Most of us will have seen the disturbing images of animal cruelty on the Internet of animals being beaten starved and even boiled alive but what is less in the forefront of people’s minds when you say animal abuse are the dogs that are wilfully neglected which makes for a lot more animals being maltreated.
By wilfully neglected I mean over feeding, not being exercised or socialised. It actually opens up into two seperate categories 1. Over loving and 2. Just meeting the bare minimum requirements so for this post I will concentrate on the first catergory and do a seperate post on the second.
Loving your dog to death may be a dramatic title but for some it is the truth none the less. When we love our pet or are happy with something they’ve done how do we express it – Usually through treats! Many people fail to reduce the amount of the dogs meal to take into account their treat provision which leads to ‘pleasantly plump’ pets, which may in some cases add to their cuteness but can also lead to some pretty serious health risks, just like in humans.
It can cause –
RESPIRATORY- Obesity increases the risk of heat exhaustion making it harder for the animal to breathe and also worsens existing respiratory conditions so if you own a pug, boxer, or any breed with a squishy face that have predisposed respiratory problems due to their small nostrils weight gain will increase this risk
HEART DISEASE – Just as in humans obesity increases cardiac disease and high blood pressure making it harder for the animal to get around as it requires more blood to be pumped around the body.
SKELETAL DISEASE – Obesity causes existing arthritic conditions to become more painful and can speed up arthritic changes in your pets joints. The extra weight can be the cause of osteo arthritis due to the increased stress on the joints.
INJURIES – In larger dog breeds obesity makes a cruciate ligament tear more likely due to the joint structure already being compromised by their weight and in smaller breeds they are more likely to get slipped or ruptured discs in their spine due to all the weight they are carrying on their back.
DISEASES- Obesity increases the risk of insulin resistance in both cats and dogs leading to diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism. The first symptom of these is weight gain so be sure to get your pet checked for both before starting a weight loss programme.
The ways you can check if your pet is overweight can be done at home by checking their body condition. Is their waist well proportioned, does the abdomen have a tuck up, can you easily feel their ribs? If you answered no to any of these, your pet is overweight and you should consult your vet to start a weight loss programme tailored to your pet.
You can make adjustments at home too by watching what you give them to eat and ensuring that you adjust their meals accordingly to how many treats they’ve had. Incorporating low fat treats into their training schedule as well is helpful so a 1/4 cup of carrots has 17 calories, 1/4 cup of apples is 12 calories and a 1/4 cup of green beans is only 9 calories, so you can easily alternate between low calorie and highly prized dog training treats like dried liver etc.
Exercising overweight pets can be a drag as they plod along behind you instead of keeping pace so don’t get their heart rate raised which in turn helps with weight loss and it’s not long before their breathing gets laboured so it’s advisable to shorten the duration of the walks whilst increasing the frequency so instead of 2 one hour walks a day split it up into 4 half hour walks. Also play fetch whilst out to get them running.
If you have rescued a pet and they need to gain weight this should be done gradually, not all at once which is the majorities natural reaction is to feed up something skinny be it animal, cat or child, but over feeding anyone under weight can lead to issues as well the main one I know of, being that they will either vomit or toilet the excess food out of themselves as they are not used to such high nutritional content and their smaller stomachs can’t handle all the food at once, in these cases it is advised to feed small amounts often starting with bland food and working up the nutritional values slowly, but this should be discussed with a veterinary professional.
Now this blog post is about loving your dog to death and i have covered the feeding aspect but there is also the spoiling aspect where over loving your pet has resulted in them being spoiled. Now you may not think this is a bad thing and I hear it a lot from dog owners especially if they have rescued a dog as it’s had a bad/unknown history so they try to make up for it now, I myself have said, many times that mine are spoiled but deserve it, but dogs, like kids need boundaries in place to live a happy balanced life. So what comprises spoilt behaviour?
Generally a spoilt dog does not respond to your commands and rather chooses do to as he/she likes, they behave badly around guests and strangers, beg while your eating and even steals food when you’re not looking and can growl or nip when someone touches his things or reprimands him for bad behaviour. None of these are acceptable behaviours, imagine if it was a child rather than the owner/handler that your dog showed these behaviours to!
Ways to avoid owning a spoilt pet is to start training as soon after you get them as possible, this will be quicker if it’s a pup rather than a rescue dog as the rescue dog has to settle in first, but that doesn’t mean the rescue can get away with behaviours you don’t find acceptable like if you don’t want them on the furniture, instill this from day one, same as the no begging rule. Dogs thrive on structure and routine. Don’t overdo the treats, when I’m training mine they get alternated between a high end treat for a new or harder trick, a piece of carrot for easier tricks and then a fuss made of them for sit, lie down, paw (the ones they have got down completely). Three toys per dog per day is ample, take the toys out in the morning then let the dogs see you putting them away each night – this reinforces that they are YOUR toys not theirs and you decide when they get them. Take out different toys the next day for them this will help stop them guarding a favourite toy and becoming toy possessive. By crate training you are offering your dog his own safe space to get away from it all when they wants and also helps teach your dog to have some alone time so they are not always your shadow. Another useful training technique I have picked up is that dogs want to earn their keep so make them ‘work’ for their ‘pay cheques’ as I skimmed on earlier, this means that if they want a treat (pay cheque) they have to do something for it like give a paw (work) this filters through to all aspects like if your dog is always wanting your attention by head butting your leg to get it that’s when you don’t give attention, when they are demanding it, give it on your terms by making them sit first or give a paw etc.
I am not a vet or an animal behaviourist and this information above is what I have picked up over years of research on dog training, being a dog owner, so if you have any concerns about any of the above I advise you speak to a professional in the subject.