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A weight-loss plan can take a pet from fat to fit

Pudgy pets may seem cute, but they aren't healthy

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By Lynnie Ford, Special to The Herald
  • At her most overweight, Ndnd, a Chihuahua, was 18 pounds.

    At her most overweight, Ndnd, a Chihuahua, was 18 pounds.

  • After a year of exercise and other therapy to help her get fit, Ndnd weighed nine pounds.

    After a year of exercise and other therapy to help her get fit, Ndnd weighed nine pounds.

As the owner of Wag Wellness -- a swim, massage, fitness spa for dogs -- I see dogs of all shapes and sizes. Nothing surprises me. Usually. Then came Ndnd.
After losing his beloved large dog Arthur, Ken Dunn called in March 2012.
"I've adopted another large dog at Homeward Pets," Dunn said. "We need to come see you."
"Great!" I said. "I'll see you next Wednesday."
Wednesday came and in waddled Ndnd, a large dog, but not quite what I expected.
Ndnd was a 6-year-old, 18-pound Chihuahua.
Along with changing her diet, Ndnd began weekly "swim lessons." Slow, chunky, painfully unfrisky and depressed, she barely fit into the size small life jacket.
In the beginning, she had zero endurance, wobbly legs and occasional coughing spells, limiting her swim time.
Still, she returned week after week, building her endurance and whittling away the pounds.
A little more than a year later, Ndnd is a svelte nine-pound 7-year-old bounding into the pool. She does triple laps in a bikini-size extra-small life jacket and swims almost the entire 30 minutes.
A knee problem is barely noticeable because of increased muscle strength.
She no longer coughs because there is less weight on her trachea. After swimming, she begins her fitness session: balancing on the balance disc, the peanut or the doughnut.
She's happy, but more importantly, she's healthy.
According to statistics, obesity is the leading disease of dogs in western society. The reasons are mainly overfeeding, lack of exercise and a misconception of the appropriate weight a dog should be.
Studies show obesity decreases a dog's life span and increases the chance of chronic disease and osteoarthritis. In fact, a healthy weight is the most important thing owners can do to prevent and treat canine osteoarthritis.
"More than 50 percent of the pets we see in our veterinary clinic are overweight," said Dr. Cherie Guidry at Helping Hands Veterinary Clinic in Lynnwood. "Obesity is a huge problem in pets. It shortens their life span by two years."
Toward this goal, Helping Hands is in the midst of a "Biggest Loser Contest" for dogs.
Channeling Jillian Michaels, the clinic's coaches have weigh-ins every two weeks, provide feeding plans for each "contestant," and the winner -- based on percentage of weight loss -- receives a grand prize at the end of July.
Guidry plans another program in the winter.
As for our own pets, how do we assess whether they're overweight?
The first thing you can do is the rib test. Run your hands down the sides of your dog. Can you feel their ribs? If you cannot find them easily, your dog is fat and needs to lose weight.
Check their profile from above: A fit dog will have an obvious waistline. A chubby dog's stomach will sag, their back will seem broad and flat, and there will be no apparent waistline.
So your dog is waistless; now what do you do?
Before starting any weight-loss program, consult your veterinarian to confirm there are no metabolic issues. If there are no physical problems, they can develop an appropriate diet plan for your dog.
The safest rate of weight loss for any dog (or cat) is generally considered to be 1 percent to 2 percent of total body weight per week.
Treats can be an obstacle. Limit the number of treats you and everyone in the household give your dog.
Dogs care more about the number of treats than the size, so go small. Many dogs actually like crunchy vegetables, slices of bananas and melon. Try rice cakes, cut-up apples, green beans or carrots. Do not feed them grapes or raisins as they can be dangerous to their health.
The other important aspect of weight loss is exercise. The easiest and best exercise is walking. If your dog is not used to walking, start slowly. Begin with a walk around the block once or twice a day. Gradually add more time until you're walking briskly for 20 to 30 minutes.
Then walk your dog at a trot, fast enough that their diagonal legs move forward together.
With already active dogs, increase your walk time or begin jogging.
Other exercises include swimming; "Pilates for Dogs" on DVD; workouts with agility equipment; walking up, down or across hills and on trails; playing ball; and practicing tricks such as the wave and crawl that can be done indoors.
For the older, arthritic dog, exercise is particularly important. People often worry that these dogs are too sore to walk. Doing nothing is the worst thing you can do.
Take two or three short walks -- half a block if necessary -- rather than a long walk.
Walking slowly up hills builds muscle strength. Walk on soft surfaces such as grass.
Most of all, make weight loss fun. Start your own "Biggest Loser" contest. The biggest winner will be your dog, and the prize: more years together.
Story tags » LynnwoodAnimals

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