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This is a sponsored post written in partnership with Darwin's Natural Pet Food. At the beginning of the year, Darwin's Pet released a survey they did on canine obesity, where they found that more than half of dog owners weren’t aware their dog was overweight and weren’t able to correctly identify healthy weight dogs on a body conditioning score chart. (The complete guide can be viewed here.) As a result of this survey, Darwin's Pet has placed a priority on educating and busting pet health myths.
Here in Washington, we've been under a Shelter in Place order for a few weeks. The idea of being stuck at home sounds horrible, but we love it. This has been an opportunity to rest, relax, get in touch with each other again, work on home projects, and enjoy our dogs and cat. I'm in literal heaven right now. That sounds odd when the world is living through a pandemic, but it's true. This is an opportunity for us to slow down and reset and I'm taking full advantage of this time.
One thing that I want to do is get back in shape. Many people are concerned about the weight they'll put on as they stay home for weeks on end and I'm not going to be one of them. I'm a healthy woman and there isn't a reason for me to be overweight. I want to lose 25 pounds over the next few months and I plan to do this through diet and exercise and I have five dogs in the house that offer the perfect motivation to get out and get fit. Not only will I lose weight, but my dogs will also stay fit and in shape too.
The Health Risk and Expense of Raising a Fat Dog
I used to get so offended when someone would tell me that my dogs were fat and I finally had to get over my ego and recognize that if I want my dogs to live a long healthy life, it's not enough to feed them a raw food diet. I need to keep them at a healthy weight by making sure they get plenty of exercise.
There was a time when all of my dogs were either very or somewhat overweight. Whenever I see a Facebook memory of over 5 years ago, I'm shocked at how big Rodrigo and Sydney were. I couldn't see it and their vet (at the time) said that they were healthy. Why would I listen to a random person on Facebook and not my vet. Well, in this case, my vet (at the time) was wrong. My dogs needed to lose weight because their health was at risk with the additional pounds leading to:
- arthritis and joint issues
- heart disease
- kidney and liver disease
A couple of years ago, I made a commitment to make sure my dogs lost the extra weight and, today, they live an active life and are doing their part to help me lose weight.
Diet and Healthy Weight for Dogs
While diet isn't the only way to keep a dog at a healthy weight, it's important. Feeding my dogs a diet of raw dog food is important because it's easier to digest, the nutrients are readily available, and it lacks the high carb count of processed dry dog food. As humans, we understand that a diet high in carbs and starches lead to weight gain – so why feed a diet like that to our pets?
Switching to raw dog food was easy. I started with a premade diet formulated by Darwin's Natural Pet Products that was delivered to my dog. Initially, I fed my dogs a hybrid diet of raw in the morning and kibble in the evening. After a few months, I fed 100% Darwin's until our family grew and it was more affordable to formulate my meals at home and feed DIY raw.
Benefits of Raw Feeding (from my experience)
- No More Allergies – A raw food diet boosts immune system health, helping dogs combat allergies.
- Gorgeous Coat – The healthy fatty acids and nutrients in a raw diet for dogs improve their skin and coat health.
- Cleaner Teeth – Enjoying raw meaty bones satisfies the chew drive while cleaning teeth and freshening breath.
- Healthy Weight – Raw fed dogs eat natural, unprocessed foods and have more energy and focus.
- Smaller Poop – A raw diet is easier to digest, dogs absorb more nutrients, leading to smaller poop.
- Fewer Vet Visits – Switching to raw reduced vet visits from every other month to annual check-ups.
What if You Can't Feed Raw?
Raw feeding doesn't work for everyone. Whether it's due to budget, sourcing, or lack of storage space – sometimes feeding raw can be a challenge. If you can't feed raw, I recommend adding more fresh food to your dog's diet. As I stated above, I did this through a hybrid diet. I fed raw (Darwin's Pet) in the morning and a quality kibble in the evening. When feeding kibble, you can make it healthier by:
- soaking the kibble in bone broth (easily made at home)
- add canned sardines (in water)
- add fermented fish stock
- add fermented vegetables
- add raw goat's milk or kefir
Exercise and Healthy Weight for Dogs
Daily exercise is important for all dogs, no matter the breed, size, or age of the dog. And that daily exercise doesn't have to be 10 mile walks twice a day, however, if this is your jam and your dog can handle this without injury – go for it. If you're a person who is raising an obese dog, the idea of taking your dog on an epically long walk may be a bit daunting and your dog may not be up to it. That's not a problem. One of our dogs, Sydney, has arthritis in her ribs and hips and she had two partial cruciate tears in her back legs and, today, she runs around our property with the rest of the dogs.
According to PetMD, “it is generally recommended that your dog spend between 30 minutes to two hours being active every day—and not just on the weekends.”
Are you walking a new puppy? “The Kennel Club – a U.K.-based organization – recommends providing growing puppies with 5 minutes of activity-time for every month of your pup’s age. In other words, a 2-month-old puppy should be walked for about 10 minutes at a time, whereas a 10-month-old puppy can remain active for about 50 minutes, including some high-intensity activity.” ~ K9 of Mine
How I Exercise My Dogs
We have five dogs and each dog is unique, of course, and requires slightly different exercise routines, but we manage to make sure everyone is active most days of the week. If the weather is truly crappy, then the dogs, and humans, will have a rest day, but we try to get outside daily.
- Long walks
- Short walks
We try to shake it up daily because allowing a dog to do one exercise day after day is not only boring, but it may overexert one or two muscle areas leading to injury. We experienced this with Scout and after a vet bill and prescription for pain medication, he recovered and we now make a point of shaking it up with the dogs.
A Game of Fetch
Several of our dogs love to fetch and we're lucky to have a property with plenty of space to chase balls and other fetch toys. We limit games of fetch to 15-20 minutes for our dogs to avoid injury and we're very careful on wet days because repeated the sliding on grass can lead to joint injuries. On those days, we'll toss balls high in the air, forcing the dogs to stop and wait for it to come down before they catch it. One of our dogs is fetch-obsessed and shaking up the exercise routine helps to calm his focus.
Our dogs' favorite fetch toys are:
- Puller Rings
- ChuckIt! Balls/Launchers (avoid the fabric balls, they get messy)
- Kong Flyers (the black ones)
Usually, a solid 15-20 minutes is enough of one exercise for our dogs as they chase toys and each other around the yard. However, it's not enough exercise for the day. And if you have a high energy dog, 15-20 minutes isn't even close.
We have several ponds on our property and two of our dogs love to swim. The other dogs like to walk the perimeter, sometimes getting tummy deep in the water, as they hunt for garter snakes and frogs (which they scare off; they don't kill or eat them). Swimming is easy on the joints and cools our dogs down on hot days. For our dogs that play fetch, to shake up that game, we'll often throw their toys in the ponds (the Kong Flyers don't float, by the way) so they switch up the running with some swimming.
I wouldn't feel comfortable allowing my dogs to swim in any pond due to pollutants in some bodies of water, so choose your watering holes wisely. And if your dog is new to swimming, here is a video to learn how to teach your dog to swim.
Long Walks with Dogs
Our property borders a popular walking/running/biking trail and I often take my dogs along the trail for a morning or evening walk. We can walk for a mile or we can walk ten miles, the trail seems endless. We're new to long walks, taking advantage of this time at home to get more exercise, and I quickly learned that me and my dogs need to work up to the long walks. Right now, we're up to five miles once a day; my goal is to walk 7-10 miles daily.
Despite the short distance, our walks take 60-90 minutes because I allow my dogs to sniff at their leisure, to stop and watch cyclists and joggers, and we take in the view too. The benefit of allowing our dogs to truly enjoy their walks through sniffing is that we're not only exercising their bodies, but their minds as well. Our dogs will sleep for hours after a solid walk. And, to keep them for getting bored with a walk, we switch up the direction every few days or I'll drive to another section of the trail with the dogs.
When we return home, I allow the dogs to stretch their legs in our yard and then give them a nice massage along their shoulders, hips, and back.
A few essentials I need on our walks include:
Short Walks with Dogs
Not all of my dogs are fit for a long walk. Sydney's arthritis keeps her from going too far and Rodrigo is reactive and barks and lunges at cyclists. So we keep them on the property and their exercise consists of roaming and exploring our property. We live on five acres and our property isn't flat, so a walk around our property (I do a few laps while letting the dogs sniff and explore) is a great workout as we walk up and down the hills. I go at the dogs' pace, not how fast I think they should go. This is great for our senior dogs. We started this routine by walking 10-15 minutes a day, at their pace, and have worked it up to several laps around our property that last up to 45 minutes.
With the Shelter in Place order, more animals are coming out and there is a lot to smell every day. We've found black bear droppings, deer droppings (which are common where we live), and I'm sure coyote droppings will soon follow. So we're safe and stay on our property (instead of exploring the neighboring woods) and the dogs get a kick out of smelling every inch of our property as they scent the wildlife that passes through.
Works the brain, remember?
What if You Don't Have a Big Yard?
If you don't have a big yard, you can go to a field, a sports field, a friend's property, or you can rent a Sniff Spot (an Air BNB for dog lovers). Sniff Spot allows people to rent out their yard or property in 45-minute blocks of time to others who need a place to run their dogs. This is great for folks who don't want to go to dog parks, have reactive dogs, or simply want to be along with dogs. Again, tons of new smells, more space to play with your dogs, and all you have to do is clean up after your dog. Easy peasy.
During this pandemic, many people aren't going to the homes of others. If you have a friend with land, ask if you can visit with your dogs for a short period of time.
What if You Can't Go Outside?
If you don't have a big yard or you can't go outside, then making sure that your dogs get enough exercise is challenging. We experience this during the shorter, rainy winter days in the Pacific Northwest. By the time I get home from work, it's too dark where we live to play outside or walk on the Centennial Trail. But there are alternatives. You can hire a dog walker or, if your dog is a good fit, you can take your dog to doggy daycare a couple of times a week.
But what about now, when everyone is under a Shelter in Place order?
If you can't get enough time outside with your dog, I recommending increasing the training inside. Our dogs can always use a brush up on training and YouTube has loads of great training videos if you need ideas. My favorite Go-To dog trainers are Laura Nativo, Zac George, and Ronny LeJeune.
Dog training should be a daily exercise with our dogs if only for the bonding experience. Having well-trained dogs means that I can take my dogs with me on errands, I don't worry about how they'll behave with visitors, and training can keep my dogs safe. For a time like now, training adds additional stimulation to our dogs' day. So if you're stuck in the house, start looking for training exercises to try with your dogs. You can start from the basics – sit, down, leave it – or you can try something new like nose work (which I want to try with my dogs).
Here are a few resources if you are looking for training ideas to occupy your time with your dog(s):
- DogsThat.com by Susan Garrett
- Optimal Canine Enrichment, Engagement, & Play Games – join now to learn about 24 games in 2 months
- FitPAWS Canine Fitness Equipment – they're YouTube channel shares lots of indoor exercise ideas
- Grace Dog Training & Behavior – offers free 30-minute Zoom training session (Zoom is similar to Skype)
Don't Give Up on Weight Loss
When I was trying to help my dogs lose weight, I became discouraged. It was embarrassing to share pictures on social media because people would judge me based on their appearance. As a pet blogger, I felt that I should know better, but I couldn't crack the weightloss code. And our veterinarian, at the time, kept telling me to reduce their food an add vegetables but this only worked for a short time.
How I Finally Helped My Dogs Lose Weight
Weigh Each Meal – what finally worked was being vigilant about how much I fed my dogs. I started with a raw food calculator and then adjusted the amount each dog ate based on their body's response. For example, if Sydney wasn't losing weight after a couple of weeks, then I reduced her meals by a small amount. I use a Taylor kitchen scale that I picked up at Costco and I love it so much that I purchased a backup from Amazon.
Weigh My Dogs Weekly – I used to load up the dogs and take them to the vet for a weigh-in, but that became too much and it was a distraction at the vet's office if there were reactive dogs in the lobby. So I did some research and found a pet scale online and now weigh our dogs monthly in our dining room. The scale isn't perfect and doesn't land on one number (it changes as the dog moves), but I get close enough. I've compared the weight on my scale with the weight on the scale at the vet's office and the results are close (within a half a pound).
Exercise Daily (Physical and/or Mental) – and, if I want my dogs to lose weight, I have to fit exercise into our schedule daily (or almost daily). What I found is that I can only reduce the amount of food my dogs are eating so far before they simply don't have enough nutrients in their diet. Understanding what each of our dogs could handle was important and I find that I spend up to three hours a day (now that we're working from home) exercising the dogs. 90 minutes for walking and two 30-45 minute play sessions.
|Dog||Highest Weight||Weight Today|
|Apollo||he's still growing||71.0|
For Dogs Recovering from Injuries
If you have a dog that is recovering from injuries, speak with your veterinarian about what you can do to help your dog lose weight safely and without causing additional injuries. With Sydney, I waited until she had recovered from her cruciate tears and I had her arthritis managed (through supplementation) before I started her exercise routine. I didn't want to push her too soon and cause another injury.
Read More About Dog Healthy
- 22 Uses of Coconut Oil by Dog Moms
- Can Dog Owners Treat Heartworm and Other Parasites Naturally?
- Keeping My Dogs Fit & Healthy When Stuck at Home
- Are Mushrooms Toxic to Dogs?
- My Raw Fed Dog Has EPI – An Update
This is a sponsored post in partnership with Darwin's Natural Pet Products. I received compensation in exchange for sharing my experience keeping my dogs at a healthy weight. All of my thoughts here are true and accurate. If you'd like to learn more about transitioning your dog to a raw food diet, visit the Introduction Page of my site.