A friend who is a veterinary technician at an emergency clinic was lamenting recently about the increase in morbidly obese pets she has been seeing. We have been hearing on the news about the COVID-15 — the coronavirus version of the “Freshman 15” college weight gain. Well, pets are getting pudgier, too.

What we assume is a healthy weight for many dogs is too heavy. I often get told my dogs need more weight. My dogs are a healthy weight and body condition. My senior boy could stand to lose a little. He is about 19-20 pounds and should be closer to 17-18 pounds. 

Educate yourself on what a dog in good condition looks and feels like. If your veterinarian, groomer, trainer, anyone brings up weight concerns, take it seriously. We are not trying to be insulting, we want your pet to be healthier. There are many resources online that can help you determine if your pet is a healthy body condition for the type of dog. 

Some breeds are structurally leaner than others. Greyhounds should never look like a Labrador retriever. Many Labs are too chunky even for their body type. If you have a hairy dog, get under that fluff. Make sure she is truly fuzzy and not fat. We need to change our habits. We are home more, and this means more opportunity to feed our critters.

Many people associate food with love. Many pets learn to beg because it gets them attention. Begging pet may not be hungry. Show your pets love through play. Put your dog on a long leash, not a retracting lead but a regular long leash, and allow him to sniff around an open area. Instead of tossing a cookie or letting your dog lick your plate, play games that encourage movement. Just because we are still under various levels of social distancing does not mean you cannot exercise your pet. 

Address food amount — ignore what is on the food bags, this may be too much for your individual pet. If I followed the bags, my dogs would look like hippos. Use food-releasing toys that encourage physical activity or scatter dry food about for your pet to find. If my dogs feel too heavy, I decrease the food and increase the exercise. My dogs get a 1.5- to 2-mile walk multiple times a week along with other activities. I use an online program to determine the distance of the different areas we walk. Green beans and other vegetables can be used to fill up the bowl as you decrease the kibble.

We all have one person in our lives who will ignore us when we tell them “No, stop feeding Sparky.” Change your tactics. Instead of saying “No you cannot” try “Here is what Sparky can have.” I have found setting parameters but allowing the person to choose among them can help.

Do not forget to address other areas your pet may be getting extra food including stealing from counters, raiding trash, spouses allowing the dogs to clean dishes, sneaking cat food and children leaving food lying around.

COVID-19 has been an adjustment for us all. I know managing my personal weight loss is harder without gyms. I burned more calories there than I do on longer walks. I adjusted my life to keep my weight loss as close to where it is as possible. We have to do the same for our pets. 

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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