Hourglass figures aren’t only for Beyonce and Scarlett Johansson, our pets should have them too. But how do you tell whether your dog has the right shape? There’s a simple way to check; Stand over your dog and look down to see whether their waist is thinner than their abdomen and hips. If it’s not, or it’s barely noticeable, then they’re overweight and their shape will be more oval than hourglass. Another test is that you should be able to feel the ribs, but if you can see them, your dog is probably too thin.
When “comfort” leads to discomfort
Many of us know what it’s like to gain a few unintended kilos over winter, and it’s also a familiar story for our dogs. The common denominator is us of course, as we’re the ones making choices on their behalf; Whether to skip the walk on a cold and bleak night, and whether to give them that extra treat or some “comfort” food. The irony is, that many of the choices we make at the time in the name of wintertime comfort, actually detract from their comfort, as they have a negative impact on their weight and fitness. It may be time to diet, but not to despair, as there are a number of things we can do to help get our dogs “beach body ready”.
Gently does it
Key to getting back on track is resuming regular exercise, but the rule for getting back into it is doing it gently, gently. Muscles lose tone quickly when they’re not exercised, and it’s possible that they can start to lose strength in only a few days. Weak muscles can lead to injury if rigorous exercise is resumed suddenly.
Going from a period of inactivity to “full throttle” is a recipe for disaster, as dogs will instinctively want to run around energetically after having been cooped up, and the same principles of warming up before exercise applies to them, just as it does to us. Warming up and resuming exercise gradually, helps to avoid cruciate ligament injury which is the most common orthopaedic injury experienced by dogs.
A ruptured cruciate ligament is painful, and it’s often an immobilising injury. It’s not a life-threatening problem but it must be addressed promptly, and surgical repair is usually necessary. The risks of it occurring are increased for dogs that are unfit, overweight, and who start strenuous exercise suddenly.
Warming up before exercise
Athletes always warm-up before training, and so should your pooch. Preparing their muscles for exercise reduces the risk of injury. Warm-ups increase heart rate which creates increased circulation to deliver more oxygen to the muscles. When muscles warm up, they lengthen and become more flexible in order to move and bend. This helps to prevent injury, and it’s important for dogs whether they’re going for a walk, fetching balls, or catching Frisbees.
The ideal warm-up is a slow walk for a few minutes. Even if the exercise itself is a walk, it should start slowly before increasing to a brisk stride. Gradually increase the intensity of any exercise, the same way we would when exercising ourselves. Remember that a cold muscle can be more easily injured and the recovery time - which would likely be several weeks - would contribute to further lack of fitness.
Cooling down after exercise
Cooling down after rigorous exercise is also important. As soon as muscles stop working they start to contract, however the heartrate will still be high immediately after exercising. Take a few minutes of slow-paced walking until you notice your dog’s panting start to slow down and also make sure there is plenty of fresh cool water available. Remember that the rules for warm-ups and cool-downs for our dogs, are much the same as they are for us.
How much exercise does my dog need?
The ideal amount of exercise dogs should have depends on a number of factors, such as age, size, breed, and overall health, but generally dogs should spend between 30 minutes to two hours doing something active every day, including 30 minutes of vigorous exercise. Hunting, working, or herding dogs such as Labradors, Collies, Kelpies, German Shepherds and beagles, require the most exercise.
Watch for fatigue
Tiredness can also cause injuries. Keep an eye out for waning interest, limping, and excessive panting. Take care to learn the signs of when your dog’s had enough, and stop. If you need advice on the level and type of exercise your dog need, check with your vet.
Sensible exercise is only half of the equation
Right, so your dog is ready to be the Usain Bolt of the canine world, but how about his diet? Once again, the rules for balanced diet and exercise that apply to us, are relevant for our canine gold-medallists too.
You’ve probably noticed the ongoing media attention to the fat epidemic facing Australians. We’re right up there in the western world’s “fat stakes”, and so too are our pets. The estimates vary, but it’s safe to say that at least half of Australia’s dogs are overweight, which is a pretty confronting statistic... and it’s mostly our fault. A poor diet and being overweight, will hinder the progress of even the most conscientious of exercise regimes.
It’s a balancing act – but not a difficult one
A balanced and nutritious diet is essential to keeping your dog healthy. The first rule is not to over-feed dogs, and to limit treats. If your dog is overweight it means that they’re eating too much and/or doing too little exercise. Feed your dog according to whether they need to lose or gain weight. If you’re not sure what is a healthy weight for your pet, your vet can calculate it.
It is important to feed your pet to their target weight, not to their current weight. Our nurses can help you with calculating amounts of food needed per day, and advise on what may be suitable treats for your pet.
Another important consideration for your dog’s general health and wellbeing - and one that is often overlooked - is that they should be able to go to the toilet at will. Just like us, it’s not good for them to have to hold on for a long time to what the body has invested considerable energy in preparing to expel.
This spring, make sure your dog has the best chance of being “beach body ready” by following some simple guidelines: Make healthy food choices, control portion sizes, limit snacks, and get moving!
If you need advice on anything to do with your dog’s wellbeing, such as healthy weight and diet, safe exercise practices, or guidance on how much exercise your dog needs, get in touch with any of the Vets4pets hospitals. They can help you work out a plan to get your dog that enviable hourglass figure, and improve their general health and wellbeing.