... or is your dog overweight?
We love sharing our passion for dogs, but we do believe it’s important to balance all the cute photos and fun adventures with important pieces of canine education too. Today we want to talk about the “Quarantine 19” and how it relates to your dog’s health.
You may have heard of the “Freshman 15” where in the first year of college students gain weight as a result of the stressors that come along with this life change (i.e. moving out, partying, cramming for tests, etc.). A similar trend has appeared, called the “Quarantine 19”, wherein during the COVID 19 pandemic as quarantine has disrupted routines, increased stress, and the uncertainty of when life will return to normal reinforces unhealthy habits resulting in unhealthy weight gain (Pandemic Weight Gain — It’s a Thing, n.d.). The Canadian Kennel Club states that 56% of dogs in North America are overweight or obese and this leads to health risks that negatively impact their quality of life (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention & Ward, 2018). Overweight and obese dogs are at risk for developing weight related health issues such as: Diabetes, skin conditions, heart problems, joint issues, kidney disease, canine arthritis, certain cancers, liver problems, mobility issues, breathing strain, and high blood pressure (Paretts, 2019).
It’s not all doom and gloom because after reading this you’ll better understand how to gauge your dog’s health and change it!
How do I know if my dog is overweight or obese?
Look at Their Shape
There are a variety of dog breeds and mixes that come in all shapes and sizes, however some visual markers all dogs have in common. The graphic below shows the top-down and side profile views of a dog and highlights the waist (or hip-dip) and chest (FITDOG NATION, 2019).
Rib Test/ Knuckle Test
A rib test is a great first step to quickly find out if your dog is at an ideal weight or not. You should always be able to feel your dog’s ribs just by gentle running your hands across the sides of their chest. If you can’t feel the ribs without pressing, then your dog is likely overweight. If you struggle to find them at all, your dog is likely obese.
The knuckle test is similar however it gives you a better idea of the dog’s ideal weight. The graphic below outlines how the knuckle test is done (Big Dog Pet Foods, n.d.).
The next image gives you an idea of three different breeds and body types that are all in healthy weight classes.
Jib is a Labrador and has a wider frame with relatively stocky legs, however despite this, his underbelly tuck, waist, and muscle toned shoulders are still clearly visible.
Tony is a doodle with the classic dense coat which can make seeing her lines more challenging. With her current coat the knuckle test highlights her lean body underneath and once groomed the visual checks will become more noticeable.
Maverick is an example of the more athletic and conditioned body structure as she has Border Collie and Whippet genes. Her ribs and muscles are more visible than Jib's, but given the breed standards in her mixed genes and the large amount of exercise she gets, these visuals would not put her underweight.
When you take your dog in for their annual check up the vet may hint to your dog’s weight by using words like “fluffy”, “chunky”, or “winter weight”. This is their polite way of telling you that your dog might be overweight or obese. Why don't they just tell you that? Vets are a business and offending you might cost them your business! Make sure to ask your vet their honest opinion about your dog's weight but be cautious of vet diet food suggestions and first consider the following ways to help your dog loose weight.
Okay so my dog is overweight, so how do I get my dog fit?
Feed For Ideal Weight (or 10% Rule)
The most common mistake dog owners make is feeding their dog at their current weight despite the dog being overweight or even obese. As humans, we maintain our body weight by managing the amount of calories in vs out and adjust this based on activity level as well as life stage. So why would you choose to feed your dog more than what their ideal body weight and activity requires? Take it upon yourself to evaluate your dog’s health and review the recommended feeding portions as outlined by the dog’s food. Many will be surprised as to the actual amount of calories they are feeding their dogs.
If your dog is obese and the amount of food that their ideal body weight requires is drastically different from their current portions, simply use the 10% rule. The 10% rule refers to decreasing the daily amount of food your dog receives by 10% for a period of 2-4 weeks. This incremental drop in food won’t shock your dog’s metabolism and will allow for a smooth transition into weight loss. Once you’ve arrived at the ideal weight feeding portion you want to evaluate feedings based on activity level. For example, if you plan to go on an extra long hike (i.e. burn a lot of calories) make sure you prep your dog by adding some extra food to their meal before the outing.
When talking about the quantity of food you're giving your dog it's also important to think about the quality. What is your dog's food made of? Does it have natural proteins or by-product proteins? A lot of kibbles are filled with fillers, fats, oil, and by-product that can lead to weight gain among other health issues. Alternatively, have you consider a raw food diet? Dogs can process raw food much quicker and it can be an alternative to limiting kibble; rather you can feed similar portions raw with less calories than kibble, so you dog loses the weight while enjoying their meals. If you want more information please check out our previous blog post - Dog Food Uncovered. There's also a documentary called Pet Fooled on Amazon Prime or Netflix that discusses the dog food industry, kibble ingredients, and more. We guarantee both these will leave you thinking more about what is in your dog's bowl!
Free-Feeding is when a bowl of kibble is left out all day and refilled as needed. This may be a trick for lazy-humans or simply because your dog doesn't like to eat their meal all at one. We can assure you it’s not the best option for your dog. The best way to regulate your dog’s meals is to feed them properly portioned meals twice a day (Heimbuch, 2019). This allows you to keep track of the amount of food your dog actually eats and help regulate their metabolism. If your dog is used to free-feeding or like to 'take their time to eat' they may protest the first few meals. Leave their meal out for 15 minutes or so, and once the dog is done and is no longer interested in their food then take the food away until their next meal time. Rest assured they will not starve themselves and as they learn your routine of meal times they will enjoy meals more.
No Treat Training
From a training perspective treats are not an appropriate means of training your dog as the dog learns to listen to the treat and not you, the owner. This makes training unreliable in a variety of settings, prevents you from truly bonding with your dog, and provides your dog with added unnecessary calories. Additionally, treats are like candy to dogs so if they get too many they will prefer the ‘candy’ over their food; similarly to children. Instead of treats, focus on praise and affection so you are the reward for your dog.
When you are the reward there are no added calories and you will have the added bonus of building a bond between you and the dog! If you want to give your dog a treat, consider healthy treat options such as ones that are natural and made of single/ limited ingredients (i.e. dehydrated meats or sweet potato). But, if you give your dog a treat every couple hours by the end of the day they could have had an extra meal worth of treats alone. While your dog loves treats, they also love time spent with you, affection, games and exercise as well. You don’t have to give your dog treats to show them you love them!
No Human Food
Feeding your dog human food is not only bad for training as it encourages begging for table scraps, but also human food is loaded with additives and preservatives as well as high in sugars and sodium that can support weight gain (Heimbuch, 2019). Replace the urge to share food with your dog or sneak them table scraps with praise as you are the reward!
Exercise is not the largest factor in weight loss, but it is an important factor. You may take your dog on relief walks, however try adding in urban agility (i.e. climbing park benches or balancing on rocks) or change of pace (i.e. run on/off in the 30 minutes that you are out). In the end this is simple because everyone knows exercise is good for you (and your dog), but it isn’t an easy habit to form. We highly recommend slowly adding in more time everyday for walks with your dog. It is good to note that just like overweight humans avoid pushing themselves too far with exercising, the same goes for dogs (Heimbuch, 2019). Your goal should be to build healthy exercise routines into your life and you will notice as your dog builds muscle, they will also become lean.
As an added bonus research shows that there are many benefits to you as well as your dog; such as increased physical fitness, better mental health, improved sleep, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
What are the big takeaways?
3 Ways to Measure Your Dog's Weight and Health
Look at their shape
Rib Test/ Knuckle Test
5 Ways to Get/Keep Your Dog Lean and Healthy
Feed For Ideal Weight (or 10% Rule)
No Treat Training
No Human Food
In the end, having a happy dog means having a healthy dog! And even though right now you may feel more inclined to give your dog more treats or cuddles during these pandemic times, remember that your dog's health needs to take priority.