By Jackie Roberts

Pet obesity is a problem that many owners have to deal with over the course of their dogs’ lives. Whether it's one too many treats between meals, extra food from the dinner table, or a breed that’s predisposed to weight gain, unhealthy eating habits can lead to a slew of health issues.

Much like people, overweight pets risk developing illnesses such as high blood pressure, kidney diseases, type two diabetes, breathing problems, and more. The extra weight on pets that develop arthritis can increase their pain and discomfort as they move around. While there are pet meds that can help reduce weight gain, many dog owners prefer to make changes to diet and exercise first.

EXERCISE

Walking: An often-overlooked exercise, regularly scheduled walks can strengthen the heart, lower blood pressure, increase energy and bone density, which can all help fend of arthritis. Also known to help with common behavioral problems, walking can be a simple solution for complicated issues.

Swimming: Easier on the joints, swimming provides a workout for dogs and people with arthritis. Swimming provides a low-impact workout that increases endurance while strengthening the heart, the lungs and working various muscle groups. Not all breeds enjoy swimming, so you may have to start slow. If your dog resist after coaxing with toys, treats, and encouragements, find a different sport.

Dancing: If walking is a bit too slow paced for you, you can always add some music and dance the day away with you pooch. Teaching your dog tricks and turns not only means more quality time, but an aerobic workout for you both that burns calories, increases stamina and improves muscle tone.

Jogging/Running: Not every breed can handle fast paced long distance running, so some research is necessary. You should also wait until your dog is out of its puppy stage before you build up to longer distances and times. Be mindful of weather conditions like heat or humidity, and provide a five-minute warm up and cool down with every session. Consult your vet for all the ins and outs of jogging with your dog.  

DIET

The saying "you are what you eat" is as true for your pet as it is for you. With that in mind, modifying your dogs diet could make the difference between a full healthy life, and a shortened one. Be sure to consult your vet before making any major changes to your dogs diet.

Treats & Proportions: What your dog eats, from portion sizes to frequency, begins and ends with you. It’s normal to want to spoil your dog with extra treats and it may be hard to deny his puppy-dog faces when he begs from the table. But a lack of discipline on your part can cost your dog his good health.

While nixing treats altogether may not be realistic, you have the choice of what kinds of treats you buy for you pet. Healthy alternatives like vegetables or rice cakes will help keep the weight in check. Portion control during regular meals is also an effective way to help with weight loss. Vets recommend cutting the daily food intake by 15% to 20% for a six to eight week period, and then analyzing the results.

Diet Dog Food: Making the switch can be tricky. Pets can be every bit as picky as people, and a bit of trial and error may be needed to see what your dog will and won’t eat. Switching foods too drastically can upset the routine your dog relies on and do more harm than good. Start the process slowly, mixing more and more diet food in along with the regular, and monitor the results.

Going Organic: For the sake of good health, many pet owners turn to organic dog foods or even make their own. Again, a consultation with your vet will help you choose the best brand for your breed, but a good rule of thumb to follow is the fewer the ingredients, the healthier the food will be.

Ingredients: In order to choose the best food for your dog, look for a few key features. Ingredients—both for pet and human food—are listed in order of amount. This means the first ingredient on the list makes up the majority of the food, followed by the second ingredient, and so on. The main ingredient should be meat, but not any kind of meat by-product. Avoid foods that list corn or another grain as the main ingredient.

In the end, you are the guardian of your dog’s good health. A little research and restraint can go a long way towards giving you and your four-legged friend many good years together.

Jackie Roberts is a writer for 1-800-PetMeds, and loves to help and support the pet community. You can find Pet Meds on Twitter or connect with Pet Meds on Youtube.