If you are a Labrador owner, you will know how fun, loving and trainable Labradors are. You may also know that mostly, this breed absolutely loves food! Labradors are historically a working breed, and are still common companions for farmers as well as being excellent gundogs. They are a hardy breed, that are designed to spend their days being active with their owners. Our modern lives don’t always make provision for this, especially as many of us may now be working from home. Whilst it’s wonderful to have a Labrador-shaped foot warmer under the desk, it’s important to remember that (rather like us humans) sitting still all day can contribute to weight gain for dogs. 

Being overweight can be the cause of health problems in dogs 

In fact, even being a little overweight can increase the risk of a number of health issues, such as: 

  • Increased risk of health conditions such as diabetes
  • Increased risk under anaesthetic. This is important to consider as you never know when your pet may have an accident or need an operation. 
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Faster progression or onset of osteoarthritis and its associated complications
  • Exercise intolerance and increased risk of injury due to overloading of joints
  • Breathing problems
  • Heatstroke
  • Increased chance of developing urinary incontinence

So, if your lovely Labrador has gained a few extra pounds, we’ve got some great top tips to help you get them back into shape whilst boosting your Labrador-Human bond!

The first step is to recognize and accept that your pet may be looking a little more portly than previously

This can be difficult if you see them every day, as weight gain can be a slow process, meaning that it can creep up on us. Now that Veterinary services are more open and available again, it’s worth getting your pet weighed on their specially calibrated dog scales. However, this isn’t the only thing you can do! If getting out to the vets is tricky, try using a Canine Body Condition Score Chart. You can find these online (such as this one here); they are great resources for helping you monitor your pet’s condition. They can be especially useful for Labradors, as there is such a variation in body type within this breed. For some Labradors, being 20kg would mean they would look too thin. However, for a lighter-built Labrador, 20kg might be the ideal weight. Using a body condition score eliminates this problem. 

Once you have body condition scored or weighed your pet, the next thing to do is to book an appointment with a Vet or Veterinary Nurse at your local clinic

It’s important to have them examine your dog. This is so they can rule out any medical reasons for weight gain (such as thyroid problems or hormone disturbances). Veterinary Nurses often run weight clinics too, so they will be able to guide you through the journey, ensuring your pet loses weight safely and steadily. 

If your Lab gets a clean bill of health, you can begin to make some changes to help them slim down. Here are our top tips! 

Assessment! 

As mentioned above, that initial body condition score or weight check is really important. However, it’s not just a case of doing this at the beginning of the journey. Regular condition scoring and weight checks are essential to help you stay on track and ensure that the weight loss is safe. 

Food Diaries! 

This can be a brilliant way of helping you track what your pet is eating. It also can be useful for the Veterinary Nurses at your clinic if they are helping you with your dog’s weight loss journey. Sticking a chart on the fridge for all the family to fill in whenever they feed the dog is a great way to get everyone involved and to help count the calories. It will also help you identify whether your Labrador is being fed anything you were not aware of. And will quantify their daily calorie intake. This can then help you work out how you can strip back the diet to achieve your desired result. Or how you might need to alter the diet if you are not achieving the weight loss you had hoped for. 

Exercise! 

Whilst increasing exercise alone won’t be enough to help your Labrador lose weight, it will help. Depending on how much weight your dog is carrying, you may need to be very careful about exercise as some dogs will struggle. Exercise places an increased demand on the heart and limbs. So the more weight your dog has to lose, the more careful you need to be. Steady, consistent exercise is great. Weightless exercise such as hydrotherapy can be really useful if your Vet is happy that it’s safe to do this. 

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There are also some cool things you can do at home to help increase mobility. Things such as using ‘snuffle boxes’ to feed your dog their dry food are fun and prevent the classic Labrador trait of eating a whole bowl of food in record time! Snuffle boxes are easy to make – simply take a large box and cut it down to make a shallow tray. Fill this with old boxes, loo rolls, scrunched up packing paper, or other pet-safe items such as tennis balls. Then throw in a handful of your dog’s daily kibble ration and watch them having fun snuffling around to find the food whilst staying active! Playing scent games is also a low impact, fun way to keep your dog mobile, and it will be wonderful for your bond. 

Smart Treats! 

Lots of owners really struggle with feeling guilty about not allowing their dogs treats whilst they are on a weight loss programme. This is completely understandable – we all love treating our pets, and we all know that Labradors just LOVE treats! There are some great ways to still treat your dog without adding to their calories. Measuring out their daily food allowance helps you to control the amount of food your Lab eats. Using a handful of this allowance as treats during the day is a great way of still being able to give your dog a treat without feeding them unnecessary calories. (Remember – just the act of being given something by the owner is what is valuable to the dog. It’s not always about the treat itself – even for food-orientated dogs like Labradors!) 

Remember, there’s always help just a phone call away

If you’re trying to help your Lab shed a few pounds, but find that what you’re doing isn’t really working, then the Veterinary Nurses and Vets at the clinic will be very happy to help you. Some pets require prescription weight-loss food for a period of time to help them slim down. And those that have underlying health conditions may need some help to achieve their target weight. 

The great thing is, helping your Labrador along this journey will be amazing for your bond – all those lovely steady walks in the winter sunshine will be a boost for you both, and playing fun training games to burn off calories will result not only in a better-trained dog but one that you are super bonded to, ready to go out and enjoy yourselves together.

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