Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Nutrition and Healthy Body Condition


Keeping your dog healthy:
We all know that most dogs love to eat!  However, feeding them high calorie foods and treats can literally kill them with kindness.  Dogs that spend their lives overweight or obese are at a much greater risk of organ failure, joint problems, digestive upsets, diabetes, and many more ailments.  Underweight dogs are not at their healthiest either, and may begin having issues with maintaining muscle mass or staying active. 

How do I know if my dog is a healthy weight?
The most useful tool in knowing whether your dog needs to lose (or gain) a few pounds is a chart that veterinarians use to assign a body score to dogs, cats, horses, and other companion animals.  You will assess the look and feel of the major areas of the body that store fat.  Below is a simplified version of the chart that vets use.

*Feed Your Best Friend Better
It is helpful to have an unbiased person help you to assess your dog.  We all see our pets through rose-coloured glasses, and it can be difficult to accept that your dog is overweight!  You vet, a vet tech, or even a groomer or trainer should be more than willing to help you decide where your pet sits on this chart overall.  Some variation from the ideal is OK, but the closer to ideal you can maintain your dog, the healthier she will be! 

How do I help my dog maintain a healthy weight?

  • Exercise:

Daily exercise is crucial in keeping your dog fit and healthy!  Much like in humans, 30 or more minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise is ideal.  Some dogs may need much more than this to maintain a healthy lifestyle!  You do not have to limit your exercise to leash walks.  Try swimming, agility, or even skijoring (skiing behind a harnessed dog)!  Playing with other dogs can be great exercise too, if you are able to visit dog parks and doggy daycares on occasion.

  • Diet:

A healthy diet is equally important to exercise.  Whatever your dog’s main source of food (kibble, homemade diet or raw food), make sure that he or she is getting the nutrients necessary without taking in excessive calories.  Treats such as fat balls (kibble rolled in cooled lard), peanut butter or cheese whiz may thrill your dog, but they can also contribute to weight problems and diseases like Pancreatitis (a painful condition caused by consuming too much fat).  Some great low calorie treats for dogs include:
·      Carrots
·      Broccoli
·      Apple slices
·      Sugar snap peas or green beans
·      Small pieces of lean meat (chicken breast, etc)
·      Antler chews provide nutrients without calories, and even help to clean your dog’s teeth!
Before trying out new foods for your dog, please talk to a vet or other pet professional to make sure that it is safe.  Also, only introduce one new food every few days to rule out allergic reactions or stomach upsets! 

What kind of dog food should I feed?
If you are shopping around for a new brand of dog food and choose to feed dry kibble, make sure that you choose one that is appropriate for your dog’s age, activity level, and size.  Good quality dog foods have meat or meat meal listed as the first (and preferably second) ingredients.  Meat by-products are not desirable.  Many dogs have allergies to various grains (wheat, corn, oats, barley, etc.), so make sure you watch out for itchiness, watery eyes, etc. when you switch foods.  Always switch food slowly by gradually decreasing the old food and increasing the new food over a period of at least 4-5 days; preferably over a week. 
Most veterinarians do not currently condone raw food, but many people do still feed this way!  If you choose to feed your dog raw food, make sure that you practice safe food handling and be aware of how parasites are spread through raw meat.  Talk to someone who knows how to safely feed raw foods before beginning this transition.
If you opt for homemade meals for your dog, take care to put in only nutritious, safe ingredients.  Lean meats, sweet potato, potato, rice, and certain fruits or vegetables are great options.  Again, please talk to your veterinarian or pet professional before attempting to feed a homemade diet to ensure your dog gets the nutrition he or she needs! 

Resources and further reading:
*Borrowed with permission from: Feed Your Best Friend Better by Rick Woodford, published by Andrews McMeel, $16.99

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