New Year’s Resolutions – Battle of the Bulge
Happy New Year! I hope that the festive season has been kind to you and yours. I know from long experience that I will not be the only one using the idea of new resolutions to once more take control of my diet. The problem with all that food is that it is soooooooo good! I am always impressed with my body’s ability to gorge food as if it is going out of style – a trait that we all retain (along with the stored calories) as part of our instinctive make-up to survive. Give me an empty plate and a buffet and the instincts to balance as much food as possible on it is still very strong. It takes willpower to not come away with a mini Mount Everest of Gluttony…
This natural instinct comes from a time when we didn’t know the next time we were going to eat – something which is still a stark reality for a fair amount of humans on the planet. The body is designed to fast and feast, and the temptation to take in as much as is physically possible is at its strongest when surrounded by food during the festive period.
The reason that obesity is a growing problem (no pun intended) in more affluent countries is down to this nature in conjunction with the ability to eat at will. Food quality is also an issue as the body needs more time to digest less natural foodstuffs (and not having the time to do so). In the not-too-distant past, corpulence was seen as a sign of wealth. Now it is commonplace in many societies and the new fight is the battle of the bulge.
Needless to say, this phenomenon is also responsible for the ever-growing of dogs with ever-growing waistlines. Canine obesity is much more common than we think and even with the best intentions, our dogs can succumb to it. My dog Pru once stayed with friends while I was out of the country working. They made the error of not shutting the door to the pantry properly when they went out for a short while. Pru succeeded in opening the door and finding the big bag of dog food therein. My friends returned to find her in a food coma, stomach like a balloon, lying right by the now half-empty bag of food. Fortunately, she was OK but not keen to move for several hours…
For dogs and humans, being overweight has a detrimental effect on health. In addition to the obvious problems, extra weight on joints can be a serious issue for certain breeds of dog that have inbred conditions such as hip dysplasia or early arthritis. Our Golden Retriever Kobe is just such a case. At 14 years, age is also a factor. It also means that simply giving him more exercise will make things worse, not better. We don’t expect pensioners to keep healthy by making them run marathons! Adding pressure to already weakened joints is a recipe for disaster.
The easiest solution to avoiding a chubby Chihuahua or a blobby Bloodhound is to feed them less. There are “formulated foods” out there that claim to be good for dieting, when in fact a remarkable percentage of them simply add fillers to make it look like a dog is getting enough food, while actually they are only getting a relatively small amount of nutrition. If you feel that you need a degree in chemistry to understand the list of ingredients on a bag of dog food, it’s probably best to steer clear of it.
We know that our bodies find it easier to process natural foodstuffs and it is a good idea to keep that in mind when feeding our dogs. However, even the best quality food can make a dog fat if they are given too much of it. Therefore, quantity is also as important as quality. If you’re thinking that this is too simple a solution, you’d be right (and there is nothing wrong with that).
Dogs are also – with some exceptions – quite robust when it comes to what they can eat. Let’s be honest; dogs can eat disgusting stuff sometimes! A healthy mix of kibble, meat and vegetables is fine in a smaller meal. It is easy to take your eye off the ball, though. Once, when I suddenly noticed that my dogs were a little wider in the waist department over a period of time, I reduced the amount of food. The problem was resolved in a couple of weeks. Of course, they would always seem to be hungry (for which the Guilt Fairy blamed me), but then again they did that even when they were getting more than enough. Maybe you have thought that when your dog acts like they haven’t eaten for days the moment you make yourself some toast 5 minutes later…
I always like to keep things simple, so as well as knowing the general weight range for your dog’s breed (N.B. this cannot realistically apply to multi-pedigree dogs who have parents of surprisingly different sizes) my basic rule for knowing if your dog’s weight is correct is to feel their ribs. If you can feel them but can’t necessarily see them, they are probably fine. If there is a fair layer of blubber around them, give them less. The exercise element to better health should not be done to their detriment, especially if they are prone to injuries as a result of their breed or age. Gentle exercise for a short time is good, even when they are in good health. There’s no need to stick them on a treadmill and run them into the ground.
In short, good nutritionists will advise that there is no such thing as a successful fad diet. A permanent change with a healthy balance of ingredients (in an equally healthy quantity) is the key to weight loss. The same goes for our dogs. Remember that their instincts will tell them to eat whenever possible (those individuals who seem to be fussy with their food are doing it for a completely different reason – that subject is for another time) so it is up to us to make sure that they aren’t eating themselves into health problems.