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In Australia, almost half of our dogs are currently overweight. While we might like to think they look cute if they're a little rounder than most, the truth is those extra kilos your dog is carrying around can be a real cause for concern. Most of us may not even realise that our pet is actually overweight, with a dog only needing to be 15% or more over their recommended body weight to be classified as overweight. With overweight dogs likely to live shorter lives and more prone to various health concerns, it’s important to know how to check if your pet may be a little heavier than they should be.
How to Tell If Your Dog is Overweight
While taking your dog straight to the local vet and getting them checked out is a quick and sure fire way to know if you dog is a few kilos heavier than they should be, there are also some things you can check at home to see if that trip to the vet might be a good idea.
Try and Feel Their Ribs
A dog that is sitting at a healthy weight will have quite prominent ribs. If you’re feeling your dog’s ribcage and finding that you have to press on their body to be able to feel them, or you simply cannot find them at all, that’s a good indictor your pet might be overweight. Not being able to see or feel their ribs means there is to much fat around that area which needs to be addressed. This method is also particularly helpful if you have a fluffy dog and you can’t normally see their ribs or body.
Look At The Shape of Their Body
All dog’s have a similar kind of body shape. For most breeds, you will see that they have a defined waist area towards the rear of their body. If your dog seems to be more round or oval shaped and you can’t really see a defined waist, it’s likely your pet is a better heavier than they should be.
Check For Fat Pads
If there are areas of fat building up on certain parts of your dog’s body, this may be an indication your pet is overweight. These fat pads can occur between their legs, which will also be noticeable when they walk with a bit of waddle. They can also build up on their hips, which you will be able to feel.
Check Your Dog’s Shape From the Side
If you look at your dog side-on and notice they have a bit of a sagging waist or stomach, that is typically a sign your dog is overweight. Their chest area should be wider than their abdomen, but if you’re having trouble distinguishing between the two that may be another indicator your dog is on the heavier end of the scale.
Watch Their Behaviour
Your dog’s behaviour may change as they gain weight. Where once they might have been quite active, happy to run around, go on walks or always eager to play with you, you may notice they start becoming less motivated to move and are more content laying around all day. Other simple things like no longer being able to get up on the lounge or jump into the car by themselves might also indicate they have a weight issue that needs addressing.
When they are walking they might have trouble moving for longer periods of time and become short of breath quickly. Extra weight can affect the respiratory system of your dog, so if you notice they are wheezing more or just generally struggling to breath, even when not exercising, head to your local vet for a check up. Along with this, if your dog has started snoring more often when they sleep, this may also be a sign their weight is affecting their respiratory system.
Their grooming behaviour can also change. Most dogs will often clean themselves, but if you notice your dog seems to be grooming less than usual, this may be because the extra weight and size is making it hard for them to reach the places they once could. If this is happening, you may also notice that their coat becomes less clean looking than usual.
A simple and classic way to tell if your dog is heavier than they should be is to simply weigh them, whether you take your dog to the local vet or do this at home. If you’re doing it at home, stand on your scale while holding your dog and then subtract your weight from the number the scales read to get your dog’s final weight. There are charts online that will be able to tell you the optimum weight of your dog depending on their breed. If you take them to your local vet (which may be necessary if you have a larger sized dog), they may be able to weigh them for free. If there are any concerns, your vet can also complete a full physical to see if your dog is suffering any other issues as a result of being overweight.
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What To Do If Your Dog Is Overweight
If you and your vet have come to the conclusion that your dog may be sitting on the heavier end of the scales, there a few changes you can make to help your pet start losing that weight and get back to a healthier and happier version of themselves.
Change Their Food Habits
The first and most likely thing your vet will recommend is a change to your dog’s diet and exercise habits, namely that they need to decrease their daily calorie intake and increase their daily exercise. With diet, often it can be the small things that we don’t think about that can add up and cause your dog to put on weight. This might be regularly giving them scraps off the dinner table or feeding them one too many treats.
In terms of their actual food, if you're leaving your dog’s bowl out with food in it constantly, they are likely overeating, or if you only feed them at a certain times, you may be given them larger portion sizes than they need. If you had a type of food you're currently feeding your dog, a good starting point is to check the packet for recommendations on serving sizes and try following this. One size doesn’t always fit all however and your dog’s diet may still need to be adjusted further. If your dog is more active, they may need more food than dog’s that tend to sit around a little more during the day. If adjusting portion sizes on it’s own doesn’t seem to be quite enough, consult your local vet. They will be able to put together a meal plan best suited to your dog and may recommend alternative food options that are full of all the vitamins and nutrients your pet needs and are more effective at helping your dog shift the extra weight.
Limit The Amount of Treats
As mentioned, too many treats can also be a problem for your dog’s weight. If you're giving your dog a treat every single time they do a trick or show good behaviour, it may be time to switch out some of those treats for simple verbal praise. You can also switch to treats with lower calories to help ensure the extra snacks they get during the day isn’t adding too much extra intake into their diet
Increase Their Daily Exercise
Just as with humans, a good diet goes hand in hand with a good exercise routine. If your dog is currently do little or no exercise, it can be very simple to start making a daily habit out of exercising. One of the most common ways to get your pet moving day is taking them on walks. Depending on their breed, energy levels and their starting weight, the amount of times a day you take them on a walk and for how long, may vary. If your dog gets along with other animals, while on your walk, a stop by the dog park can also be great at getting some extra exercise time in. Not only does allowing your dog to be around other dogs help improve their socialisation skills, all that running around and chasing each other is great for burning off more energy.
Another easy way to get some extra exercise in during the day is play time. Not only does playing with their favourite squeak toy or ball give them extra stimulation and stops them taking out their boredom on your yard or house, it’s also another easy way to get them moving. Playing fetch or tug-of-war for 15 minutes a few times a day will quickly help up their daily exercise.