There’s common stories of animals taken from bad situations where they were mistreated. The other end of the spectrum isn’t seen in the same way – but many people are killing their pets and doing it with the blessing of the public. Overfeeding, under exercising and overspoiling animals doesn’t do them any favors. It doesn’t take abuse to set boundaries and discipline a dog or horse. No horse has ever starved to death by not eating at noon if they’re eating twice per day. Dogs will not be malnourished if the massive amounts of food are cut in half. Coming down on bad behaviors insures that if something ever happens to you they are well mannered enough to find another home rather than be put to sleep because of bad behaviors and health issues. Setting boundaries and training an animal is one of the best life long things you can do.
“Lisa” is a typical first time horse owner – at 40 years old she always wanted a horse and now she’s making up for it – “King” is fed several times a day and allows him to push past her at gates and doorways. Her gelding always acts hungry so she feeds several times a day. From an outsider point of view it’s not loving her horse. The gelding is demanding and ill tempered; he’s been allowed to get away with bad behavior so being unruly is his normal thing. Plenty of food without enough exercise helps encourage that and he’s so heavy that ribs can’t be felt. There’s a mass of fat down the neck.
“Tanya” has three dogs. They have free access to food and because they get whatever they want when they want they get demanding when they don’t get it instantly. Friends no longer come over because the dogs threaten them. One dog was just diagnosed with diabetes and another is showing signs of early joint disease. They climb on the table and take whatever might be left there and one recently returned from a vet after having grabbed and eaten a chocolate cake left to cool on the counter.
Fat is not healthy in animals or people. An animal who pushes you aside to demand a treat is not being affectionate – they’re quite literally telling you that you mean NOTHING to them – you’re not worth respecting, you aren’t worth listening to and if you didn’t have those goodies you might be as interesting. You wouldn’t let a person downrank you like that – why let a chihuahua?! An overweight, disrespectful animal is not a joy when they rule the household with their demands. Sadly some are given up when it gets bad enough. One study quoted in a publication from Purina indicated 97% of dogs were given up due to training issues. This is something totally within an owner’s control to change!
Being able to feel but not see ribs is ideal. Having an animal that is with you and behaves respectfully, working with you, enjoying being with you is what most people have in mind when getting an animal. Limit treats and feed them in the bowl or feeder. Treats can be useful. When they’re used to getting occasional treats and need medicine it’s easy to dose them without a fight. But it’s easy to overdo it. Do your research and figure a balanced ration for your animal based on activity and stick to it. If he’s an idle gelding with no health issues hay and a small amount of grain will be fine. He truly doesn’t need 2 full coffee cans full of sweet feed and six flakes of hay. Hay is good – it’s what horses were designed to eat grazing in fields. If he’s doing minimal to no work and you just have to feed him some grain limit it. Give him a cup in the morning and night – that is it. No more. A taste…he will be happier and healthy if not overfed.
If your dog is determined to need 3 cups and you’re afraid he’ll do without – take that 3 cups and split it up. Hide it and let him look for it. If he works for it it keeps his mind busy, keeps him active and keeps him from overeating! You might put 1/4 cup in his crate, 1/2 cup in his bowl, 3/4 cup in a one liter soda bottle with no lid, 1/2 cup in the evening, 1/2 cup each in a couple other places. It gives the dog something to do rather than eat then be bored and whine looking for more food. This also works for cats. So many dogs and cats eat, drink and sleep as highlights of their day…there’s often too little exercise.
There is plenty of information online on formulating a healthy management program. Each animal is an individual and should be treated as such. Two sisters may be different, with one more active and taking a little more to stay in condition while the sister gets too fat on the same amount. A cross country horse in training is going to take more food than a quarter horse used for pleasure riding a few times a month. Proper foot care and medical care is needed. By the same token an active dog starting agility or flyball lessons is going to burn more energy than the one who is limited to a couple walks per day.
Be careful with supplements – use them for a purpose not just to use them. A normal animal on a good diet doesn’t *need* vitamin shots, pills or powders. When animals are in good condition you can feel but not see ribs. On a profile the dog or cat has a slight rise behind the rib cage rather than level belly profile or – worse – protruding. A good program of the proper amount of food, exercise, grooming, water and training will make a pet a joy instead of a chore. A dog that places his foot on your knee asking to come up and sit with you is less annoying than the one who bounces in the middle of the magazine you’re reading and spilling the drink next to you all over. They both can have the same thing – time with you.
A balanced care program and discipline with praise leads to a healthy, happy animal. Make yours one of those!