In Part 2, I introduced a ladder concept to explain that there were steps in managing an older dog, and particularly one that is likely to have arthritis.
This is what our ladder looks like now, with two rungs, because today we are talking about managing weight.
Overweight pets are a first world problem. We love our dogs, we use treats for training, and we keep using treats to show our love. Many of us don’t measure (or ideally, weigh) our dog’s food at feeding time. Portion sizes start to creep up.
And then our dog starts to slow down, not playing or running around as much. They don’t need as many calories but we keep feeding them the same as we have always done. So with less calories burned, the dog’s body adds fat placing more stress on joints that are arthritic because they now have to move more weight than they used to (or should).
As with any change in lifestyle, a vet check is always recommended before starting a weight loss program. We don’t want to assume that weight is the only problem in an older dog. (Kidney and liver function, for example, should be checked).
I advise my clients to weigh their dog as a starting point and it’s also helpful to take measurements such as the waistline line (in line with the knees) and a measurement behind the elbows.
I often ask my clients to simply reduce the food they are feeding by up to 1/3 per meal (requiring them also to measure or weigh up what a ‘normal’ feed has been). A diet food is not always needed if they are already feeding a balanced diet.
Other tricks include scattering food around the garden or living room which requires the dog to forage for its food and, while doing that, they are getting some additional low impact exercise. Snuffle mats, which I sell in my practice, are another slow feeding option. Kongs are another.
Everyone in the household has to be on board with the weight loss program – sneaking treats just doesn’t help the dog reach its weight loss goal.
Regular weigh-ins and measurements will help you stay on track and be able to celebrate each weekly (or fortnightly) weight loss. And we celebrate with some play, a tummy rub, massage or a car ride – definitely not food!
I use massage and acupressure to help my clients through weight loss. Because if the dog is feeling less painful with endorphin release and muscles that are stretched and supple, they will move more. And with increased movement brings an increase in calories burned.
I also become the dog’s private weight loss coach, and a sounding board for the family so we can remain positive when we have setbacks.
It becomes a happy cycle of more weight loss, happier dog and happier family.
Many parents just don’t realise that their dog is overweight. Overweight dogs have become something of a normal occurrence in many communities. A good rule of thumb is to lay your hands on either side of your dog’s rib cage. Can you feel the ribs without pressing down? If not, your dog is probably carrying some extra weight.
Charts like this one are also useful. They are often on display in vet practices to help the veterinarian explain to clients about body scores and condition:
Got questions about this post? Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand