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Overcoming Canine Obesity

pedigree Labrador

Obesity is the most common canine nutritional disease in this country, occurring in up to 25% of dogs. While the many problems associated with weight gain are frightening, it's reassuring to know that by keeping your dog at a reasonable weight, you can reduce his chances of diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic problems, and possibly even cancer.

To determine whether your dog is overweight, stand over him and check for a waist—a visible indentation behind his ribs. All dogs, regardless of breed should have a waist. Then give him a hands-on test. Can you feel his ribs? They shouldn't be sticking out, but you should be able to find them through a layer of skin and muscle, and be able to easily count them. If all you feel is rolls of fat, it's time to begin a diet and exercise plan.

Feed your dog properly

If you feed your dog a prepared pet food, the label on the package will provide a guideline as to how much to feed daily. These recommendations are a guideline only and you should make adjustments according to your dog's individual needs. Don't forget to take into account the calories in treats and other tidbits he eats—they shouldn't make up more than 10% of his daily calorie intake.

Get enough exercise

Try to exercise your dog as much as he is able. The more muscle he maintains, the more calories he'll burn and less fat he'll carry. Not only that, but when you fill his time with fun activities, he'll spend less time hanging around the food bowl. This increased activity won't just benefit your dog, it will benefit you.

Simple weight loss tips

  • Instruct family members and visitors not to give your dog any treats or table scraps.
  • Don't give your dog one heaping bowl of food that he can eat whenever he wants. Instead, give him two to four small measured meals a day so you can regulate his portions.
  • Start keeping a record of your dog's weight. If possible, weigh him once a week.
  • If you have more than one dog, feed them separately. That way, your overweight dog won't have access to that "second helping."
  • To keep him from begging for food, feed your dog before you have your own meals.
  • If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, make sure that all of your garbage cans have secure covers. (That applies to indoor garbage cans, too!)
  • Keep lots of clean, fresh water available.

Finally, be sure to take your dog to your veterinarian for a checkup and expert advice. Your vet may give you guidelines on exercise appropriate for your dog's age and health as well as specific advice on how much he should be eating. He can also check for, and treat, any weight-related problems.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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