Diet determines whether or not your pup packs on extra pounds. Learn what you must do to keep your dog as healthy and happy as possible. By: Sean Kelley
Secrets to Good Health
You love your dog. You exercise her, buy her toys, play with her, brush her, and give her treats. So keep that in mind as we dish this out: Chances are, the way you feed your dog is probably shortening her life.
"Sixty percent of pets who come in to vet practices are overweight," says Dr. Karen Halligan, chief veterinary officer with the Lucy Pet Foundation and author of the book What Every Pet Owner Should Know.
Obese pets live shorter lives—and vets say that in almost every case, pet owners are to blame for their pet's unhealthy weight.
"Keeping your pet at an ideal body weight—and looking at what food you feed them—will help them live 15 percent longer," says Dr. Marty Becker, an Idaho based veterinarian and the author of 22 books on pets.
Read on to find out how to feed your best friend and keep her healthy.
1. Practice Controlled Feeding
Most dogs do best under controlled feeding circumstances, Dr. Halligan says. "They'd rather be exercised or played with and loved than given food," she says.
Under a controlled feeding regimen, dogs are given an exact amount of food every day based on their weight and nutritional needs. If you don't know what your dog needs, ask your veterinarian or follow recommendations on your dog food label. "Don't leave food out. They're bored, and they'll just eat it."
There is also instinct involved, says Dr. Becker. "By instinct, dogs are scavengers. They never knew when [their] next food would come, so they gorge themselves when they have food. Domestic dogs have that thing of always wanting to eat. It's deep in their brain. Dogs will happily dig their grave with their own food bowl."
2. Skip the Table Scraps
Feeding a dog human food regularly may be one of the worst things you can do. First, not all human food is safe for pets. Some of it, in fact, can be deadly.
Dog food is nutritionally balanced for dogs. Human food? Not so much. Too much human food can result in nutritional deficiencies or in your pet receiving too much of certain nutrients. You should also avoid feeding pets a raw diet, where meats, bones, [and] fruits and vegetables are served raw, Dr. Halligan says. If you must share, make it an occasional treat and stick to these 10 foods.
3. Adjust Seasonally
If your dog is more active during a certain season—for example, they jog with you during the summer or they're stuck inside during winter, change the amount you're feeding them accordingly. Active dogs need more food. "If they're not as active in the wintertime, they may put on weight," Dr. Becker says.
4. Weigh Your Pooch
You should also keep track of your hound's weight. This is harder to do with older dogs that may require a visit to the vet to get an accurate weight. (Dr. Becker keeps a large postal scale at his house to weigh his bigger dogs.) But for smaller pets, using a household scale is pretty easy—and with smaller breeds keeping track of weight is important.
"You need to know if your dog goes from 16 to 18 pounds," says Dr. Becker. "That's a big gain. It's like a human going from 160 pounds to 180."
5. Don't Give Them Too Many Treats
Just as with humans, treats should be consumed only occasionally. "Treats have become a big market," Dr. Halligan says. "People overindulge their pets with treats."
Calories from treat shouldn't make up more than 10 percent of a dog's daily caloric intake. Becker says you can make treats healthy and low cal: whole baby carrots, frozen green beans, and blueberries, for example. "Also, treats should be an exception," Dr. Becker says. "A dog doesn't need a treat every time they do something. Make it unpredictable."
6. Create A Food Puzzle
Our dogs were once wild animals. Okay, maybe not Fido, but his ancestor was, and that ancestor spent most of his time looking, pursuing, and fighting for food. Now pets are given food in a bowl. That's not very exciting, Becker says.
He feeds his pets treats out of a food puzzle, a type of toy that dispenses treats or food while stimulating your dog's brain.
"Just like with adults, boredom can cause obesity issues," Becker says. A food puzzle "takes memory, skill, and manipulation. It not only feeds their bodies but also their minds."
7. Take Your Dog Out
Keeping your dog at the right weight isn't all about food. Every dog needs exercise and play time. Make sure to schedule some active time with your pooch—you'll probably burn some calories, too!