DEAR DIDI: We have a 2 year old black lab. He is perfectly healthy but full of energy. Our vet says he is beginning to get a little pudgy and needs to lose 10-15 lbs. He weighs 70 lbs. right now. We take him for a ten minute walk every day and he goes to doggy day care once a week to run with others. Any other suggestions? -Lab Dad
DEAR LAB DAD: Assuming your veterinarian cleared your dog of thyroid issues or other underlying conditions that could be contributing to the problem, the obvious first step is to make sure you feed a good diet and in appropriate amounts. Marketing is a huge part of selling dog food. All the right pictures, carefully chosen names, and prices, are all set to sway you on a deep emotional level to fork over the dough. The ingredients list is the important tell-tale. The first five ingredients are the most important as they make up the biggest percentage of the content. Avoid any food that has these terms in the first five ingredients: “by product”, peas, protein listed singularly (chicken, pork, beef, lamb), or touted as ‘grain free’. Chicken is the second largest allergen so I would avoid that as the main protein. Look for terms like Lamb meal, Beef meal. That means the protein was measured dry and therefore there is more of it in the food. Annoyingly, these companies provide a table on the bag to guide you on how to overfeed your dog. It is important to physically measure his food out so you know exactly how many measured cups you are offering him. Labs are also notorious for convincing owners that they are starving to death despite having just eaten. Don’t fall for it! On average, a 2 year old lab should be eating about 2 cups a day of food. I would recommend that you feed once a day at his age but some people prefer to feed twice a day.
Exercise is also a key element here but it needs to be appropriate and meaningful exercise. Ten minute walks are not doing him much good. We don’t want to stress his joints with the extra weight and being out of shape so I wouldn’t recommend jogging. Try a 20-30 minute walk conducted at a very fast pace. If you can’t walk at a fast pace, then consider investing in a good treadmill made specifically for dogs. Human treadmills have too much cushion or “give” in the belt which is bad for your dog’s joints. The treadmill will allow your dog to “run” at an enjoyable pace while in the comfort of your home air conditioning. It isn’t that difficult to train and dogs tend to love it.
If you have a swimming pool he could be exercised by teaching him how to swim properly and fetch a ball in the water. Typically, doggy day care and chasing a ball doesn’t create a sustained elevated heart rate long enough to work well for weight loss. The dog may choose to rest too often or work at a slower than optimal pace. Like humans, overweight dogs will choose to rest rather than push themselves. If your dog loves a ball enough to go after it nonstop and is willing to drop the ball quickly, then keep him running back and forth for 15 minutes. Take a two minute rest and then repeat for another 15 minutes.
You need to enjoy the activity as much as your dog or you won’t make him do it. Be very cautious about trying to ride a bike while “running” your dog. This rarely ends well for the human. You could also purchase a FitBark for dogs. It is basically a FitBit that tracks your dog’s activity level each day and then you have measurable data to know if you are actually increasing his activity level or not. You can even ‘friend’ other black labs in the same boat and compare notes across the country for motivation!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. Like Didi’s Facebook page: California Canine. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. E-mail your questions to Didi@californiacanine.dog.