We are lucky enough to live in a day and age where we can be concerned about our dogs’ physical fitness and overall health. Sadly, we also live in a day and age where pet obesity is more common than ever before. Fat dogs are labeled as cute and pudgy, instead of sickly and unhealthy. At the same time, physically fit dogs are being called starved. This is something that really needs to change. Owners need to step up and take responsibility for their pets’ wellbeing. Everything you choose to either do or not do with your dog will affect their physical health in some form or another. In this article I really want to cover the importance of both food and exercise for your dog.
What you feed your dog has a huge impact of their health and longevity. Different budgets will dictate what works for you and your family, but there are a few key points to keep in mind when selecting a food for your dog.
One of the first things you want to look at when selecting a food for your dog is the main ingredient. The main ingredient will be the first product listed on the label under ingredients. You want this to be a meat. For most dogs, you actually want the entire food to be grain-free. Within the world of grain-free foods there are tons of different options with all different types of ingredients. If your dog does not have a medical condition that requires a wet food, you will want to stick to dry kibble. Raw feeding is another great option, but I won’t be going into any great detail on that in this article simply because raw feeding is a very complicated endeavor and takes more time than many people have to dedicate to the preparation of their dogs’ food.
There are a few things you want to try and avoid in your dog’s kibble. If you see these in the ingredient list you will likely want to consider a different food.
#1 Random meat ingredients…(By-Product Meal, Meat Meal, etc.)
#2 Artificial coloring agents…(Red #9)
#3 High carbohydrate content
#4 Controversial preservatives
#5 Random fats (animal fat)
Some of the best foods available include Acana, Fromm, Taste of the Wild, Victor, and Wellness. Some foods that are a little more budget-friendly but still great foods include Kirkland Signature, Sportmix Wholesome, and 4Health. Your dog’s exercise schedule and your budget will determine what is best for you and your dog. If you are very active with your dog and really spend time working on your dog’s physical fitness you will want the highest protein level you can afford. If you don’t really commit to your dog’s fitness then it is not as important to have a high protein level.
Foods I do not recommend for any dog include Ol’ Roy, Pedigree, Dog Chow, Puppy Chow, Purina One, Kibbles N Bits, and Science Diet. There are also treats that I do not recommend for any dog including Milk Bones, Ol’ Roy, and Snausages. For a good, wholesome, and nutritionally solid treat I really like to use RedBarn Food Rolls and cut them up into small bite size pieces. Other good treats include Happy Howie’s Meat Rolls cut up into small bits and Blue Buffalo Training Treats.
After you have determined a good food for your dog, you need to make sure you are not feeding too much. Free-feeding (where you just leave food out for your dog to determine how much to eat) is NEVER recommended. You need to know how much your dog is eating so you can adjust how much you feed according to their body condition. Sadly, most veterinarians are not being as brutally honest with pet owners as they need to be. In order to avoid hurting people’s feelings, and losing clients many veterinarians will tell clients with clearly overweight pets that they are just fine. If a dog is disgustingly obese, they often just say they need to lose a couple pounds. This is not fair to the pets or to the owners.
I am not sure if there is really just an extreme lack of knowledge on the part of pet owners when it comes to what a healthy dog looks like, or if everyone if just in a state of denial. It is now more common for me to see a dog overweight than it is to see a healthy one. On a short-haired dog you should be able to see the last rib. If you cannot, then your dog could lose a few pounds. If you have a fluffy dog you are going to have to use your hands and run them through your dogs’s hair and palpate where their ribcage is. You want to be able to easily feel their last 2-3 ribs.
If your dog is overweight you are going to have to feed them less. Trust me, it’s going to be okay. You are not being cruel by helping your dog be healthy. Again, IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY. You can make it through this. I get more backlash from owners when I talk to them about reducing their dog’s food than I do anything else. “Won’t he be hungry?” “But what if he wants more?” “He’s going to think I’m punishing him!”… Your dog will be just fine. Actually they will be better off in the long run, not having to carry all that extra weight on their joints.
In addition to selecting the right food and feeding an appropriate amount, almost all dogs in this country need to be getting more exercise. Some dogs are lucky if they even get a 20 minute walk each day. Walking is a great physical and mental exercise for your dog. If your pet dog is consistently getting to get out of the house and go on long walks then there is nothing wrong with that being their main source of exercise. However, if we really want to achieve a physically fit dog, then we need to be doing more than that. Some serious cardio, either running next to a bicycle or on a treadmill is extremely helpful in getting your dog into tip top shape. Combine that with some core stabilizing exercises and maybe some jumping and flirt pole and you are on your way to an in-shape pooch!
As with any new exercise regimen you will want to take it slow. Go as far and as long as your dog is comfortable, and then stop. Don’t feel like you need to push your dog to their breaking point. You want this to be enjoyable for both you and your dog. You will also likely be using quite a few treats when you first start teaching your dog different exercises so make sure to take that into account with how much food they are being fed.
We offer some helpful courses on canine fitness in private lessons that can really help get your pup into shape. There are also many great video tutorials available on youtube for free for those DIYers out there!