Just like humans, dogs can gain weight which can put their health at risk. Painful joint and ligament diseases such as arthritis is a primary concern however, dogs can also be at risk for many other illnesses including diabetes, and heart disease. If you suspect your pet may be overweight you can do two simple at-home tests. For the first test, very gentle place your hand on your dogs ribs. Press down slightly. If you can feel a hint of the ribs your dog is normal weight, if the ribs are well defined your dog is underweight, and if you cannot feel the ribs at all or have to press down firmly to feel the ribs, most likely your dog is overweight. Another home test is to view the dog’s backbone. If the backbone is lower than the tissue surround it, your dog may be overweight. Dogs in northern climates often experience seasonal weight gain, but this is normal and generally not problematic. Dr. Kietra Kay, a D.V.M. with Companion Animal Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin offers the following suggestions:

1. Monitor the dog’s daily diet. This should include everything the dog is eating; chewy-treats like rawhides, dog treats, dog food, people food, and bones. Is your dog gobbling up the cat food or getting treats from a neighbor? Some human foods can be OK for dogs provided you use them in moderation and avoid high fats, high proteins, and grapes (grapes can cause toxicity in the kidneys). If you are concerned about your pet’s weight, can not easily identify what might be causing a weight gain, or if you need some help coming up with a good diet, schedule an examination with your veterinarian. Bring in the dog’s food diary-a daily list of what they’ve eaten for the past week. Once your dog is on a weight loss food plan, it is best to weighed in monthly.

2. Exercise tips. During the winter, walk with your animal as you are able. Dogs can tolerate the cold better than humans; except dogs with thin fur such as Staffordshire Terriers, English Bulldogs, or Great Danes, etc. If you have a dog with a thin coat of fur a dog coat and booties, may help them endure cold weather walks or play time. When the weather is harsh, be creative with indoor playtime and exercise. Consider running up and down your stairs. It’s good for you and your dog. If you don’t have stairs or have a physical disability, locate a doggie day care center that has a good indoor play area. You may want to use doggie day care as part of your dog’s winter fitness plan. During the summer, if your dog likes other dogs, use dog parks or doggie dates so you pet can have fun and burn off excess weight.

3. Don’t cave in to your dog every whim. Just like we wouldn’t give a child ice cream all the time, we need to show restraint with our dogs too. It’s great to be sensitive and attentive to your pets needs, but if you want them to have a long healthy life, there are times you need to ignore their begging.

4. Please don’t take it personally. Many people are sensitive to any issue of weight. If your veterinarian expresses concern over your pet’s weight this is not an indication that you are a bad or negligent caretaker. Instead, think of it as a health issue that can be improved. One of Dr. Keitra clients had a small dog that was gaining weight due to snacks of apples and green beans. On a 150 LB person, these items would burn up quickly, but on a small dog frame, it was packing on excess weight.

In addition to Dr. Kay’s tips you may want to consider taking shorter but more frequent walks, checking out fat and fiber content on your dog’s food, and hiring a dog walker if your time is limited. If you have a large garage, but no fenced in yard, you can leave your car(s) outside for about a half hour and play with your dog in the enclosed garage once or twice a day.

Like many diseases, the quicker you diagnose and begin treating dog obesity, the sooner your dog will experience improved health. Your veterinarian can help you develop a healthy personalized weight loss plan for your dog.

Dr. Kietra Kay is a native of southern Wisconsin, a DVM graduate of UW-Madison, and has been practicing Veterinary medicine for eight years. Dr. Kietra has experience working with and treating horses, however, she truly enjoys working with companion animals. The past several Dr. Kay has dedicated her practice at the Companion Animal Hospital in Madison Wisconsin. She also volunteers her services at the Dane County Humane Association.