As a dog lover, you’re keenly attuned to dogs everywhere. If you’ve ever traveled outside the USA, you have probably noticed that dogs all over the world are skinnier than American dogs.
But are these dogs really skinny, or have we Americans just accepted obesity as the new normal?
(Of course, I’m not talking about feral dogs, but family pets)
A generation ago, American dogs looked like their global counterparts: athletic and lean. Today, we’ve become so accustomed to seeing overweight dogs that we think they look normal. But they’re not.
It’s irritating for any conscientious dog owner whose dog is naturally lean, to be asked “Do you feed him enough?” but according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over half of the American dogs are considered overweight or obese… and more than 90 percent of owners do not recognize that their pets are overweight.
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Recently I was talking to a woman who had rescued a medium-sized mutt. Indy is a Heinz-57 mix of herding and who-knows-what from southern New Mexico. On his adoption day, at around age 2, Indy weighed 45 pounds: definitely skinny. His ribs showed, his hip bones were painfully prominent, and he had the emaciated look of a worm-infested street dog.
But his adoptive mom didn’t just start feeding him “extra” to put weight on him. She took her time, bringing him up to his ideal body composition with a diet of high-quality food (fresh meat, bone marrow, fish, and eggs as the mainstays of his diet).
Most important was exercise. Every day they hiked or visited the off-leash dog park where Indy would run and play to his heart’s content. As a result, Indy gained weight, but not fat: he developed the athletic build of a dog who spends his days in motion.
A year later Indy weighed in at 60 pounds. No more prominent hip bones, no ribby look (though you could feel his ribs, you couldn’t see them), just solid muscle and the biggest happy doggy grin you can imagine. And yet, people still commented on how skinny Indy was. There was nothing his mom could say to people who were used to seeing chubby dogs and thought that a lean body meant underweight. They were well-meaning, but sadly misinformed.
So how do you determine (and achieve) a real healthy weight for your dog?
1: Change your perspective of what you consider to be “active” and “lean.” Look at pictures of your dog’s breed from 50 years ago (or similar breeds, if your breed is new); and then compare those pictures with the dogs you see in the neighborhood today. Notice how the accepted norms have changed in 50 years. Ask yourself why they’ve changed. Is it for the better? I would argue, definitely not. Pet obesity is rampant, and leads to significant health problems and shortened lifespans!
2: Look at body composition rather than weight. Have you heard of “skinny fat”? Inactivity leads to a decrease in lean muscle mass and an increase in fat mass. Even if a sedentary dog looks to be a healthy weight, his body mass composition will actually read “obese” as compared with a same-weight dog whose body mass composition is skewed toward lean muscle. Ask your vet what healthy body composition feels like, and how to achieve it in your dog.
3: Work with your dog’s body type. Just like people have different body types, so do dogs. You’re never going to make a wrestler look like a ballet dancer, or a marathoner look like a linebacker. Work with your dog’s body type, but recognize that just because a bulldog or Pug has a lot of mass, it doesn’t mean that mass has to be fat! I’ve heard people say things like, “Labradors are prone to putting on weight.” No, they’re not. They are not genetically predisposed to being fat. Fat dogs are only fat because of overfeeding and lack of exercise!
4: Don’t give in! Don’t let those adorable puppy dog eyes guilt you into giving your dog too much food or too many treats! Dogs are masterful moochers, but if you’re feeding them the right amount, they don’t mooch because they’re hungry. They mooch because it works!
5: Adjust the portions. If you feed your pet kibble, don’t necessarily go by the recommended amounts listed on the package. Kibble is carb-heavy, which may be okay for very active dogs but will quickly put weight on inactive dogs. Adjust as needed.
6: Work with your vet! Your vet will tell you when your dog is overweight so listen up and do what your vet recommends.
7: Move more. If you increase your dog’s daily exercise by just 15 minutes a day without adjusting food intake, you’ll see a remarkable difference in a short period of time! Give both of you the benefit of more daily exercise as a way to build lean muscle. One hour per day of free running is ideal; of course, the amount and type of exercise depend on your dog’s breed, age, health and so forth. Your vet will tell you how to increase your pet’s activity levels safely. ??
You love your pet… and obesity is a major reason for shortened lifespans. Read this study that showed that life-long maintenance of lean body mass is a key factor in achieving a longer lifespan in dogs.
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You can keep your best friends around longer, and give them a much better quality of life, by keeping them active and on the lean side. All it takes is a change in perspective and some very easy lifestyle adjustments!
What is your dog’s Healthy Dog Weight? Please share your stories and comments below.