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10 Tips to Practice Pet Obesity Awareness All Year

10 Tips to Practice Pet Obesity Awareness All Year

Every year, on October 11th, we celebrate “World Pet Obesity Awareness Day”—a time to reflect and assess whether we are helping our pets maintain their ideal weight and body condition. As much as we love snuggling with our pets, let's resist the urge to skip our daily exercise as we approach the holidays!

Obesity is a growing problem in the United States for both ends of the leash. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 42.4 percent of US adults are obese. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention stated that 59% of dogs and 61% of cats are classified as obese or severely overweight. Keeping our dogs fit and healthy is one of our biggest responsibilities as dog parents.

10 expert tips to help our dogs stay fit and curb obesity in pets:

1) Feed your pup the best species-appropriate food you can afford

Deciding how to nourish our dogs is one of the most important decisions we’ll make in helping our dogs live the longest, healthiest life possible. This often means avoiding processed treats and eating healthy, human-grade food.

Quality nutrition can help prevent health issues, support fighting diseases, minimize chronic allergies, and fuel your dog with energy to make the most of every day.

“This fancy food is expensive!” You are correct. We get it. But the cost associated with higher quality food repays you in the form of fewer excess vet bills from treating problems with an unhealthy diet.

Healthy, high-quality food doesn’t have to mean breaking the budget. Even on a tight budget, adding fresh meat and veggies to your dogs' regular food is easy to make an impact. Home-cooking your dog’s food in batches is an option as well. Consider consulting a holistic veterinarian specializing in creating personalized recipes to ensure your homemade formulation is balanced.

2) Learn how to read pet food and treat labels

One of the best gifts you can give your best friend is learning how to decipher the labels on their food and treats.  Nutritional quality and quantity are key to your dog’s healthy lifestyle!

Did you know ingredients are listed according to weight, just like packaged human food? Commit to researching every ingredient listed on the label. If you don’t understand what something is, look it up! Your best friend is counting on you to make their food decisions!

3) Treat smarter: feed high-quality training treats

When you’re training, treats are the ideal way to reward good choices and reinforce wanted behavior.  Avoid cheap filler ingredients, like corn, sugar, meat meals, and any by-products.

An easy, cheap alternative? Feed your dog “people food” as their treat!

Any lean, human-grade protein, such as chicken, turkey, or steak, will be healthier than commercial dog treats and save you a trip to the pet store. Many dogs have a taste for healthy veggies, like carrots or broccoli. Experiment to see what your dog loves, and then use it to get their brain working!

Instead of drowning your pup in tons of not-so-yummy treats during a training session, choose a higher-quality treat and use it sparingly. The more they want it, the more they’ll work for it.

4) Ration your dog’s daily meals and treats to help nourish your relationship

Divide your dog’s daily allotment of food into bowls or baggies, and use their food as a reward in quick, five-minute training sessions throughout the day. Even if you feed raw or gently cooked food, you can offer a spoonful as training reinforcement. When you feed a healthy diet, your dog’s meals can be as delicious and high-value as “treats”.

Finally, don’t always trust the “recommended feeding” on a bag: your dog will be much happier working with various healthy, high-quality protein choices.

5) Make time for daily fun and fitness!

Every dog loves to exercise, whether exhilarating cardio or low-impact enrichment, so make sure you give yours an appropriate outlet for their health, personality, and stage of life.

Some of my favorites are a game of tug, fetch, flirt pole, or a carefree romp at the park, combined with impulse control practice and positive reinforcement training. Don’t forget that you can get some exercise in, too!

If your pup is up for a combo workout… a slow SNIFFari, a scenic hike adventure, a sunset stroll on the beach, or a jog through the park are a great way to bond while working on your health!

6) Don’t forget body conditioning in your dog’s fitness regime!

Just like people, our dogs feel better and are at a lower risk of injury when they regularly work to strengthen their core and condition their muscles. Take 20 minutes, a few days a week, to help your dog stretch and strengthen their body. One of my favorite resources for K9 Conditioning is Bobbie Lyons Pawsitive Performance.

7) Weigh your dog at least once a month

Teach your dog to get on and off the scale for monthly weigh-ins and have fun while doing it – make it a game! Paying attention to your dog’s body condition gives you a better chance at early intervention for certain diseases. If you notice a significant weight gain or sudden weight loss, schedule an appointment with your vet right away.

8) Take photos of your dog!

If you’re anything like us, you probably do this every week. Every day. Maybe every hour. I mean…who could resist that face?

Adorable puppy photo shoots are great for social media and tracking your dog's health and wellness. Creating a visual reference at least monthly can help keep you accountable for any changes you might not otherwise notice.  Take a pic from the front, side, and overhead angle every time you do a monthly weigh-in!

9) Invest in regular blood work for your dog

Aside from giving you an accurate assessment of your dog’s internal health, blood work can help your veterinarian understand the cause of rapid weight gain or loss.

10) Schedule regular vet checkups.

Vet checkups are a cornerstone of your dog’s physical health. You should see a trusted vet once yearly, but for senior dogs, twice a year.

Routine visits help you stay accountable, allowing your vet to check your dog’s body score and help you make a game plan for your dog’s weight.