Getting back in shape

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					DOG 8

Getting back
in shape
Getting back in shape
People are getting fatter – and it is affecting our
pet's health as well. We love our pets and like to
give them the little indulgences that we enjoy,
so pets are gaining weight too. And we like our
pets to be “well-rounded” – most pet dogs have
considerably more body fat than dogs in the wild,
but wild and feral dogs are often closer to the way
a fit dog should look.

Being overweight can have lasting                      dog in another room at mealtimes. And do
consequences and can even be fatal.                    not let your dog follow small children who
Studies have shown that overweight dogs                are snacking and “hoover up”.
do not live as long and are more prone to
                                                       There is a lot of variation in the energy
illnesses that spoil their quality of life, such
                                                       that different individuals require daily,
as arthritis, breathing difficulties, heart
                                                       and feeding packets tend to recommend
problems and diabetes. There is a genuine
                                                       an over-generous daily amount. Do not
risk of killing your pet with kindness.
                                                       be alarmed if your dog generally seems
The way the body works changes                         to have quite a small appetite, but do
considerably in overweight animals. Once               consult your vet if there is a sudden loss
an animal is overweight, the working speed             of appetite. If you are concerned about
of the body slows and they are less active             your dog's weight, consult your vet. The
so they do not need to eat much to maintain            guidelines below give an indication of how
their weight. It is rare for medical problems          to find out if your pet is the right weight.
to cause obesity in dogs.
                                                       Start young
He always seems hungry...                              There is evidence that chubby puppies
Fortunately dogs cannot buy chocolate                  become fat adults. Breeds likely to get joint
on the way home from work, nor do they                 problems such as poor hips (hip dysplasia)
have to recover from “bad hair days” with              are more likely to develop these problems
chocolate bars at tea break! Responsible               with overfeeding. Feed your puppy the
owners should learn to resist soulful eyes.            minimum amount for the body weight
Dogs are scavengers in the wild and it is              recommended on the packet, and monitor
natural for them to eat everything they find           body shape as your dog grows. Ask the vet
– whether they are hungry or not. Begging              to check at vaccination time.
for food is a trick that they quickly learn to         If an otherwise healthy, happy dog seems
exploit – and it is our fault for giving them          reluctant to eat do not be tempted to offer
treats when we are eating.                             different foods or human foods to coax
Only giving them treats “now and then”                 his or her appetite. You may cause your
makes things worse. The scientific name for            pet to become a fussy eater. Dogs fed
this is “variable reinforcement” and it is why         human foods often over eat and become
people play fruit machines – the occasional            overweight, even on foods relatively low in
win makes up for all the losses. The cure is           fat, such as chicken. However, if your dog
for all the people in the house to learn never         eats nothing at all for more than 24 hours,
to give treats when eating, or to shut the             contact your vet for advice.

Is my dog overweight?                               conditions that could interfere. Using a
                                                    special calorie-controlled food from the vet
You cannot tell by weighing a dog and
                                                    is usually the most effective way of losing
looking at tables of “right weight for breed”
                                                    weight and well worth considering. Many
because all individuals are different. The
                                                    vets run weight control clinics providing
only way is to look at body shape and
                                                    regular check-ups. They are often free of
assess body fat. Does your pet have a
                                                    charge, and help to ensure that the diet
potbelly? Viewed from above, does your
                                                    is working, and that weight loss is not
dog have a waist – that is, does the body
                                                    occurring too rapidly.
taper after the rib cage? Can you easily
feel your dog’s ribs? No waist, a bit of
                                                    A food diary
a paunch, and a well-cushioned ribcage
means it is time to take action. The                Make a record of everything – including
average “chubby” pet is usually at least            table scraps and treats – that your dog eats
15 per cent overweight.                             for a few days. This is often valuable in
                                                    highlighting “extras” that your pet is getting.
The next step                                       A dog that does not seem to eat much
                                                    dog food probably still has an appetite for
It is best to start with a trip to the vet.
                                                    sausages and chocolate biscuits!
Although increasing exercise is not
enough on its own, it is helpful, although
your pet will need a check-up for medical

Weight watchers!                                   food, the diet is less likely to be successful.
                                                   You can try buying a “light” (or “lite”) diet
With calorie-controlled food from the vet,         and feeding three-quarters of what is
you will be advised how much to feed               recommended on the packet for your dog's
daily. This will be for the target weight –        “target” (ie the right, slim) weight. This is
not the current weight – of your dog. It is        usually about 15 per cent less than the
best to weigh food out daily, at least to          current weight, but if you are unsure, check
start with. Many dry diets come with               with your vet. However, many of these
calibrated scoops but it is easy to overfill       diets are designed to avoid weight gain,
these. You can reduce hunger by feeding            but they are not “reducing” diets to
two or three times a day, so long as you           promote weight loss. If your pet is not
don't go above the daily recommended               losing weight after two months, you should
amount. If you must feed treats, either            consider changing to a diet from the vet.
take these out of the daily ration, or
                                                   Remember non-fattening treats too,
choose low calorie items, such as a
                                                   such as going for a walk, playing a game
piece of carrot, apple, or rice cake.
                                                   or simply stroking and giving attention.
If you are not using one of the                    They last longer than food, help to
recommended “calorie-control” foods,               strengthen your relationship more –
but just reducing the amount of normal             and are good for your health too!

Going to the gym?                                   many calories. Increase the activity level
                                                    at home as well. Buy toys in which you
Don’t expect to walk or run off the
                                                    can hide food, such as buster cubes, but
calories; dogs are very active creatures,
                                                    remember to deduct the “treat” from the
so achieving the equivalent of a “human
                                                    daily food allowance.
gym workout” is practically impossible!
Increasing exercise alone is not enough,
                                                    How long will it take?
although it is helpful. Start gradually, and
be especially careful with elderly pets,            Most dogs that look overweight are at
particularly in hot weather. Older pets             least 15 per cent overweight. So a dog
should see the vet first. Little and often is       of 40 kilogram(s) (88 pounds) may be
the safest way to start. Try to take your           six kilogram(s) (13.25 pounds) overweight,
dog out at least twice a day, and start to          and a 12 kilogram(s) (26.5 pounds) dog
introduce active games – ambling down               may be 1.8 kilogram(s) (four pounds) over.
the road on a lead is not going to burn off

A safe rate of weight loss is one per cent         food intake is above your dog's energy
weekly. In the example above the larger            needs and needs to be reduced further.
dog should be shedding 1.6 kilogram(s)             Consult your vet for advice – but first,
(3.5 pounds) over a month, and the smaller         check that everybody in the house is
0.48 kilogram(s) (one pound). Confused?            sticking to the diet. It only takes one
Look for a vet with a weight clinic!               person who “feels sorry” for the dog and
                                                   is cheating to ruin the whole diet! Explain
When your dog reaches the target weight,
                                                   that they are putting the dog's health at
take another look. Is your pet “in shape”,
                                                   risk and may be reducing life expectancy.
with a waist and a slender tummy? Can
you feel the ribs easily? If not, continue         The high cost of snacking...
with the diet. If the dog is now perfect,
                                                     A slice of buttered toast to a cocker
do not slip back into old habits, even
                                                     spaniel provides about a sixth of the
though your pet may now be more active.
                                                     daily calorie requirement – or two bags
You can increase feeding a little – say by
                                                     of crisps for a person
ten per cent – and weigh your pet every
fortnight to check that the weight is not            A sausage to a Staffie is the equivalent
creeping back. Diets are available that              of one and a half chocolate bars to
are reduced in calories, but not restricted          a person
enough to reduce weight, but which                   A chocolate digestive to a Jack Russell
– correctly fed – will stop it creeping back         is almost the same as a portion of
on. Ask your vet for advice.                         chips to a person

                                                   Treats you can give
The diet isn’t working...
                                                   Giving treats, other than for training, is not
Drugs to help with weight loss are now
                                                   essential – and for any dog, they do not
available from vets. However, they are
                                                   have to be large! A “treat” should always
an aid to slimming and cannot be used
                                                   be given in portions no bigger than the
indefinitely, so lifestyle changes are still
                                                   nail of your first finger! Many dogs like
essential. There may be mild side effects
                                                   crunchy, raw vegetables, such as a piece
(such as diarrhoea) but they could be
                                                   of carrot or cucumber, or even a piece of
especially useful where weight loss is
                                                   rice cake. If you are feeding a dry food,
essential to help a medical problem.
                                                   when you weigh out the daily “ration”, set
All dogs are different, so if yours is not         aside a few biscuits from this and give
losing weight on the diet, it may be that          throughout the day.
your dog burns calories slowly. The daily


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