The Labrador retriever is the most popular dog in America. One of the reasons might be the fact that he is an “easy keeper.” Unfortunately, the sight of a Labrador with a few extra pounds is not unusual.
Labs have enormous appetites – in general, each one might be aptly described as a bottomless pit! This food motivation is one thing that makes them so trainable, but it also can be a detriment when it comes to maintaining a girlish figure.
Beyond just looking wrong, allowing your dog to be fat will have serious health implications.
Body fat will shorten the life of your Labrador. He may develop heart problems, back problems, and arthritis. It is more difficult for a fat dog to breathe, making him tire rapidly, and he will have a harder time controlling his body heat. Excess tonnage definitely affects a dog’s quality of life.
Here are some suggestions for figuring out if your dog needs to lose weight, and if he does, how to help him.
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First, Find Your Dog’s State of Fatness
The average adult Labrador retriever can weigh anywhere from 55 to 80 pounds. That is a huge range. Therefore, weight itself is not necessarily an effective way to tell if your dog is fat.
The easiest way to tell if your Labrador is fat is to feel for his ribs. If you can see ribs, your dog is too thin. But if you can’t see them and can push your hands into his sides without being able to feel ribs, your dog is too fat. You should be able to easily feel his ribs, but not see them.
Another good way to start a weight loss plan is to have your veterinarian evaluate your dog and tell you how much weight he needs to lose. Your vet can also rule out any medical causes for your dog’s obesity.
Beyond that, there are several healthy ways to trim the fat from your Labrador.
Measure His Food
Do you use a measuring cup or simply fill the bowl? Your dog probably needs to eat less than what you are giving him. It is easy to cater to a couch potato dog by giving him a bowlful of food three times a day and maybe a bedtime snack. Or, worse, just “free feed” him, making sure his bowl is always full.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, if you give your dog even as few as 10 additional pieces of kibble per day, you can pack on a pound of weight in a year’s time. Therefore, use a measuring cup when you give meals to your dog. In calculating the amount of kibble to feed, figure out the number of calories your Labrador needs.
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Counting Calories for Your Labrador
The best way to feed your dog is to go by how much he needs. For example, if his ribs are getting deeper and deeper under a layer of blubber, it’s time to feed less. If you see a line or two of ribs starting to poke out of his fur, then bump up his intake a little.
The volume of food necessary also depends heavily on the activity level of your dog. In summer, your Lab is hopefully exercising every day. That means he will need more nutrition than in the winter when he is sprawled by the wood stove.
Your veterinarian will be able to tell you the number of calories your dog needs each day. The good thing is, the vet will know whether your dog is doing field trials and dock jumping every weekend, or if he is spending all day hanging out under the high chair waiting for the baby to throw him Cheerios.
Your vet will adjust your dog’s caloric needs accordingly. But if you are inclined, you can use a formula: Divide your Labrador’s weight by 2.2. Multiply the total by 30. Add 70, and that will give you a good idea of the number of calories you should feed a minimally active, spayed, or neutered Lab.
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Just like with people, the produce section is a healthier alternative for a dog than the commercially wrapped processed treats. Luckily for you, most Labradors will eat and appreciate just about anything edible.
That means instead of dye-injected treats that look and smell like child’s clay, you can offer him green beans, blueberries, bananas, and baby carrots. As a bonus, this may give you the incentive to enjoy better snacks for yourself.
Are Healthy Commercial Treats A Good Option For Your Lab?
Many commercial dog treats are equivalent to a trip to the fast food window. They are loaded with carbs and sugar. Fortunately, there has been a wave of health consciousness in the pet food industry, in part due to the influx of recalls on commercial pet foods.
You can search for single-ingredient treats. Salmon is always a hit, as is sweet potato or blueberry. If you make a habit of checking the content list before you throw the bag of treats in your grocery cart, you may be shaving calories off your total before the dog even smells what’s coming.
You can also bust the treats up into sections, each about the size of a pea. Your dog will get just as excited about a tidbit as he does a mouthful. You can also disperse them throughout the day as treats for obedience training. That way you will train your dog at the same time as watching his weight.
Gets Your Labrador Moving More
This is one of the most crucial factors in controlling your Labrador’s weight. There are so many health benefits to a regular exercise routine. Luckily, most Labradors love to play fetch, so a workout for him might just include 15 minutes of you pitching the ball for him, twice a day.
The great thing about life with a Lab is that it gives you the perfect incentive to get yourself moving. A brisk daily walk for 20 minutes to half an hour will provide immeasurable rewards to both of you. These include:\
Improved immune function
Improved cardiovascular health
Improved lung function
Reduced stress levels
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Choose the Right Food
Many commercial pet foods are exceedingly high in carbohydrates. If you look at the ingredient list, on many foods you might notice that the first ingredient is corn. Corn is a bulky filler with little or no health benefits. It puts fat on the dog and leads to higher stool volume. There are other, healthier options for fillers, such as brown rice or oatmeal.
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ingredients like chicken, duck, or salmon are a better choice for your Lab’s health. Also keep in mind that too much protein will give your lab a higher energy level so you may need to exercise them some more or cut back if they are being to energetic for your allowed tolerance level.
Be sure to check with your veterinarian before making abrupt changes in your dog’s diet.
Your dog is your best friend, and it is up to you to choose the best lifestyle to offer him optimum health. With the kind of devotion offered by a Labrador retriever, you are sure to reap rewards. But the rewards may be ample and varied, in ways you ever expected.