Garima with Boo

by Garima Singhal

Pet obesity is on the rise. It is an nevitable result of overfeeding and low levels of physical exercise. Increased usage of canned and easily available packaged food is also a contributing factor for obesity in dogs.

Pet obesity is increasingly taking a toll on the health of our pets. In USA, where pet insurance is common, insurers are citing claims of more than 60 million dollars and 1.3 million policy holders for obesity related diseases, which is about 23 percent of the total claims. Pet obesity epidemic continues unabated. An increasing number of dogs are acquiring painful, life threatening and debilitating diseases which compromise on their quality of life. Daily exercise is a necessity for maintaining optimal physical and mental well-being. It’ll keep your pet active and healthy, will boost mental stimulation and development in pups, and give them a sense of worthiness.
Obesity related diseases

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cystitis
  • Urinary tract disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hepatitis
  • Ligament injuries
  • Joint problems
  • Renal problems
  • Diabetes
  • Vertebral disk disease
  • Congestive heart failure
    Dogs are active by nature. Many domestic dogs were selectively bred to be even more active, with a focus on hunting, herding, or patrolling. Preventing them from their genetically programmed activity level can build frustration. This may exhibit itself in the form of hyperactivity, barking, digging, tail chasing, and home destruction. Boredom has also been associated with various behavioural issues in dogs.

How to tell if your pet is overweight?
One of the main problems about canine obesity is that it tends to get overlooked. Overweight dogs have become the ‘new normal’ and as a result, many people can’t tell the difference between a fat dog and a normal-sized dog. Weigh your pet and familiarise yourself with the normal weight for the breed of your pet. If you’re not sure, look at him from above. You should be able to see a tapered-in waist. If he’s oval-shaped, he’s probably too heavy. You should also be able to feel (but not see) his ribs and the bones near the base of the tail. If he’s obese, you’ll see noticeable amounts of excess fat on the abdomen, hips and neck. Have a look at the body condition chart provided by the  Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP): Your goal for your pet is to keep them in the region of body type 3. Insist at your veterinarian to consult on your pet’s body weight if you think they don’t fall on 3 in the chart. Vets fail to address the extra kilos for many reasons, mostly because it is a difficult conversation to have. But the health and well being of your pet is in your hands, so take charge.

All dogs fat or not, MUST get daily exercise!
Don’t think you can just leave your dog in the yard and trust him to exercise himself. Unless he has a friend in the yard with him, or lots of stimulation on the other side of the fence, he may chase his tail a few times, sniff around, and then just sit there. You’ll need to play coach to get him in shape.The benefits of physical activity and exercise are obvious, for both humans and pets. Maintaining health, a healthy weight and fast metabolism are just scratching the surface. But the less tangible rewards can be just as gratifying. You’ll find that some of your most memorable moments with your pet are when you’re tossing the ball at the park or hiking in the mountains. Staying active together, running, trekking, going for bike rides, playing hide and seek, football, basketball, the possibilities are endless, and all these activities help cement the human-canine bond.

What’s the best exercise for your pet?
The question is – what kind of exercise is advisable, from a behavioural and veterinarian standpoint? Understand your pet’s emotional, psychological, and physiological requirements from your vet. A herding dog will need exercise suited for his genetic requirement of herding sheep whereas a gundog like Beagle will need exercise that stimulates his mind and his nose, which was bred to flush out vermin and prey. Dobermans and German Shepherds are loyal, companion dogs who were bred to be guard dogs and exercises which take into account their heightened imagination and inquisition will suit them best. Even special needs dogs such as blind or lame can get exercise. Blind dogs can chase noisy toys; deaf ones can follow brightly lit ones that smell of jerky. It is all in your imagination and dedication to the physical and mental well being. Agility training is another way to keep your pet active. Many pet parents train their pets for fun and not for competitions. It has the benefits of both physical exercise and engaging the emotional and inquisitive sides of your pet’s personality. The training is an amalgamation of mental and physical exercising. He learns how to negotiate various tunnels, seesaws, and hurdles of an intricate obstacle course. It’s such a fun and engaging activity, and your encouragement will help him do better.

Veterinary requirements
Consistent daily exercise, including at least 30 minutes (and preferably 60 minutes) of aerobic activity will help your dog burn fat and increase muscle tone. If you’re unable to provide him with this much physical activity (some dogs require even more – herding, guarding, gun dogs), consider joining a pet sports club or doggy day-care, this will make you fitter as well. Another option is to hire a dog walker. Although exercising your own dog gets YOU moving, too. For most pet parents walking their dogs is nothing less than a stress-buster. It is the time you and your pet explore and enjoy the little nuances of your neighbourhood. If your dog is obese, he may not be able to endure extended periods of exercise initially. Swimming is an excellent low-impact, gentle form of exercise for dogs who need to start slow, as well as those with arthritis or mobility issues. Ask your veterinarian what exercises are safe for your dog.

Behavioural benefits of exercise
Tired dogs are well-behaved dogs. After a brisk walk or hearty jog, your pup’s next big move is usually a lengthy nap. Dogs who get plenty of exercise tend to spend free time curled up in bed as opposed to looking for things to do (or chew or dig up). Come up with brain games for your dog.  Remember, a dog who is exercised in the body and in the mind is a content dog.
(Garima Singhal is a behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent of her pooch Dobie).