We are putting too much food in our pets’ mouths and too few miles on their feet. Working dogs, once born to herd, guard or retrieve, are now born retired. The end result? About half of American pets are overweight or obese. This pet-health epidemic increases the risk of diabetes, heart and joint problems, and cancer and skin problems.
Losing just 20 percent of excess weight results in 50 percent improvement in pet health. One long-term study showed pets at their ideal body weight living 15 percent longer, an average of two years.
To reverse health problems and tap into the furry fountain of youth, help your dog lose weight in 2011 with these tips.
Walk away the weight. Famed human-obesity expert Dr. Robert Kushner, working with Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Hill’s Nutrition, did a landmark study called “People and Pets Exercising Together,” which found that overweight people and their pets not only lost weight but also kept the weight off by dieting and exercising together.
Consider a change in diet. Talk to your veterinarian about a diet pet food that has lower calories and fat, and special ingredients to help burn fat and maintain lean muscle mass.
Split portions. Your dog may feel more satiated if you split his total daily allotment into three equal feedings. If your dog doesn’t eat right away, don’t worry. In the wild, it would be normal to skip a meal now and again. One cause of obesity is owners “doctoring up” food to be more tasty when dogs walk away from a meal.
Healthy snacking. Everybody, even veterinarians, enjoy giving pets treats. Try healthier choices such as whole baby carrots, apple slices, green beans and so on.
Play the slots. In Las Vegas, you don’t expect to win on every pull, hand or cast. It’s the anticipation that keeps you going. Instead of constantly handing treats to your dog, give intermittent treats to amp up the expectation of winning for your dog.
Use food puzzles. By using food puzzles such a stuffed Kong or the Busy Buddy toys from Premier, you allow the dog to work for his food and feel more satisfied, both physically and emotionally.
Dr. Marty Becker is the regular veterinarian for “Good Morning America” and a member of Core Team Oz for “The Dr. Oz Show.” His new book, “Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual: Hundreds of Secrets, Surprises, and Solutions for Raising a Happy, Healthy Dog” will be out in April.