Winter weight gain: it’s a problem for our pets as well as for us because when the weather is cold and days are short, we are less likely to get outside and exercise.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, about 55% of all adult dogs are overweight or obese. And, just as in humans, excess weight on pets can lead to heart and respiratory problems, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease. Overweight dogs also are more susceptible to arthritis and other orthopedic problems.
You can tell if your dog is overweight with a quick “rib check.” When you run your hands over your dog, you should be able to feel his ribs and actually see a “waistline.” If you can’t, it’s time to take action. Just as for humans, weight control requires eating less and exercising more. And, now that spring is officially here, it’s time to get outside and get moving, say the experts.
The best exercise is a brisk walk or run, but can also include an active game of fetch in the backyard or a romp with canine friends at the local dog park. Young and middle-aged dogs should be exercised 20 to 30 minutes each day (that can be divided into two sessions of 10 to 15 minutes each). For older dogs, check with your vet to determine what’s appropriate, then choose a slower pace and be sure to monitor your pet for signs of stress.
When heading out for exercise with your pet, be sure to follow these safety rules:
- Always use a leash – except when you are in a fenced dog park. Even if your pet is well-behaved, he could dart off in pursuit of a squirrel or other animal and become lost or hit by a car or truck.
- When you walk or run with your dog, always face oncoming traffic. This puts the dog, if he is heeling correctly, on your left – away from the traffic.
- If you are going out for a long walk or run or to the dog park, carry water and offer your dog some every 20 minutes.
- If you want to try running or jogging with your dog, choose soft surfaces because asphalt can be damaging on your pet’s paws and joints. Start slowly, increasing the distance as you and your dog become conditioned.
- On warm days, watch for signs of overheating, including heavy panting or salivating. Dogs don’t tolerate the heat as well as humans because they don’t cool by sweating. If you see signs of overheating, stop and cool your dog down.
Not into the active lifestyle yourself? Enroll your dog in daycamp or a playgroup. It’s a great way to keep him happy and active. Your local Best Friends center can help you find a program to encourage your pet to stay fit.