Overweight and obese dogs are a big problem for pet owners (pun intended). Fortunately, regular walks and other forms of increased activity can help your overweight dog shed some of the unwanted pounds. Because walking is frequently a key element of canine weight loss efforts, we’ve pulled together seven tips to consider when helping your dog to walk away some extra weight.
1. TALK WITH YOUR VETERINARIAN FIRST
If your overweight dog has been rather sedentary, you’ll want to make sure your best friend is healthy enough to start a regular exercise program. Some underlying medical conditions can cause weight gain in dogs. Plus, carrying extra weight can stress joints and other body systems, making exercise uncomfortable. Your veterinarian will want to rule out any health issues first, and then can help you get started with a walking routine.
2. USE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT
To help keep the walk enjoyable for both of you, be sure to use the right equipment: a walking harness or head halter, a 4- or 6-foot leash (non-retractable), portable water bowl and water. For walking an overweight dog on-leash, your safest choice is a head halter or walking harness with wide, soft, padded straps and made from breathable materials. Regular collars can put too much pressure on your dog’s windpipe (trachea), which can cause difficulty breathing or injury if your dog pulls too much.
You’ll want to use a shorter leash when walking your dog for weight loss. This will help you keep the dog close to you and maintain a steady pace.
Depending on the weather and the length of your walk, you’ll want to have some other supplies on hand. For winter walks, booties can keep your dog’s paws warm, protect them from ice and de-icers, and improve footing. If you’re walking during warm weather or for more than 30 minutes, you may want to bring water and a portable water bowl to help keep your dog cool and from becoming dehydrated.
3. TAKE IT SLOW
Don’t expect your overweight and out-of-shape dog to walk for miles or up big hills right from the start. Take your time and start slow to avoid injury. How far, how fast and how long you walk your dog will depend on your dog’s starting condition. One approach recommended by the American Animal Hospital Association for starting obese dogs with no joint or mobility issues on a walking program is to start with a 5-minute walk three times per day. Gradually work up to longer times until a total of 30 to 45 minutes per day has been reached.
4. SET THE RIGHT PACE
Walking your dog for weight loss or to improve fitness is very different than walking for pleasure. The average dog-walking pace is around 25 minutes per mile. That’s a slow stroll and isn’t fast enough to reach an aerobic state. Instead, you’ll want to leash your dog and get them moving fast enough to increase their heart rate into the fat-and-calorie-burning zone. At the right pace, your dog should be trotting along next to you, with a short stride and rapid stride turnover.
Since you’ll be setting the pace, pick a speed you can comfortably maintain — ideally between 15 and 20 minutes per mile (or 3 to 4 miles per hour). You should feel like you’re taking a brisk walk and you should even break into light sweat. Again, how fast you and your dog walk will depend on your dog’s current condition and fitness.
5. MONITOR YOUR DOG’S BREATHING
Your dog will pant if you’re walking briskly enough. That’s completely normal. But there shouldn’t be any labored or noisy breathing or coughing. If your overweight or obese dog seems to be having difficulty breathing or starts coughing, stop or slow down, take a break and assess the situation.
6. DEVELOP A ROUTINE, COMPLETE WITH TIME GOALS
Start with 30-minute walks at least five times per week if your overweight dog is generally healthy — that is, your dog has normal heart and lung function, normal blood pressure and no pre-existing medical conditions. If you and your dog have been couch potatoes, you most likely won’t go for 30 minutes at a brisk pace. Build up to it.
There’s no need for a warm-up if your dog is healthy, although you do want to give your dog time to urinate and defecate before starting the “fitness” part of your walk. Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT, recommends the following schedule as one way to develop a fitness walking program.
INTRODUCTORY FITNESS WALKING SCHEDULE
|20–30 minutes twice daily
7. TRACK YOUR DOG’S PROGRESS
Don’t forget to keep track of your dog’s walks, including the number of minutes of brisk versus casual walking. Not only will this help you to stay on top of the schedule, but you’ll also have a reference point to see how far your dog — and you — have come along the road to health and fitness.
For additional ideas for boosting your overweight or obese dog’s activity levels, check out Start Boosting Activity to Help Your Overweight Dog Lose Weight.
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