First lady Michelle Obama and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver have declared war on childhood obesity. Now, Dr. Ernie Ward is waging war on another society ill: canine corpulence.
Ward is founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and author of the new book Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter — A Vet's Plan to Save Their Lives. He's also resident veterinarian on the Rachael Ray Show. On Thursday, he'll be in Tampa for a book singing and Q&A session.
According to Ward, 45 percent of America's dogs are overweight. And we've made them that way. Here are some tips to help man's best friend slim down.
Stop making excuses. Age. Thyroid. The dog refuses to walk. According to Ward, these are all bogus reasons why our dogs are packing on pounds.
Give your dog what it truly wants. "We've replaced affection with confection," Ward said in a call from his practice in Calabash, N.C. In other words, we dole out treats to assuage the guilt we feel for not taking our dogs on walks and leaving them home alone all day while we're at work. "When we see puppy-dog eyes, we think food. Food is love," Ward said. But dogs, like children, just want you to play with them.
Involve the kids. Caring for a dog teaches children responsibility — and fitness. Get them to drop the video game controls and walk the family pet twice daily.
Give your dog people food. This likely goes against everything you've been taught, but with the exception of chocolate, grapes and a few other no-nos Ward outlines in his book, human food is ideal for dogs, he said. This is because canines and humans have similar physiologies. "As far as nutrition, you can't find a better match on the planet," Ward said. "That's why we became best friends." Eat a nutritious diet yourself, and it's probably good for your dog, too.
Demand information. According to Ward, the most important stat on a dog-food label is the calorie count. But pet food manufacturers are not required by law to include this info on the packaging. Ward encourages dog owners to write their representatives, senators and dog food decision-makers to suggest a law.
Lay off the kibble crack. That's the term Ward uses to describe dog treats, many of which are loaded with addictive sugar, fat and salt. Some treats contain as much as 10 percent of a dog's daily calories. That's like you slurping a 200-calorie milkshake as a snack. "I have no problem with giving dogs treats and rewards. What we're doing is we're making the mistake of giving them the wrong kind of rewards, the wrong kind of treats, just like we're doing with ourselves," Ward said. Instead, motivate your pet with healthful alternatives. "Why not just reach for baby carrots?" Ward said. "While you're at it, instead of you grabbing a cookie, eat a carrot yourself so everybody shares something healthy."