Time to say goodbye winter doldrums and hello springtime sunshine! Spring is the time where days get longer, beautiful plants bloom, and people start thinking about revamping their health routines.
But how about making some changes that will benefit your dog too? Done right, these changes can get your pup on the path to being healthier, happier and with you longer.
The Emotional and Physical Benefits of a Healthy Dog
Similar to humans, dog obesity is at epidemic proportions. Over half of dogs in the U.S. face the battle of the bulge (1).
While overweight dogs don’t face the same social stigma as humans, the added pounds has been shown to shorten their lives and cause emotional damage.
A landmark lifespan study showed Labradors who were overweight by just 10-20% lived a median of 1.8 years shorter than their ideal-weight counterparts (2). Other health effects of being overweight are similar to humans: diabetes, heart failure, arthritis, knee and joint problems. On an emotional level, a recent study showed overweight pets have worse scores in vitality, quality of life, pain and emotional disturbance (3). These are all things we’d NEVER wish for our companions who are constant sources of positivity and love in this sometimes crazy and unpredictable world.
Steps to a Healthier, Happier Dog
The great thing about dogs is that unlike us they don’t have the same means to satisfy unhealthy cravings. They don’t run to the grocery store to get a pint of Ben and Jerry’s after a stressful day or go to the In-N-Out drive-through instead of making a healthy dinner.
A dog’s health is within our control and it’s up to us to make sure they get the exercise and food they need to thrive not just survive. When you consider that the average dog lives 10-12 years, adding almost 2 years to a dog’s life by keeping him healthy and fit is a huge deal and 100% worth it!
The other great thing about dogs is that there are many healthy foods and activities that dogs genuinely enjoy. Getting your pup fit and healthy this spring doesn’t have to be a hassle. Instead, it can be incredibly fun and rewarding for the both of you.
Without further ado, here are our top 5 tips for getting your pup moving and grooving and eating healthy this spring!
#1 Feed Fresh Whole Food Meals
With diet it’s not just about quantity, it’s also about quality.
Just like with us, eating a bag of veggie chips does not equal the nutrition of eating a bag of real whole vegetables. This is the same with our dogs. Eating a cup of heavily processed sweet potato and meat that’s been extruded into brown pellets isn’t the same as feeding your dog fresh real sweet potatoes and high quality meats. Yes, the calories may be the same for a cup of each, but the way your dog digests the food and absorbs the nutrients is totally different.
Similar to human food, fresh whole foods will be more expensive for your dog than processed packaged foods. While it’s ideal to feed your dog 100% fresh food, feeding one meal of fresh food a day or several meals a week will still go a long way for your dog’s health since you’ll eliminate 25-50% of the processed food from his or her diet.
Improvements from a fresh foods diet include: better digestion, enhanced energy levels, better coat, and improved weight management.
Companies like Grocery Pup make it easy to provide your dog with nutritionally balanced fresh whole foods. They also customize plans according to your dog’s weight. Each of their recipes are made with 60% meat and nutrient rich non-GMO vegetables so the meals are both a treat and healthy for your dog…not like us humans where healthy diet foods can be a real struggle to crave!
#2 Commit to At Least One Walk Per Day
We’ve all been there: We come back home from a long day at work and decide just this time to cut the 30 minute walk down to a five-minute backyard potty break.
However, most adult dogs require at least 30 minutes to 2 hours of exercise daily, depending on the breed. Dogs also LOVE LOVE LOVE their walks. All of the smells, other dogs to greet and the occasional cat or squirrel make it an incredibly exciting time for dogs.
The most challenging time to fit in these walks is oftentimes during the week when you’re away at work. A great way to make sure your dog gets this essential walk time is to invest in a dog walker. Walking apps like Wag and Rover have made it incredibly easy to find someone to walk your pup when you can’t.
Another idea is put a daily walk on your calendar. This could be during lunchtime, you go home to greet your dog and walk him or her, or during the evening or morning that you carve out the time. As the weather gets warmer this season, it makes it even more enticing to get out and be active with your pup. Doing this will make it a habit for you and ensure that both of you get a little extra activity in your day.
#3 Schedule Playtime
To keep your dog active, arranging playdates is a great way to both socialize and have your pup get in some exercise outside of the typical walk routine. Websites likes meetup.com make it easy to find dog playdate groups.
A well-matched play pal is typically close in age and size so that one dog can’t get accidentally overwhelmed by the other’s bulk or energy level. You can even look for breed specific playdate groups so you know the dogs will be roughly the same size and temperament as your dog.
You’ll also want to find a neutral place to play that doesn’t “belong” to either dog to prevent territory issues. Websites like Sniff Spot make it incredibly easy to find neutral spaces that are appropriately fenced in and large enough to provide ample space for all types of play.
#4 Get a GPS Activity Tracker for Your Dog
Spring is the perfect time to set a training goal for a summer race and what better way to train than a run with your pup? Similar to monitoring your own mileage you can monitor your dog’s daily activity with a great dog pedometer like FitBark and Whistle that attach to your dog’s collar and pair with a smartphone app. Similar to a FitBit, you can track your dog’s activity to easily see if they are getting the exercise they need.
The FitBark will even sync up to your FitBit, Apple HealthKit or Google Fit device. A daily graph then shows how dog and dog parent are doing reaching goal. This way you and your pup can track getting healthier together.
#5 Invest in Puzzle Toys
Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise and a healthy diet. Bored dogs are often misbehaved dogs. As the weather gets warmer, they likely will want to play outside all day, so it’s important to provide an outlet for their minds and if they aren’t provided an appropriate resource, they will come up with their own. This often means chewing on items like shoes and furniture, excessive barking and howling. Studies have even linked boredom to anxiety and depression in animals so it’s important to keep your dog stimulated (4). One way to keep you dog occupied is the use of food stuffable toys like Kongs and puzzle toys. These can keep your dog busy for hours with the right treats put inside them.
Tasty and healthy foods to include in these toys are goats milk, canned pumpkin (not the pie kind!), and bone broth (low sodium and garlic/onion free). You can put these into a Kong then freeze the Kong or get a silicon mold ice tray to freeze the food into treats that you then place into puzzle toys.
- Amy Kraft, “U.S. pet obesity rate continues to rise,” CBS News. Posted 1/12/16. Accessed 2/1/19. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dog-cat-obesity-rate-continues-to-rise/
- Richard D. Kealy et al., “Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs,” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220(9), 1315-1320(2002). https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.2002.220.1315
- A.J. German et al., “Quality of life is reduced in obese dogs but improves after successful weight loss,” The Veterinary Journal, 192(3), 428-434(2012). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090023311003698?via%253Dihub
- Barbara J. King, “Dogs and Pigs Get Bored, Too,” NPR. Posted 8/10/17. Accessed 2/1/19. https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/08/10/542438808/dogs-and-pigs-get-bored-too