Pets make us happier and healthier. Research shows pets lower our blood pressure and stress, help increase our activity and help us make new friends — of both the canine and human varieties.
Do we do the same for them? Or are we loving our pets to death with too much food and not enough activity? Do you know if your dog is at an ideal weight, overweight or even obese?
All of these are good questions to ponder on National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, which is observed the second Wednesday in October. The annual pet health awareness day serves as a reminder that obesity is a serious concern for our pets as well as ourselves. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn more about what’s a healthy weight for our canine companions and how to help them maintain — or get back to — an appropriate weight and body condition score (BCS).
National Pet Obesity Awareness Day is also a day when participating veterinary clinics across the country gather basic information about the weight and body condition of each dog and cat over 1 year of age that’s given a routine physical exam. The goal is to gather data that helps veterinary healthcare professionals better understand the state of U.S. pet obesity. This year marks the 12th consecutive year that the survey has been conducted.
While it may not be a particularly fun “holiday” (those days are coming up!), there are some entertaining, as well as serious, things you and your dog can do to observe the occasion.
- Determine if your dog needs help with weight management.
Since 2010, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) annual survey has estimated that more than half of U.S. adult pet dogs are clinically overweight or obese. Unfortunately, APOP and others have also found that dog parents aren’t always aware that their pets are overweight. One easy way to figure out if your dog is carrying extra pounds is to compare your dog’s shape with those on a body condition scoring chart, such as those found here and here.
A second, even easier, way is to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian and have him or her assess your dog and teach you how to do body condition scoring so you can do it at home. Another benefit from a trip to the veterinary clinic? You can get your dog’s current weight — which you may not be able to do at home if you have a large dog. You can also ask for a report (possibly a graph?) detailing how your pet’s weight has changed over time.
- Make today the day you commit to helping your dog stay (or get) healthy.
Overweight and obese dogs aren’t healthy dogs. And they may not be happy dogs, either. If you don’t like what you discovered when evaluating your dog’s body condition, then it’s time to create and implement an action plan. Start by talking with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian is your best resource for helping you create a plan to control, monitor and improve your dog’s weight and BCS. As with people, it’s important to know if your dog is healthy enough to start an exercise program before starting one. For tips on helping your dog walk away the pounds, check out this article.
- Take your dog for a walk or go to a dog park. Or schedule a playdate for your dog and his or her best furry friend.
Dogs need both physical and mental activities to be healthy, happy and well balanced. Dogs who don’t get enough physical or mental stimulation can become bored. And as many dog owners know, a bored dog may overeat to relieve boredom and/or engage in annoying, attention-seeking or destructive behaviors.
In honor of National Pet Obesity Awareness Day, walk your dog around the neighborhood. Or visit a local dog park where your dog can meet other dogs and run around off leash. Better yet, schedule a playdate for your dog. You and your friend can visit while your dogs romp around the yard.
- Take the Pet Nutrition and Weight Management Survey, a short, anonymous, online survey.
You could win a free copy of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter, a book on pet obesity, nutrition and home-prepared meals written by Ernie Ward, DVM, CVFT and APOP founder. By completing the survey, you’re contributing valuable insights into pet ownership that veterinary nutrition experts can use to tackle the pet obesity issue.
- Have your dog try some healthy snacks to tip the scales in your dog’s favor.
Instead of calorie-laden commercial treats, give your dog a healthier option — like vegetables, fruits and plain popcorn. There are lots of options available, so if your dog doesn’t like a particular veggie, you can try another. Vegetables that are safe to give your dog include carrots, green beans, broccoli, cherry or grape tomatoes, asparagus, celery and zucchini. Some safe fruit options include apple slices (minus the seeds), bananas, cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon and honeydew melon. Just remember that your dog should get no more than 10 percent of his or her daily calories from treats or snacks.
Then again, you could skip the food treats altogether. Probably the best treat of all for your dog is spending extra one-on-one time with you.
- Stop free feeding your dog (if you do) and start feeding measured meals.
Some dogs will only eat what they need when fed free choice — the practice of keeping your dog’s food bowl full at all times. Other dogs, however, will eat everything in the bowl and then scavenge for more. Needless to say, free feeding can lead to some very overweight pets!
To best manage your dog’s weight, feed your canine companion measured portions of food — using a measuring cup or food scale — twice a day. You can use the feeding guide on the dog food bag to help you determine how much to feed, or ask your veterinarian to calculate your dog’s energy needs and the appropriate amount of food.
So celebrate this National Pet Obesity Awareness Day by making a commitment to your dog’s health. Your dog doesn’t have to be part of the overweight and obese canine crowd.