The quarantine 15 isn’t just a problem for people. Like their owners, dogs also are experiencing pandemic weight gain.
Even worse, many pet parents don’t recognize when their dogs gain weight, and even fewer know what to do to help their dogs lose weight.
Pandemic weight gain
Although Americans have struggled with overweight pets for years, a new study from Hill’s Pet Nutrition shows that COVID-19 lockdowns made pets gain even more weight. Study facts:
- 33 percent of pet parents with an overweight pet blame the pandemic for weight gain
- 53 percent say they are giving their pets treats for no reason
- 64 percent admit they spoil their pets during the holidays
- 36 percent of pet parents say their pets gain weight between Thanksgiving and the New Year
- 56 percent of veterinarians say while the occasional treat is fine, 91 percent recommend giving fewer table scraps.
Finding a silver lining
But the quarantine news isn’t all bad for dogs. The Banfield Pet Hospital study shows spending more time with pets during quarantine has made pet owners more confident and in tune with their pets’ needs.
With pet parents spending more time with their pets, the Banfield study shows 33 percent think their dogs are happier, and 35 percent are more playful than before the pandemic started. Best of all, 42 percent of pet parents say they are exercising more with their pets, and 46 percent say their dogs are more active at home than expected.
Determining if your dog is overweight
Even so, those extra treats during quarantine have caused pandemic weight gain for many dogs. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is crucial for overall health. Research shows 22 to 44 percent of pets are overweight —and that was before the pandemic.
Being just a few pounds overweight can significantly decrease the lifespan and quality of life for your dog. Those extra pounds make your dog more prone to both arthritis and diabetes. Extra weight even puts your dog at higher risk of developing dementia.
If you’re struggling to determine whether your dog has gained weight, start with a checkup with your vet. If you want to determine whether your dog is getting fat, you can check your dog’s weight at home using the rib test. Gently press on your dog’s rib cage. If your dog is at a healthy weight, you’ll be able to feel a thin layer of fat covering the ribs and see them easily. If you can’t see your dog’s ribs or if you feel a thick layer of fat, your dog is likely overweight or obese.
Help your dog drop extra pounds
Cutting the amount of food you give your dog can be challenging. Start by feeding your dog a quarter less per day, but feed your dog more often. For example, rather than one or two meals, give your dog three or four smaller meals. You also can choose to buy food formulated to help your pup lose weight.
Limit the number of treats, and make sure you include them in your calorie count for your dog. Place your treats for the day in a separate container. When it’s empty, that’s it for the day.
You also can consider giving your dog low-calorie treats like apples, carrots, green beans, or baked sweet potato chips.
Make sure your dog gets enough exercise
Dogs need daily exercise, but you should gradually increase your dog’s active time. Just as you shouldn’t go from being a couch potato to running a marathon, you similarly shouldn’t expect a similar change from your dog.
To determine how much exercise dogs need, start by considering your dog’s age, health, and breed. Then increase the time gradually. For example, if you walk your dog for one 20-minute session per day, add a second or third 10- or 20-minute walk. You can supplement walks with short games of fetch or tug-of-war.
Quarantine and cold weather can make getting outside with your dog challenging. To protect your dog, keep walks short, protect your pup’s feet, make sure you both wear warm and reflective clothing, and be aware of cars and other hazards.
Coping with pandemic weight gain
Letting your dog gain excessive weight can cause serious health conditions. Help your dog reduce pandemic weight gain by cutting back on food and treats, and increase your dog’s daily exercise.
Consult with your vet to determine the best option for your pup.
Sara B. Hansen has spent the past 20-plus years as a professional editor and writer. She’s also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. She decided to create her dream job by launching Dog’s Best Life. Sara grew up with family dogs, and since she bought her first house, she’s had a furry companion or two to help make it a home. She shares her heart and home with Nutmeg, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy. Her previous dogs: Sydney (September 2008-April 2020), Finley (November 1993-January 2008), and Browning (May 1993-November 2007). You can reach Sara @ [email protected].