an owner giving the dog a treatFifty-three percent of America’s dogs were classified as overweight or obese, according to a 2011 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), putting these pets at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and joint problems. This situation could even make the dogs age faster, sending them to an early grave.

The pet obesity crisis has hit epidemic levels, with more than half of American pets being officially overweight or obese. As with humans, the culprit is most often diet. A range of convenient pet food options out there are purporting to be good for your pooch, but a closer inspection of the ingredients often reveals that it is full of fillers and added sugar. These ingredients cause weight gain and have no nutritional basis for being in the food.

Another reason for weight gain is that owners love to give their pets treats. Too many treats stacks up the calories, particularly in less active or older dogs. Few owners measure their dog’s portion sizes or look at the manufacturer feeding guidelines before they dish out supper and may be inadvertently overfeeding them. Below are ways pet owners can help battle canine obesity:

Don’t Free Feed

A dog should have two meals a day. Portion sizes according to the size of the dog are listed on dog food packets. Food shouldn’t be topped up or left out all day so the animal can free feed.

Combat Boredom

Comfort eating is often the result of boredom. The answer to this is more play time and walks. Depending on the breed, a dog may need from 20 minutes to two or more hours of walking per day. A Bichon Frise requires 20 minutes daily, while a Labrador more than two hours daily.

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Feed Senior Dogs Less Fat

Like in humans, metabolism for senior dogs is slow, so they don’t require as many calories. Dog food for older canines is formulated to contain less fat and more fiber, helping them stay lean and have a healthy gut.

Regular games and walks, set meal times, appropriate portion sizes and less fatty food all help to combat canine obesity. Make sure you support your dog’s health by keeping these reminders in mind.