Staying fit and trim benefits pets just as it does people. Eating nutritious food and avoiding obesity helps animals stay healthy and live longer.
How do you know if your pet is overweight? When viewed from the side, there should be a distinction between the dog's ribcage and stomach; the abdomen should taper in. When viewed from above, some tapering should be evident and the waist should not look bloated. And when petting the dog, you should be able to feel his ribs a bit.
Obesity can lead to diabetes, joint pain, liver problems, heart disease and other medical conditions. So if your dog is overweight, it's time for more exercise, less fattening food and better nutrition.
Use These Tips To Slim Down Your Pet:
* Take an objective look at the food you are feeding your dog. Many commercial foods lack sufficient nutritious ingredients in addition to lacking freshness. As a result, the dog continually craves more food and is more prone to health problems. It may be time to upgrade to a super premium food or to a home-made diet, or something in-between, such as supplementing a super premium dry food with whole foods such as fresh vegetables and yogurt.
* You can help an overweight dog lose weight by cutting back on the regular dog food and adding vegetables. The vitamins and extra roughage will help. Suggestions about healthy foods appear later in this article. As for healthful dog foods, read articles on the internet, such as those listed at the end of this tipsheet.
* If you stick with the same food, reduce the amount by 25 percent. You should see results in two weeks. If he hasn't slimmed down, cut back his food a little bit more, but do not make drastic reductions. Gradual weight loss is preferred; for many breeds, one pound a week is plenty. If you don't see results in a month, consult your vet -- and reconsider the type of food you're using.
* You should not try to eliminate all fat from a dog's diet. Just reduce the amount of fat intake. Remember, some fats are better than others. For example, flaxseed oil, fish oil and other foods that contain omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are beneficial and essential for humans and canines alike. The same cannot be said for things such as animal fat and the trans fat prevalent in cookies, chips and certain dog treats.
* Feed your dog at least twice a day. You can try an approach that works for many humans: break up daily food allotment into 5 or 6 small meals.
* Always have your dogs earn their treats and food, and have them sit before you set down the food bowl. Details about this practice appear below in the "Feeding Tips and Tricks" section.
* Is the dog overly excited or impatient about getting fed? As you prepare the meal, ignore whining, pawing, barking and jumping. Then push the bowl to the back of the counter, and sit down and read for 15 minutes. By ignoring the dog, you give her a chance to calm down and to learn that her demanding behaviors will no longer be rewarded. When she finally settles down, give the sit command, then calmly put down the bowl for her. By practicing this tip, you'll get more respect from your dog and help her eliminate undesirable begging behavior.
* If your dog eats too fast, make him slow down. Even if your dog does not eat too fast, the following techniques can add variety to the dieting dog's dining. Smear the food all over the inside of the bowl so it takes more time for the dog to lick up the food. Or instead of using a bowl, pack the food into open-ended rubber Kong-type toys. (These versatile toys are available at our shoppe.)
You can add the kibble dry, or soften the food a bit by adding water or juice from any vegetables mentioned later in this tipsheet before stuffing the food inside the Kong. You can even freeze the Kong overnight. You can augment the stuffing with healthy supplements such as no-fat cottage cheese, no-fat plain yogurt, fruit bits or veggies. Another idea: two or three spoonfuls of canned pumpkin makes a tasty, filling and healthy mix-in.
To make mealtimes more fun for your dog, you can place his meal in several Kongs and hide them throughout the house, prompting him to seek out his food. Naturally, you need to help the dog learn where to find the Kongs. Buster Cubes also work if you are using dry food; they require the dog to do more thinking to get the food to release.
* Prepare and have handy at all times healthy treats and high fiber snacks to substitute for biscuits, which usually have lots of calories. Easy treats for dieting dogs include:
*Rice cakes (the plain variety is best)
*Baby carrots or carrot chips
*Frozen green beans (lower-calorie than carrots, and when frozen, there's added chewing satisfaction)
* By the way, you can also use kibble as a treat...useful especially if your pet is on a special, restricted diet.
* Garlic aids the digestive system and can help support weight loss. Depending on the pet's size, crush from one-half to two cloves a day into their food. By cloves, we mean the small chambers, not an entire garlic bulb.
* Do not give into begging and stop feeding the dog table scraps. Even slim dogs should not be fed fatty foods, poultry skin, hot dogs, bacon, pizza and the like.
* If you have more than one pet, be watchful. Your dieting dog may try to steal food from other bowls.
* Keep your food away from counter and table edges. Put garbage cans totally out of the pet's reach. Remember, your dieting dog will be hungrier than usual.
* Feed your dog less if you are expecting visitors in order to compensate for the treats your guests will feed him. Tell your guests your dog needs to stick to his diet.
* Treats do not have to be edible. Instead, use playing and walks as treats and as rewards for good behavior. Increase the amount of attention you give the dog that does not involve food treats.
* Spaying and neutering do not make pets fat. Weight gain and lack of muscle tone come from overeating and from insufficient exercise.
* Weight gain can signal a medical problem. If this is a possibility, see your veterinarian.
* Give the dog more exercise, indoors and outside. If your chubby pet is not used to exercising, start out slowly with short walks and light ball-fetching sessions, then increase the exertion level over time. Avoid over-exerting elderly dogs or those of delicate health. Healthy dogs can advance to sports such as agility and flyball, which can improve their owners' fitness at the same time.
* Remember, playtime and walks can be used as rewards, substituting for food treats.
* Some breeds such as beagles, border collies and golden retrievers are prone to weight gain, partly because as housepets, they do not get to engage in the intense outdoor activities for which they were originally bred (hunting, herding sheep). Plus they are skilled at using their doleful eyes to charm food out of their owners.
Some Good Whole Foods for Dogs:
* Apples (they contain potassium, which stimulates the immune system, and pepsin, which helps the stomach)
* Brewers yeast (health aid and can help remedy some skin conditions)
* Carrots (rich in vitamins, great treats to substitute for biscuits)
* Cucumber (good for teeth and bones due to potassium content; can combine with carrots to promote a healthy liver and kidneys; in juice form, a good diuretic ... peel cucumbers unless organically grown)
* Celery (chopped or juiced; can help with arthritis)
* Flaxseed oil, fish oil, omega 3 and 6 supplements (beneficial and essential fatty acids)
* Garlic (removes waste from blood, can help repel fleas; use fresh garlic finely minced)
* Green beans (lightly steamed; healthy and low-cal treat)
* Parsley (can reduce allergy symptoms and aid kidney function; chop finely or boil parsley and add the juice over food)
* Kale (rich in antioxidants and can help reduce allergy symptoms)
* Green or yellow squash, asparagus and spinach (very healthy; serve chopped)
* Another veggie snack idea: cooked skins from organically grown potatoes
* Bananas (in small quantity; a coveted treat)
* Whole grains including oats, oatmeal, brown rice, millet
* Cereal grasses, such as barley grass, and barley supplements
* Plain low-fat or no-fat yogurt
* Olive oil, sesame oil (a tablespoon a day is good for skin and fur)
* Preparation suggestions: Many veggies can be served raw, lightly steamed or in juice form. For most vegetables such as broccoli and carrots, it is far better to steam them instead of serving raw for improved digestibility and nutritional value. Also, since dogs have small digestive tracts, you can puree vegetables to enable your pet to digest more. If you use canned vegetables, get the salt-free kinds.
* Organically grown benefits: Due to their smaller size and more compact body systems, pets can be more prone to the toxic effects of pesticide contamination than are people. So it is best to feed them produce that is organically certified, which also has higher nutritional value for everyone.
Feeding Tips and Tricks:
* Teach your dog to always come and sit before placing the food bowl on the floor.
* It is good practice to always have your dogs earn their treats and food, so make mealtime a learning opportunity. Teach your pet commands such as come, sit and down, then give a command for the dog to obey before you provide the meal or treat. Dogs like the opportunity to show that they understand their people and enjoy interaction that leads to rewards and praise. Other advantages of teaching dogs to take food only upon your command: your pet will be less likely to try to steal others' food, ingest unauthorized substances indoors or outdoors, or accept treats from strangers.
* Is the dog overly excited or impatient about getting fed? Ignore whining, pawing, barking and jumping. After preparing the dog's food, push the bowl to the back of the counter, and sit down and read for 15 minutes. This gives the dog a chance to calm down and to learn that her demanding behaviors will no longer be rewarded. When she settles down, give the sit command, then calmly put down the bowl for her. By practicing this tip, you'll get more respect from your dog and help her eliminate undesirable begging behavior.
* You can also teach your dog to "go to your place/bed" before getting fed, which is especially helpful for dogs prone to begging at kitchen counters and dinner tables. "Go to your place/bed" is an extremely useful command when you're cooking, cleaning or engaged in any activity in which the dog's interference could lead to distraction and injury. You can designate a place, say, in the far corner of the kitchen or family room, and place a mat or dog bed there. Teach your dog to associate that place with a special word, such as "place," "spot" or "bed." Then, using positive reinforcement, incorporating praise and small treats as rewards, teach him to "go to your place." This gives the dog something good and acceptable that he can do.
* Does your dog dislike dry kibble, or does he gulp water after eating it? Mix a little water, juice from the vegetables listed in this tipsheet, or wet food into the kibble.
* Cooked rice and vegetables add healthy variety to any diet. Rice and vegetables can be a great diet for older dogs who tire of regular dog food.
* Steaming is healthier than microwaving. More of the nutrients are preserved. Steaming also helps make more of a vegetable's nutrients accessible during the digestive process.
* You can help a dog lose weight by reducing regular dog food a bit and adding vegetables. The extra roughage is good for dogs.
* For dogs who crave grass, satisfy them with barley grass, rye grass, oat grass, wheat grass and other cereal grasses or sprouts. Cereal grasses are appealing as well as nutritious for dogs. They contain vitamins, enzymes and chlorophyll, which can help prevent and treat infection, skin disorders, anemia, diarrhea, flea problems, hair loss and pain.
* Baby food in jars offers a great, handy way to supplement pet food, especially for small dogs or when you're on the road with your pet. But check the label; some baby food has ingredients and additives you may not want to feed your dog.
* A low protein diet can help hyperactive and dominant dogs. Eliminate canned food for these dogs. Too much protein can be hard on any dog's organs. However, certain medical conditions such as pregnancy require more protein, so check with your veterinarian or canine behaviorist/trainer.
* For dogs prone to struvite crystals, some vets advise limiting vegetable intake because vegetables could turn their urine alkaline.
* It is typically better to feed dogs twice a day instead of once. Feed half in the morning and half in the early evening. When dogs sleep, their digestive systems slow down, so some dogs have stomach upsets when they wake up in the morning. For those dogs, feed a larger portion at breakfast and a smaller meal in the early evening.
* Young puppies should be fed three times a day. FYI, puppy food contains a higher fat content than does adult dog food.
* Don't be alarmed if a new dog does not eat for awhile, or if a dog skips a meal, unless the dog has a medical condition.
* A technique that often works for picky eaters: if he doesn't eat within 15 minutes, take up the bowl. Don't feed again until the next regularly scheduled meal. Take the bowl up again after 15 minutes. Usually after one to two missed meals, the dog will get back on track - and have a renewed appreciation for his food.
* Avoid free feeding, or leaving the food bowl out for hours. The food can get stale, attract bugs or, in multi-pet households, be eaten by another pet. Dental health is another reason to not to free feed, since the food stays on the teeth longer, leading to tooth decay.
* If your dog constantly leaves some food in the bowl, you are probably feeding too much food. Reduce portions a bit.
* Use porcelain or stainless steel bowls. Bacteria tends to grow in plastic bowls. In addition, many dogs will chew plastic bowls.
* Keeping a feeding routine is helpful for any dog, particularly young dogs or newly adopted dogs. Canines thrive on routine. Furthermore, a reliable feeding and elimination/walking schedule is critical to successful housetraining.
* Many behavior specialists advise that if you have a dominant or pushy dog, or a dog who does not understand the structure in the household, you should feed yourself first before feeding the dog. This is one of several steps you should take to reinforce your role as the leader. For more information, email us at http://www.leadingthewaydogtraining.com/
* If the dog respects you, but does not listen to your spouse, or is fearful of your spouse, have your spouse feed the dog. This will help build a healthy bond.
* To have the dog work for his food, or to make a healthy game of mealtime, you can stuff his meals inside a Kong, a hollow rubber toy carried by most pet supply stores. You can slightly moisten the food with water or juice from one of the vegetables mentioned in this article, and then stuff the food into one or more Kongs. You can also stuff Kongs with low-fat or no-fat cottage cheese, plain yogurt, chopped fruit, veggies or a few spoonfuls of canned plain pumpkin. You can use some peanut butter or cream cheese to help make kibble and veggies stick inside the Kong if the dog doesn't have a weight problem.
You can also place the meal in several Kongs and hide them throughout the house, prompting the dog to seek out his food. Naturally, you need to help the dog learn where to find the Kongs. Buster Cubes also work if you are using dry food; they require the dog to do more thinking to get the food to release.
* For multi-pet homes, it is wise to feed animals in separate places to avoid distractions, food stealing and fights. Many behaviorists recommend feeding the more senior pets first, and to keep a routine. Keep watch as they eat, particularly if you have any food aggressive, bossy or vulnerable animals. Pick up the bowls right after they finish. FYI, cat food is particularly appealing to dogs.
* Do not allow children or guests around dogs at feeding time. And never tease dogs who are trying to eat meals or treats.
* Do not let pets lick food cans; they can cut their tongues.
* Do not leave food unattended on the table or counter. Dogs have been known to pull pans of pasta off stoves and whole turkeys off tables. Whenever preparing or serving food, keep it away from counter and table edges and out of pets' reach. Also make sure pets cannot reach family members' lunch bags.
* To discourage begging and pawing when you're cooking or preparing meals, have a squirt bottle of water handy. Better yet, teach your dog to "go to your place."
* Cook food on back burners whenever possible.
* Be careful when using knives around dogs, especially tall dogs.
* Wrap food debris carefully and dispose right away. Block access to garbage and trash cans.
* Tell guests to keep food and medications out of dog's reach.
* Also tell guests and remind household members not to feed the dog any unauthorized foods. Have healthy pet treats handy for guests so that they can indulge your pet safely.
* Fatty foods can lead to gastrointestinal upset, digestive disorders and pancreatitis, a deadly inflammation of the pancreas. Dogs do not need much fat at all. Again, remember that some fats are better than others. Animal fat contributes to obesity and health problems. In contrast, flaxseed oil, fish oil and other foods containing omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are essential for humans and canines alike.
* Do not feed pets any chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, bread dough, meat and poultry bones, salty foods, nuts, onions, tomatoes, avocados, raisins, grapes, rhubarb or spoiled or moldy food. For more on food dangers, see the Food and Kitchen Safety tipsheet.
Treating Indigestion and Diarrhea:
Each dog is an individual. But we've received reports of successful home remedies. They include feeding the dog canned plain pumpkin, which contains many vitamins, especially helpful in restoring nutrients lost with diarrhea. Others have fed mashed potatoes and rice (brown has some fiber lacking in white rice). Sometimes plain unsweetened yogurt can calm upset stomachs. If a health problem continues more than a day or is severe, contact a holistic or conventional veterinarian.
What Not to Feed Dogs and Kitchen Safety
Selecting a Commercial Pet Food
Pet Food Facts and Healthy Alternatives
Sample Diets for Homemade Foods
Bones and Raw Food Diets/Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods Diet
What's Really in Pet Food
Polluted Pet Food
Pet Food Reality
Canine Wellness and Alternative Health Information
Health Supplements, Vitamins, Natural Products Sources
Premium and Natural Dog Food Sources
Throw Me a Bone: 50 Healthy, Canine-Tested Recipes for Snacks, Meals and Treats by Cooper Gillespie