The number of overweight American dogs is more than half the total number of dogs in America.
Such a figure might appear to be more in line with the number of people in America. But that's what recent stats from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention show.
In response (or perhaps independent of), many pet owners are putting their dogs through fitness and exercise programs, focusing on nutrition and physical fitness. Some programs are self-starters; others are the equivalent of boot camp and carry large price tags.
Dogs, with their lifespans shorter than humans, can face more pronounced health problems, many veterinarians say. Recent studies have confirmed that being overweight brings on for dogs similar maladies found in humans, including high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and and even kidney and respiratory diseases. For some dog owners, it's enough being aware of what their dogs are eating.
Too many owners feed their dogs leftover "people food," including fast food and high-calorie desserts, rather than food that has been specially designed for canines. Veteranarians stress that dogs have bodies distinctly different from humans and so have distinctly different dietary needs. For example, dogs generally don't need a lot of carbohydrates, even if they get a lot of exercise, unless they are pregnant, one vet said, who also urged owners to follow the nutritional standards developed by the Association of American Feed Control. The line between good nutrition and good exercise blurs a bit in terms of food rewards.
Many dog owners reward their pets with tasty treats for showing obedience or performing routine tasks. Veteranarians commonly urge owners to give their dogs protein-heavy diets, while also reinforcing the need to exercise regularly. At "dog boot camps," the rewards come in the form of carrots or other kinds of healthful foods.
At organized pet exercise centers, trainers put dogs through the paces. Activities sometimes resemble agility activities, like running up and down a teeter totter or jumping over a horizontal bar hazard. Other workouts include time on the treadmill or even time in the pool. One New Jersey animal fitness center sports a 25,000-square-foot building full of exercise activities and surrounded by nature trails. A Tennessee university program offers both inpatient and outpatient facilities for owners concerned about their dogs' health.
Even pet spas, long the home to activities no more taxing than grooming, have gotten in the act, offering pet exercise programs.
Veteranarians also point out that regular exercise for dogs is more than letting them out to run and play. Dogs who see their owners coming along on exercise outings would respond more naturally to such attempts to be more healthy, and the result, veteranarians say, would be benefits for both dog and owner.