

1. No more table scraps

Every Thanksgiving, I have to warn my brother-in-law not to scrape his plate into Lulu’s food bowl. Yes, it’s a sweet gesture. But that dollop of sweet potato soufflé can wreak havoc on her digestive system and she doesn’t need the calories any more than I do. If you want to treat your pets this season, reduce the amount of kibble and encourage guests to give dogs low-calorie treats for good behavior. Sitting for a baby carrot? Now, that’s a good thing.  

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"Not even a single shred of turkey? Waaaaah!" Bulldog on a diet by Shutterstock

2. Every dog should have a waistline

Whether you have a pint-size Chihuahua or a massive English Bulldog, all dogs should have noticeable waistlines. If you are curious about your pet’s weight, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention lists the ideal weight ranges for various breeds. When pets carry excess baggage, those additional pounds lead to joint issues that limit activity. If you are in doubt –- or denial -– about your dog’s weight, schedule a wellness exam. This face time with the vet should include an honest account of your dog’s diet and activity level. Together, you can set up a regimen to trim those extra pounds.   

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"I used to swim. Now I just sink." Tubby Spaniel by Shutterstock

3. Feed based on your dog’s activity level

Most of us simply fill the bowl with kibble and keep moving. Take a moment to read the dog food label, and ask your vet for guidance adjusting the amount. Pay attention to how much food your dog consumes and avoid leaving bowls out all day, which can encourage overeating. 

4. Treats have calories, too, so start counting

It’s easy to get carried away during the giving season and lavish treats on our dogs. But those bacon-flavored yummies have calories, just like the kibble in their bowls. Plan ahead and reduce the amount of kibble if they are getting lots of treats that day. 

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Exercise and playtime help chubby pets lose weight and get healthier. Shih Tzu chases Pug by Shutterstock

5. Don’t leave food under the Christmas tree

Remember, dogs are known for their sense of smell. Avoid leaving food gifts within paws’ reach. The same applies to holiday goodies such as nuts or candy. See VPI’s Hambone Awards for examples of holiday treats gone awry. (Yes, it’s named for a dog who tried to consume the holiday ham.) My favorite story involves a Cocker Spaniel named Tomis who snorted an almond during the holidays. 

6. Try out interactive toys

Some dogs may tuck their tails and run from the idea of working for their food, but interactive toys provide a great mental and physical workout. Rolling, pushing or nudging toys to access treats will keep pudgy dogs occupied during the busy holiday season. Bypass the treat aisle and load these toys with your pet’s daily kibble.

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I love the quality time I get to spend with Lulu every day. Photo by Scott Clark King.

7. Grab the leash and take a walk

Ready for some really tough love? Overweight pets often mirror their owners’ activity levels, so the dog might not be the only family member who needs to take a daily walk. You both will reap benefits from a 20-minute power trek around the neighborhood.  Without a daily walk, my own dog Lulu tends to seek out mischief around the house, so exercise is essential.

At first, I was resentful of having to drop my keys and grab my sneakers at the end of a stressful workday. Now, I embrace our quality time together, especially now that her muzzle shows thick patches of gray. Lulu’s tinkling collar and gentle footfalls help the stress melt away in a matter of minutes. Start with a short walk around the block and work on adding distance. Watch your dog for signs of overexertion and be sure to bring water for breaks. 

Have a happy and safe holiday with your pooch.

About the author: Morieka Johnson lives in Atlanta with her husband, two stepdaughters, and a high-energy pooch named Lulu who inspires them to live each day to the fullest. She enjoys writing about dog health, toys, training and anything else that prevents Lulu from eating her shoes. Morieka shares more of their exploits on www.SoulPup.com.

Read more about ways to help an overweight dog: 

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