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Don't Feed Him Holiday Leftovers: Diets For Dogs, Tips For Softhearted Owners

Do you give Fido a treat every time he's been a good boy? Watch out: canines put on weight fast. But rationing what they eat isn’t enough: here’s how to keep a dog’s weight in check or knock off excess pounds.

Don't give in to temptation (GabrielaP93)
Don't give in to temptation (GabrielaP93)
Maria Huber

BERLIN -- You just can't resist giving him a little extra dinner – he's been such a good boy, and he's just such a cutie...!

Those pet owners who have no will power whatsoever when it comes to their dog can set off a vicious circle. When a dog puts on weight, it moves less – which only makes the situation worse. But there are strategies to get things back on track.

"Coffee can eat whatever she wants, but Kandis just has to look at food and she gets fat," says Anna Matyssek. For 14 years, she has been training dogs for TV work and making sure they stay in shape.

"I only feed dogs once a day. Since I'm teaching them tricks, I want them to feel hungry for the little treats they get when they do something right," she says. She regularly palps the dogs' ribs – the best way to tell if they are getting fat. "You should be able to feel the ribs right away, without having to go searching around."

Jürgen Zentek, Professor at the Institute for Animal Nutrition at Berlin's Free University, also recommends this. "You should be able to feel the spine and ribs, but not see them," he says. A clearly-defined waistline should also be visible when one looks down at the dog.

If you suspect your dog is too fat, some behavioral rules will help to resist when you find yourself at the receiving end of one of those heartrending looks that make you want to reach for just a little extra. "The main thing to remember is: no radical diets. A dog has to be fed regularly," says Emily Darab.

The vet practice where she works offers a feeding advice service. "‘Light" dog food can be a solution, but one can also just reduce the amount of daily food the dog gets," she says.

Calorie bombs

But mostly it's not the dog food that's making the animal fat – it's the extra treats. "They are calorie bombs, and should be counted in the dog's daily total intake," Darab says.

Jürgen Zentek, who leads studies on dog nutrition, observes that many owners, although they mean well, can't bring themselves to feed their dog less.

"Psychologically, it's not easy for the owner to do that," he says. So he recommends cheating a little by adding loads of vegetables to the reduced ration. "That way, the bowl is full."

"Biologically Adequate Raw Food" (BARF) is currently all the fashion in dog food, and according to Zentek offers one possibility among many others to keep a dog healthy and trim.

But under no circumstances should it be perceived as a panacea, says Zentek. What it means is that the dog is being fed the way a wolf would feed: on raw meat, bones and vegetables.

"What's good about it is that it's easily digestible and it leaves the dog feeling full. And because it's high in protein, the animal produces more heat and burns up fat," he says.

Dogs are especially susceptible to putting on weight right after they've been neutered – so this is a time to keep a particularly sharp eye on exactly how much they are fed, according to Ulrike Falbesaner, who heads the German Federal Chamber of Veterinarians‘ (BTK) committee that deals with matters relating to dog ownership.

But castration and bad diet are just two possible reasons for why a dog puts on weight. As with people, various problems such as diabetes or an underactive thyroid can also be the cause.

The potential gravity of such problems should not be underestimated, says Zendek. "More serious conditions can move in very quickly, like heart or circulation problems, or a fatty liver."

However, he advises against trying to get too much weight off too fast. "The result is the same yoyo effect you see in people, and the animal is likely to put the weight on again just as quickly."

Particularly if illnesses resulting from overweight have already set in, a visit to the vet is a must. For extreme cases, weight-loss medication is available.

Studies conducted by Professor Zentek have revealed that the most important key to success in getting pounds off dogs is activity.

If the dog is already too fat, one should slowly build up longer walks and more energetic games. Getting the dog to run alongside your bicycle is a no-no. "Under no circumstances should one overdo it," says dog nutrition expert Darab. "The very best thing is swimming, it increases fitness and is easy on the joints."

Read the original article in German

Photo - GabrielaP93

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