The Number 1 Way to Give Your Dog a Long, Healthy Life

give your dog a long, healthy life
Birdie: Admittedly, she looks a little rotund in this picture. She did stay at a mostly reasonable weight through her life though.

We all want our Best Friends to live a long and healthy life! A year into the pandemic, and I am grateful it has not had huge affects on my daily life and loved ones. My heart breaks for all who have suffered. One thing that’s evident in the last year; our physical health has suffered. The number ONE way to give your dog a long healthy life is not let them get overweight or obese!

The shuttering of gyms, loss of old routines, and working from home have made many Americans’ waistlines larger during the pandemic. According to the Mayo Clinic, 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese.

This hasn’t been lost on our pets. According to a 2018 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 60% of cats (56 million) and 56% of dogs (50 million) are overweight or obese. Sadly, pet obseity has been an ongoing issue in the U.S. and many developed countries. Currently, rates continue to climb with little done in the way of addressing this issue.

As a result, many caring pet parents are looking for ways to support healthy weight loss in their pets. Unfortunately, they don’t feel adequately guided by their veterinarians and big pet food. Dr. Ernie Ward, President of APOP, suggests that pet families are inundated with pet food options. Pet parents want sound nutritional advice from their vets. “Exercise more, eat less”, simply isn’t enough.

An Alarming Rise In “Hygge” Treats

We love spoiling our pets. Often, that means treating and indulging them all day! I’ll admit, I am fully guilty of caving to Wally’s insistence to go outside, only to come right back in for a treat! When I’m at home all day, this happens multiple times per day!

“Hygge”, (pronounced hoo-ga) a Danish term, refers to the quality of being cozy, comfortable, and enjoying the simple things in life. In short, we may indulge our pets a little more than usual when we’re inside with them all day.

They’re cute and irresistable. Sure, we’ll share a little bit of cheese or a burger bite with our Best Friends. All those extra calories pack a mean whallop for our dogs. Adding a bit of cheese here, maybe a hot-dog, or taste of steak there, on top of daily meals, is like you or I gorging a box of cookies each day! They add up quickly! Even the most polite dog has NO LIMITS when it comes to tasty human foods.

Consider substituting healthy foods for her biscuits if your dog is a total treat hound. A nice piece of baby carrot or a green bean is STILL a reward. Also, you could reward with tiny training treats. Dogs are easy to please and won’t miss out. A little reward, given with sweet words, goes a long way!

Obesity Leads to A Whole Host of Other Issues

A chubby dog or cat may be cute to us, but there are numerous pitfalls to letting our pets get overweight. As a consequence, carrying around an overweight or obese frame shortens our pet’s lives and lead to other ailments. Following are issues that pop up as a result of obesity in dogs:

  • Arthritis
  • Bladder and urinary tract diseases
  • Spinal disc problems
  • Trauma to soft tissues
  • Diabetes
  • Torn knee ligaments
  • Skin infections
  • Immune disorders like allergies
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Heart Failure

Sadly, these issues can wreak havoc on your pet and destroy their quality of life and longevity in the process. Not to mention, these issues often cost a great deal to treat.

Body Condition Score (BCS)

Think of this as a Body Mass Index for Pets. Body condition score is a rubric used to determine an ideal body weight for our pets. When evaluating your pet, be sure to look at them from the top and the side. A “5” is considered good.

How to Give Your Dog a Long, Healthy Life

How to Help Your Obese Pet to An Ideal Weight and Keep Them There

First and foremost, don’t feed a starch-heavy, highly processed diet! Most “diet” dog foods are heavily fortified with additional starches and carbs. Also, check the ingredient panel for powdered cellulose, which is a wood pulp filler to keep your dog feeling full! Sadly, this is common in many veterinarian weight loss diets.

Unfortunately, ALL processed kibble pet foods are carb heavy. Carbs are needed as a binder in the extrusion process. In addition, grain free foods are also carb heavy. The exception is that powdered pea protein, potatoes, chickpeas or other carb binders are used instead of corn and wheat meals. A common misconception is that grain free=low carb, which is simply not the case.

The problem with carbs in your pet’s food is that these starches break down into sugars. As a result, carbs that your pet doesn’t burn as energy are stored as fat. Therefore, the more carbs your dog eats in her daily diet, the harder it will be for her to shed weight.

As an aside, carb content is NOT required on your dog food label! Go check out the label and see if you can even find the carbs in your dog food! You won’t find them! Most dry pet foods are absolutely loaded, from 40-50% carbs.

DO Supplement with Fresh Foods

Dogs and cats thrive on fresh diets. To begin, try substituting some of the kibble with green beans, pureed fresh broccoli, or other dog-friendly greens. If you can, transition your dog to a diet free of potatoes, corn, rice, soy and tapioca. Ideally, you want your dog’s carb content to be less than 20% of her diet.

A fresh, nutritionally balanced, homemade diet is not as hard to come by as one would think! Also, you’re free to go the fresh, commercially prepared route. These optimal diets contain lean meats, healthy fats, crunchy vegetables, and low glycemic fruits as the only sources of carbs. An appropriate diet is an important part of your dog’s long and healthy life!

Don’t Let Your Dog “Graze”

Grazing, or “free feeding” is when your dog is constantly greeted by a full bowl. Grazing is an all-you-can-eat doggy buffet! Often, kibble-fed dogs’ bowls are filled and kept full all day. This encourages grazing. Plus, leaving your dog’s dish full all day goes against her canine instincts as a hunter. When food is always there, she grazes like a field animal, not the hunter she instinctually is.

When pets are free-fed, their blood sugar is always elevated. This leads to possible insulin resistance, over-consumption of calories, and obesity. Free feeding is bad all around. Plus, it’s not a bad thing to feel hungry once in awhile. Both for us AND our pets.

Wild animals are always moving. They exercise, fast between feasts, and seek out their next meals. We take Wally and Oliver for a long walk before dinner so that their hunting instinct can be satisfied when they arrive home to the reward of mealtime.

To stop free feeding, take the bowl away and dump the food after an allotted amount of time. Your dog will learn. If you want your dog to live a long and healthy life, DON’t free feed.

Encourage Some Fasting

Animals in the wild live by a feast or fast rule. One day, they feast. The next, they may fast before eating again. Fasting encourages cellular repair in the body. As a result, your body can repair and regenerate on a cellular level when it’s not digesting food. This keeps free radicals and potentially serious cellular problems at bay.

Aim for an 8-10 hour feeding window. In short, your pet gets all of her food and treats in that set time frame. During the fasting period, her body repairs itself while sleeping. To caution, don’t feed your pet too close to bedtime. This reparative process works wonders. However, if your pet is fed within 2 hours of bedtime, her body won’t have the needed time to do its job.

Some of the longest living dogs on the planet fast for 24 hours. They eat once per day, not twice. This way, the body is given optimal time to repair and restore itself. 24 hour fasting encourages fat metabolism. Consequently, waste products stored in fat are easily flushed out. This method has many benefits, but is not for everyone. This fasting method is also often recommended as part of the treatment in some dogs with cancer.

Give Your Pet Some Added Challenge at Mealtime; Bonus~Enrichment!

To make mealtime fun and encourage your dog’s hunting instincts, separate meals into several smaller portions. To begin, hide them around the house for her to hunt down. Part of our dogs’ meals are packed into Kongs and doled out before we leave for work. This way, they’re satisfied with something tasty AND distracted with a pawsitive reward when we leave.

By making your dog work for food, you’re encouraging physical activity. Physical activity is always a good thing related to weight loss!

Increase Exercise

If your dog behaves and can romp off leash, they’re in dog-exercise-heaven!

This one’s relatively simple, but not necessarily easy. If it were easy, we’d all do it. Your dog wants to interact with you, NOT hang out in the yard alone. Many owners make the mistake of leaving the dog in the fenced in yard to entertain themselves. In the past, my other dogs have seen the yard as their restroom. Who REALLY wants to hang out in the restroom alone for hours at a time!? Your dog was just alone all day! She wants to be with you!

Accordingly, a brisk walk encourages interaction with you and her environment. Also, a brisk walk has a host of benefits for you! Following are some no-brainer benefits of exercise for both of you:

  • Increased heart rate=stronger heart, better overall health
  • A walk clears your head
  • Better sleep
  • After a hard day, a walk is a re-set for your energy
  • Increased skeletal-muscular strength
  • Solid social interactionsv for your dog
  • A chance to pause and enjoy the moment

At first, if you’re not used to regular walks, they may seem like a chore. Just start! Soon, you’ll look forward to them. I find a walk after work is a great way for me to change my energy and set me up for success in conquering the evening’s tasks. Sometimes, I’m also tired, stressed, hungry, and likely to binge eat when I get home. Accordingly, a walk is a healthy substitution. Adequate exercise is an important part of a long and healthy life! Your dog, and your body will thank you!

You can do many things to give your dog a long healthy life, and keep them at a healthy weight. What will you start with today?

2 thoughts on “The Number 1 Way to Give Your Dog a Long, Healthy Life”

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