Yes, believe it or not, 2016 is finally finished. With the turn of the calendar, often comes one or more “New Year’s resolutions” by well-intentioned people looking to change or improve their behavior. This year, why not resolve to keep your dog fit, trim, and healthy?
In this article, we will offer some suggestions for healthy pet resolutions and some tips on how to make them stick.
First, the bad news- We are killing our dogs and paying a lot of money to do so.
Yes, you read that headline right. Having a fat pet is costly:
1- To the dog’s lifespan: lean dogs will live on average almost two years longer, (15% longer), than their fat littermates. To put this in perspective, it is the equivalent of about 10-15 years increased lifespan of a human. The fit dog will also have a more active and higher quality of life.
2- To the owner’s wallet: owners of fat pets are spending a lot of money that they might otherwise not spend if their pet was fit and slim. In the U.S. alone, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, there are about 37 million overweight dogs (about 53% of all dogs in the US. We estimate that the owners of these overweight dogs are spending somewhere near $8 billion dollars each year, on extra food, medical care, and medicines, all because they have fat pets. Globally, the cost is even more staggering.
The statistics for cats are even worse. A whopping 58% of cats, or about 43 million are overweight or obese in the U.S.
A Human Problem
Pet obesity is actually a human problem, not a pet problem. Most dogs (and cats) that I know do not have opposable thumbs to open the fridge and serve themselves. Nor do they go shopping for their own food. It is the human who controls the quantity and quality of their food. We are the stewards of our pet’s health and heretofore, we are failing them.
Obesity is arguably the single biggest health threat to our pets, yet, it is entirely, and easily preventable in most cases. There are many health related problems that are a direct result from your pet being fat including:
- Shorter life
- Arthritis and other orthopedic problems
- High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
- Diabetes (Type-II in cats)
That is one scary list, and I don’t know a single pet owner who would feel good about themselves if they were to unwittingly facilitate the development of such conditions by letting their pet become overweight.
Make a Resolution Stick
Making a New Year’s resolution is a pretty common human behavior, especially after several drinks at the New Year’s Eve party ;-). It turns out that a majority of these resolutions end up being abandoned. A study done by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire showed that only 22% of people making resolutions are able to stick to them. The study also points out some tricks you can use to improve those odds, including:
- Set specific milestones, not generic ones.
- Breakdown the goal into smaller steps.
- Reward yourself when you accomplish one of these steps.
- Share your resolution with friends.
- Keep a diary of your progress.
The Most Important Resolution for the New Year (for your pet)
So what will your New Year’s Resolution, for your pet, be this year? We suggest that you resolve to help your pet lose “x” pounds (kgs) this year.
Sorry that we can’t be more specific because “x” will depend on your pet's overall size and condition. We recommend that you consult with your veterinarian to determine how much weight your pet needs to lose and use that as your target. If your pet is obese, you might not be able to safely lose all of the weight in one year so ask your vet for a safe target for the first year.
What if your pet is already fit and near their target weight? Even those with fit and trim pets can make resolutions to improve their pet’s health. Check out some of our ‘mini-resolutions’ below and pick one of these.
Once you have set your target weight loss, you now have a specific goal to strive for during the year. The next step is to set intermediate milestones so that you can confirm (and reward) progress throughout the year. Healthy weight loss is a slow and steady process. So why not set achievable monthly goals along the way? We recommend using monthly milestones to make sure that you are on track. When you (and your pet) achieve your monthly milestone, reward yourselves with a new toy or a piece of bacon!
A simple way to set monthly goals is to take the total weight loss for the year and divide it by 12 (for each month). For example, if your dog was supposed to lose 12 lbs., that would translate to one pound of weight loss each month. There are other, slightly more complicated ways to plan the monthly targets but this simple approach works well in most cases. For some perspective, in order to have your pet lose 1 lb. per month, you would need to feed 3,500 less calories each month than they burn.
5 Mini-resolutions To Help Your Pet Achieve and Maintain Their Healthy Weight
Having a specific weight loss plan for your pet is a great way to start the year. When it comes to managing your pet’s weight, we suggest using “mini-resolutions”, which are behavioral changes you can make to ensure that your pet achieves (and maintains) their optimal weight.
- Provide proper exercise for your dog. Dogs need exercise! They thrive on it. Putting your dog out in the back yard does not count either. They need 30 minutes or more each day of vigorous exercise depending on their age, breed, and medical history. They will feel and look better. So will you! And don’t let excuses get in the way. Winter weather? No problem. Use a dog treadmill, try alternative exercise like core and balance training using balance cushions and wobble boards, or simply bundle up and get outside.
- Determine your dog’s daily calorie requirement to achieve or maintain their ideal weight. Most people have no idea how many calories they should be feeding their dog, given their dog’s age, weight, and activity level. Our Slimdoggy iPhone app was created to supply this information. Note that the more active your dog is, the more you can feed them. If you exercise your dog more on the weekends, they can be fed differently than on the weekdays!
- Measure, measure and measure. It is crucial to accurately measure how much you feed to make sure you stay within your dogs daily target range. Use a measuring cup. If you are a ‘high-tech’ person, or are not at home for long periods of time, there are actually some pretty amazing technologies and devices being created to help with the measurement problem. PetNet.io (formerly PintoFeed.com) is one company that is building an intelligent pet feeder that will help people address the overfeeding issue.
- Account for treats. We all love giving our dog’s treats and table scraps and there is nothing wrong with this. You simply have to account for those calories and adjust your regular feedings accordingly. It helps to know the calorie content of the dog foods and treats you use—another benefit of using the SlimDoggy app.
- Learn to read dog food labels. Your pet’s overall health is greatly impacted by both “how much” and “what” you feed your dog. Spend some time examining your dog food labels and learn to spot healthy and unhealthy ingredients. Use your analysis to buy the best food possible given your budget. For more tips on how to read a food label, go to slimdoggy.com and search food.