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Just as obesity is an unhealthy, dangerous problem for humans, the same can be said for your canine companion. A whopping 34% of dogs are overweight, so as cute as an overly plump dog may be, obesity is a serious issue not to be taken lightly. The truth is that keeping your dog lean and healthy can extend his lifespan up to two years. And, weight management is crucial to avoid obesity-related health issues, especially if your dog is genetically prone to obesity (some breeds such as Cocker Spaniel, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Dachshunds should be watched more closely). With this information in mind, it is your responsibility as a pup parent to make sure your dog maintains healthy nutrition and a normal weight within the average range for his breed.
Oftentimes, common misconceptions prevent pup parents from taking good care of their pup’s physical health. Let’s debunk some of these myths to set you and your pooch up for successful weight management:
Puppies Are Always Hungry: Pup parents often see their dogs gobble up food in seconds, take treats without pause and beg for table food. These behaviors lead to the myth that dogs never tire of eating and are always ready for food. While dogs may always take food when handed to them (haven’t you ever had one too many helpings at Thanksgiving dinner?), this doesn’t mean they need food. Unfortunately, well-meaning owners often leave food in their dog’s bowl all day hoping to satisfy their “hungry” pooches. However, this is an extremely unhealthy practice. Dogs should be on a strict feeding schedule – depending on your veterinarian’s instruction, typically no more than 2x/day. Pooches don’t need as many calories as humans do. That said, water bowls should be filled throughout the day so that your dog stays well-hydrated.
Spaying and Neutering Cause Obesity: This is simply untrue. Spaying or neutering procedures may slow down a dog’s natural metabolism, but also means that your dog requires less calories to maintain a healthy weight. As your dog goes through body changes such as getting fixed, or getting older, you need to be aware of weight gain and act immediately to reduce caloric intake or increase activity level to offset the change.
Some Dogs are Picky, so Feed Them Whatever They’ll Eat: This may be true with toddlers (to an extent), but dogs should not be given the opportunity to choose what they eat. If you’ve experimented with giving them table scraps, you’ll notice they’ll almost always prefer human food. After all, a flavorful steak sounds much more delicious than a bowl of kibble, right? But this practice forms bad habit and will cause your dog to become “picky” and eat fatty, calorie-filled human food rather than the food designed to keep him fit and strong.
The Best Way to Reward a Puppy is with Treats: When your puppy does a good job, you give him a bite sized treat, right? While this is fine practice in moderation, an over-consumption of treats, which are often filled with empty calories, can lead to pet obesity. As a general guideline, treats should not comprise more than 10% of your dog’s overall diet. Also, if you notice your dog over-snacks on treats and sometimes doesn’t finish his entire bowl of food, it may be a sign he’s consuming too many treats.
Frequent, Small Meals are Better than a Few Solid Meals: Not necessarily. Again, consult with your veterinarian, but while this is a commonly adopted diet plan for humans, this can cause overeating in dogs and bad habits. Just because dogs eat the food that’s put underneath their noses, doesn’t mean their bodies require the calories.
Begging Dogs are Hungry: Dog behavior can be misleading and begging for food is an art that many dogs become quite talented at perfecting. If your canine is pleading, they’ve likely become accustomed to the fact that begging is rewarded with food. Any dog trainer will tell you it’s important not to indulge, but rather to ignore the bad behavior. Giving in will only teach your dog to continue begging. While we all love our animals dearly, in any kind of training, consistency of discipline is key. It only takes one time for your dog to learn this kind of behavior is tolerated. Rest assured, if your dog is a healthy weight and eating the correct amount of food at meals, he is not hungry.
While these myth-busters are helpful for common weight issues, there are some circumstances where your pup’s obesity may be the result of a medical issue such as hypothyroidism. If the weight management solutions you’re trying at home are not showing results, it’s best to take your pup into the vet for an evaluation to rule out other diagnoses.