I love dogs. I have to: my profession isn’t known for being a particularly lucrative or stress-free one. Trainers who don’t adore both dogs and their humans burn out quickly.
That said, I don’t find images of roly-poly puppies appealing in the least. Round pug and bulldog bellies don’t make me smile, and pictures of winning show Labradors not only don’t impress me, they make it difficult for me to keep from grimacing in concern.
Last Friday, I posted some pictures of one of my dogs, Layla, lure coursing. I mentioned that there was something that concerned me about these pictures. Here’s the dirty secret: my dog was not in very good shape to be engaging in such strenuous physical activity.
Anyone who looked at Layla’s pictures would be hard-pressed to see this issue, as it was relatively minor. Layla had gained 3 pounds over the winter, going from 30 to 33 pounds. This sounds like a small change, but its effects were noticeable. This slight weight increase in my small dog would be similar to a 150 pound person gaining 15 extra pounds. With just this slight amount of weight gain, Layla was at a higher risk for joint or muscle injuries. She was much more sore after coursing, requiring a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Her performance suffered slightly, with her speed decreasing. The strain on her heart and lungs was greater.
Here’s a picture of Layla lure coursing when she weighed 30 pounds, compared to 33 pounds (click to view larger images). Can you see the difference?
I often get asked which brand or type of dog food is the best one. This question misses the bigger issue. Here’s the thing: what you feed your dog doesn’t matter nearly as much as how much you feed.
Excess weight kills dogs. Purina recently ran a ground-breaking 14-year-long study on the effects of weight on dogs, and the results were sobering. Dogs who were kept lean lived, on average, 2 years longer than their slightly-chunky littermates. These lean dogs also showed fewer signs of aging and suffered less from hip issues, arthritis, and heart problems.
We’re killing some dogs with kindness, and it’s incredibly sad. I feel the same horror at seeing a morbidly obese dog as I do at seeing a starving animal with his hip bones and spine jutting out. It’s all about balance.
How can you tell whether your dog’s at an appropriate weight? A lean dog will have ribs that are easily felt as your run your hand down his side. If you have to press or dig to find ribs under a layer of fat, your dog is likely overweight. If your dog has a short coat, you may be able to see the last rib or two. Your dog should also have a definite tuck-up when viewed from the side, where the belly “tucks up” between the rib cage and the hind legs. If your dog’s belly is level with or sagging below the level of his rib cage, he may need to lose a few pounds.
So, how can you keep your dog at a healthy weight? Barring certain medical causes for obesity, the formula is simple: feed less and exercise more. Forget about feeding your dog the amount that the dog food bag recommends. I’ve never had a dog eat the amount of food that the pet food company lists. Instead, feed the amount that works to keep your dog at a healthy weight. If he seems to be losing too much, increase his food a little. If he’s getting a bit chunky, cut back. Make sure to make any changes slowly, never changing the amount you feed by more than 10%. Don’t forget that you can always ask your vet if you have questions.
A lean dog is a healthy dog, and healthy dogs live longer. I love dogs, and I want my dogs to live long, healthy lives. I want the same for my clients’ dogs, and know that they do too. Feeding your dog the correct amount to keep him lean is one easy way to improve his quality of life, and to extend that life.
Does your dog need to lose a few pounds? What do you do to keep your pets at a healthy weight? Do they eat the “recommended” amount of food from the pet food company, or did you need to tweak that amount? Please share your experiences in the comments below!