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National walking month: Canine obesity awareness

This May we’re aiming to raise better awareness of pet obesity, what can cause it and the effects it can have on our animals.
 
Earlier this month we launched a #SponsoredSlim after a five-year-old terrier called Fudge came into our care 10kg overweight (click here to see full story).
 
We know that dogs like Fudge are usually very much loved by the people feeding them, and that many people are simply unaware of the serious effects excess weight can have on a dog’s body. 
 
Humans naturally feel a need to nurture those they love, and in the case of our own young, a big part of this is ensuring that they are provided for and never go hungry.
 
You can therefore see why many of us can associate love with food. We all want to shower love and affection upon our animals, and even more so if those animals have had a tough start in life.
 
What we don’t always realise or keep to the forefront of our minds is that dogs bodies are built differently to ours, and that just a little excess weight can quickly start to create some serious health issues for them.
 

If you want to rediscover the popular dog walking routes in your area, please click here.

 
What causes canine obesity? 
 
A number of factors can cause canine obesity, but the most common are:
 
1. Over feeding
2. Under exercising
3. Age
 
Always ensure you are feeding your dog the correct amount of food based on their breed, activity level and size. Advice can be found on the packaging of food you buy, as portion sizes vary from brand to brand. 
 
Feeding table scraps and other fatty treats such as cheese or sausage may result in your dog gaining weight. Not exercising your dog enough can also lead to obesity.
 
Most dog breeds require at least two walks a day, but this is dependent on health, age and breed. Please check with your vet to confirm the optimum exercise time for your pet.
 
Like us, aging dogs become less active needing less daily energy too, so it's no surprise that if food intake is not decreased proportionately, they can easily pile on the pounds. 
 
How to prevent canine obesity 
 
1. Diets rich in protein and fibre but low in fat are typically recommended. Replacing traditional treats which can be high in fat, with carrot sticks or similar is a great healthy swap.
 
2. Divide your dog's total daily food amount into several meals. This will spread out their calorie intake, make it easier for them to burn it off and help them feel fuller for longer. Don’t leave the food down until the next meal.
 
If your dog walks away from his or her bowl, pick it up and don’t give them anything until their next meal time. 
 
3. Avoid feeding scraps from the table or any leftovers, and always check the daily recommended feeding guide on the food. If you feed your pet treats regularly, you should lower the amount fed to them at meal time.
 
4. Record your dog’s daily food and exercise levels and regularly check your pets weight and health at your vets.
 
How to check your dog’s shape and size
 
One of the best advice guide's avaliable is the Pet Food Manufacturers Association’s (PFMA) Dog Size-o-meter.
 
They provide the following advice on checking your dog's shape and size:
 
1. Stand behind your dog. Place both of your thumbs on either side of its backbone. Spread both hands across its rib cage. The ribs should be easy to feel under the coat without excessive fat covering– like pens in a soft pencil case.
 
2. Look at your dog from the side and from above - can you see the waist?
 
3. Feel your dog’s belly – run your hand underneath from the end of the chest along the belly – it should follow an upwards curve and not droop downwards. This is known as the abdominal tuck.
 
4. If your dog is too thin or too heavy, ask your local vet for advice. The vet will look for any underlying health problems as to why your pet may be too thin or too heavy. If there are no underlying health issues, a change of diet and lifestyle suitable for your individual dog may be suggested.
 
5. Many vet practices run free weight management consultations led by the veterinary nurse who can check whether your pet is overweight or not. Give your local practice a call to see what services they provide. An increasing number of pet shops are also offering free weight checks.
 
6. Once your pet is in ideal condition, continue to monitor its weight and body shape. If you think weight is creeping back on, take steps to ensure your pet is getting enough exercise, and you or anyone else in the family is not over feeding it.
 
7. It can be a challenge for your pet to stay in peak physical condition, particularly if there are lifestyle changes – humans often over indulge at Christmas or on holiday – the same will often apply to your pet. Be mindful of these lifestyle changes and try to keep your pet’s routine as consistent as possible.
 
The PFMA also do a food diary which may be useful to manage your dog’s diet and exercise.

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