New Year’s Resolutions For Your Dog
Believe it or not, we are nearing the end of 2013 and about to embark on another holiday season. With the turn of the calendar, often comes one or more “New Year’s resolutions” by well intended people looking to change or improve their behavior. This year, why not resolve to keep your pet fit, trim, and healthy?
Yes, you read that headline right. Having a fat pet is costly in at least two ways:
- To the dog’s lifespan: lean dogs will live on average almost two years longer, (15% longer), than their fat litter-mates. To put this in perspective, it is the equivalent of about 10-15 years increased lifespan of a human. The fit dog will also have a more active and higher quality of life.
- To the owner’s wallet: owners of fat pets are spending a lot of money that they might otherwise not spend if their pet was fit and slim. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, in the US alone, there are about 37 million overweight dogs (about 53% of all dogs in the US). We estimate that the owners of these overweight dogs are spending close to $8 billion dollars each year, on extra food, medical care, and medicines, all because they have fat pets. Globally, the cost is even more staggering.
The statistics for cats are even worse. A whopping 58% of cats, or about 43 million are overweight or obese in the U.S.
Pet obesity is actually a human problem, not a pet problem. Most dogs (and cats) that I know do not have opposable thumbs to open the fridge and serve themselves. Nor do they go shopping for their own food. It is the human who controls the quantity and quality of their food. We are the stewards of our pet’s health and we are failing them.
Obesity is arguably the single biggest health threat to our pets, yet, it is entirely, and easily preventable in most cases. There are many health related problems that are a direct result from your pet being fat including:
- Shorter life
- Arthritis and other orthopedic problems
- High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
- Diabetes (Type-II in cats)
That is one scary list, and I don’t know a single pet owner who would feel good about themselves if they were to unwittingly facilitate the development of such conditions by letting their pet become overweight.
Make a Resolution Stick
Making a New Year’s resolution is a pretty common human behavior, especially after several drinks at the New Year’s Eve party ;-). It turns out that a majority of these resolutions end up being abandoned. A study done by Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire showed that only 22% of people making resolutions are able to stick to them. The study also points out some tricks you can use to improve those odds, including:
- Set specific milestones, not generic ones.
- Breakdown the goal into smaller steps.
- Reward yourself when you accomplish one of these steps.
- Share your resolution with friends.
- Keep a diary of your progress.
The Most Important Resolution for the New Year (for your pet)
So what will your New Year’s Resolution for your pet be this year? We suggest that you resolve to help your pet lose “x” pounds (kgs) this year.
Sorry that we can’t be more specific because “x” will depend on your dog’s overall size and condition. We recommend that you consult with your veterinarian to determine how much weight your pet needs to lose and use that as your target. If your pet is obese, you might not be able to safely lose all of the weight in one year so ask your vet for a safe target for the first year.
What if your pet is already fit and near their target weight? Even those with fit and trim pets can make resolutions to improve their pet’s health. Check out some of our ‘mini-resolutions’ below and pick one of these.
Once you have set your target weight loss, you now have a specific goal to strive for during the year. The next step is to set intermediate milestones so that you can confirm (and reward) progress throughout the year. Healthy weight loss is a slow and steady process. So why not set achievable monthly goals along the way? We recommend using monthly milestones to make sure that you are on track. When you (and your pet) achieve your monthly milestone, reward yourselves with a new toy or a piece of bacon!
A simple way to set monthly goals is to take the total weight loss for the year and divide it by 12 (for each month). For example, if your dog was supposed to lose 12 lbs., that would translate to one pound of weight loss each month. There are other, slightly more complicated ways to plan the monthly targets but this simple approach works well in most cases. For some perspective, in order to have your pet lose 1 lb. per month, you would need to feed 3,500 less calories each month than they burn.
Having a specific weight loss plan for your pet is a great way to start the year. When it comes to managing your pet’s weight, we suggest using “mini-resolutions”, which are behavioral changes you can make to ensure that your pet achieves (and maintains) their optimal weight.
- Provide proper exercise for your dog. Dogs need exercise! They thrive on it. Putting your dog out in the back yard does not count. They need 30 minutes or more each day of vigorous exercise depending on their age, breed, and medical history. They will feel and look better. So will you! And don’t let excuses get in the way. Winter weather? No problem. Use a dog treadmill, try alternative exercise like core and balance training using balance cushions and wobble boards, or simply bundle up and get outside.
- Determine your dog’s daily calorie requirement to achieve or maintain their ideal weight. Most people have no idea how many calories they should be feeding their dog, given their dog’s age, weight, and activity level. Our Slimdoggy iPhone app was created to supply this information. Note that the more active your dog is, the more you can feed them. If you exercise your dog more on the weekends, they can be fed differently than on the weekdays!
- Measure, measure and measure. It is crucial to accurately measure how much you feed to make sure you stay within your dogs daily target range. Use a measuring cup. If you are a ‘high-tech’ person, or are not at home for long periods of time, there are actually some pretty amazing technologies and devices being created to help with the measurement problem. PetNet.io (formerly PintoFeed.com) is one company that is building an intelligent pet feeder that will help people address the overfeeding issue.
- Account for treats. We all love giving our dog’s treats and table scraps and there is nothing wrong with it. You simply have to account for those calories and adjust your regular feedings accordingly. It helps to know the calorie content of the dog foods and treats you use—another benefit of using the SlimDoggy app.
- Learn to read dog food labels. Your pet’s overall health is greatly impacted by both “how much” and “what” you feed your dog. Spend some time examining your dog food labels and learn to spot healthy and unhealthy ingredients. Use your analysis to buy the best food possible given your budget. For more tips on how to read a food label, go to slimdoggy.com and search on food.
What do you say? Will you use this New Year to resolve to get your pet fit, trim, and healthy? You can save yourself a lot of money if you do so and quite possible extend their life and increase the quality of their life while doing so.
To help our friends and readers stick to their resolutions, we are introducing a new quarterly Blog Hop called Resolve to Move Your Mutt with our co-host Keep the Tail Wagging. All you have to do is submit a picture of your dog with a sign listing his resolutions and each quarter we will check in and see how things are progressing. Accountability is important in sticking to resolutions. Read more about the Hop here.