Overweight service dog lying in the grass

10 Weight Loss Tips for Senior Service Dogs

"Growing old together" is a phrase mostly used in romantic relationships or between two dedicated suiters in a 20-year old marriage. However, we never think of a young man who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), who was granted a life-long, dedicated service dog companion for the past 5 years, whose duty is bounded toward helping him. Or the brave psychiatric service dogs dedicating 10 years toward entering dark rooms and turning on lights to mitigate stress-inducing conditions. These, too, are relationships that redefine the meaning of "growing old together," requiring the daily need to stay healthy and strong.

As exercise is essential for you, it's necessary for your service dog, too — especially your senior service dog. Just as it is hard for a senior human to keep up a healthy lifestyle but is necessary, the same goes for their senior service dog companions. Furthermore, focusing on a healthy lifestyle for your senior service dog is vital, as their human companion's lives are in their paws — so to speak.

Services dogs are registered trained animals, who take specific action whenever required, to assist a person with their disability — with the task performed being directly related to the person's disability.

While carrying out their duties, service dogs require to be highly active and alert. Therefore, making sure their minds and body are fully functioning is essential.

The duties for service dogs typically fall into one of these buckets.

  • Guide dogs, helping the blind and visually impaired.
  • Mobility dogs, helping those who are in wheelchairs, walking devices, or have balance issues
  • Medical alert dogs, who act as a signal, should any medical issue occur, like seizures, allergens, or low blood sugar.
  • Psychiatric dogs, helping those who have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), PTSD, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses.

As these lovable animals take special care of their human companion needs, their human companion should make sure their service animals are getting the proper health and weight loss benefits. There are certified professional canine fitness trainers available to help service dogs or specifically senior service dogs.

However, here are 10 maintainable weight loss tips for your senior service dog that you can try for yourself.

Before diving into our top 10 list, its important to always contact your veterinarian to get the approval for any new weight loss plan to ensure the safety of your animals.

Having said that, let's begin with our first tip.

Eat more protein and fewer carbs

Every weight loss plan should begin with the diet. When it comes to weight loss, finding a proper balance between carbohydrates, fats, and protein are vital in all diets. However, in the diets for dogs, senior dogs, in particular, protein is the most essential. Dogs need protein for producing hormones, building muscle mass, regulating metabolism, and healing damaged tissue. Even with exercise, senior dogs tend to lose the necessary muscle mass, which can decrease their body's ability to respond to physical trauma, infectious agents, or stress. Senior service dog diets should have increased protein-to-calorie ratio, providing a minimum of 25 percent of calories from protein.

Make your own homemade dog food

Along with focusing on an increased protein diet, making sure your senior service dog is receiving clean, wholesome, and nutritious ingredients in their food is also important. One of the primary advantages of preparing homemade food for your dog rather than buying store-bought food is allowing you to have completed control over what they eat. Many store-bought foods contain synthetic ingredients that are chemically-based and are from outsourced places where food and supplement regulations are lax. High-pressure pasteurization (HPP) is another concern that many companies use to kill off bacterial from the raw ingredients. During the HPP process, foods are exposed to massively high pressure, which "cooks" the food.

HPP expert, George Flick from Virginia Tech University states that because the HPP process treats food already in its packaging, there's a risk of toxic chemicals like phthalates (endocrine disruptors linked to thyroid and obesity issues) migrating into the food.

Some veterinarians may suggest HPP foods for immune-compromised animals. If this is the case for your dog, it's safer to lightly cook your dog's food to avoid the unknown risks of HPP. Be sure to incorporate lean meats, vegetables, and fruit in the homemade meals. It is vital toward gaining an understanding of the fruits and vegetables that are NOT safe for dogs, so you won't do more harm than good.

Lists of fruit and vegetables that are safe for your dog:
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Spinach
  • Peas

Start by incorporating this list into your homemade recipes will ensure your senior service dog is receiving the necessary nutrients needed.

Re-evaluate your dog treats

Overweight senior service dog

One of the most effective approaches in service dog clicker training is using food as a reward for desired behavior. Although service dog behavior training is essential, the treats received will need to be adjusted while trying to achieve weight loss. As humans, we try to eat healthily, go on strict diets, and see no results due to some healthy foods that are not in alignment with our bodies. Just the same, if you notice your dog not losing any pounds, but are receiving the proper type and amount of foods, re-evaluate the dog treats that you may be sub-consciously handing them.

Try cutting the treats in half or in smaller pieces, so your senior service dog won't notice a decrease in the treats they're receiving. Another alternative could be to replace some of the treats with safe fruits and raw vegetables instead of using only store-bought treats. Lastly, be mindful of the calorie count per treat.

Give smaller food portions

Many service dog owners (or non-service) tend to "eyeball" the amount of food they feed their dogs. Using the "eyeball" metric scale, as you can imagine, has its many flaws and frequently leads to overeating. How much should you give your dog?

Try this approach.

  • Weight check your dog to record the initial reading.
  • Decrease your dog's food by 5% for a week or two. This could be a reduction of 1 ounce.
  • Weight check again to see if the initial reading has reduced. If not, reduce food again by half an ounce. If you do see a reduction, continue feeding that amount.

It's crucial to use proper measuring utensils when portioning out food.

Use Acupuncture as an alternative medical treatment

Acupuncture is part of the Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) that focuses on restoring the energy balance in the body and promoting healing. Veterinary acupuncturists have treated patients with metabolic diseases associated with impaired organ function. Dogs with diabetes, kidney or liver failure, pancreatitis, Cushing's disease, and Addison's disease have experienced a decrease in nausea and an increase in appetite after acupuncture sessions. Senior service dogs who may be experiencing some of these symptoms, now have an alternative way to resolve them in ways diet and exercise were not able to assist.

Go Swimming

Swimming for humans is one of the best exercises that work the overall body and muscles. Similarly, swimming is an excellent exercise for your senior service dog. It's always a good idea to start your service dog with swimming while they're young. However, with dogs being natural swimmers, you can begin your senior service dog with short duration swims, then increase according to their health response.

Go on more frequent walks
Service dog enjoying a walk on the beach

All dogs love a pleasant walk! Just hearing the chain sparks subconscious interest in their hearts! Go for walks as long as your dog can tolerate it. If you see them lagging behind more at the end, then shorten the next turn by 30 %. Walking is a great cardiovascular exercise, strengthening your senior service dog's heart with each step.

Perform balance exercises

Balancing exercises are suitable for stabilizing the muscles. As previously stated, senior dogs tend to lose their muscle mass as they get older.

Here are some balance exercises you can try with your dog:

  • Planks — have your dog stand without shifting their weight around or trying to sit down for 10 seconds. It may be difficult at first, so you can always build-up to the 10 seconds.
  • Platform Planks — if your dog can reach 30 seconds, have them repeat the planks on a low 2-4-inch platform.
Perform mobility exercises

Mobility exercises can increase flexibility and speed for your senior service dog. Just as you need to stretch and work out your muscles and ligaments, so does your companion. You can start with cookie stretches by having your dog remain in plank position, then lure their nose toward their shoulder, then hip. Be sure to keep the front and back legs in place, to create a stretch-like bend for half their bodies. You could try using low-fat treats to lure the dog's nose to their hips.

Perform strengthening exercises

Strength training is another great exercise to boost metabolism for your senior service dogs. If your service dog need to open doors, lift or pull objects often, or require high mobility, strength training is vital toward maintaining those abilities.

Here are some strength training exercises

  • Back Extensions — have your dog stand with her front feet on a platform or step that's about ankle-high, keeping its head and neck in alignment with their back. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds, then allowing them to step down.
  • Up and Down Platforms — having your senior service dog step up and down off of an aerobic step platform.

As you incorporate these ten weight loss tips, extending the life of your senior service dog, be sure to always add the love and support it needs to have the ambition to want to do it. You're doing an excellent service keeping tabs on your dog's health and well-being. Although service dogs are performing services for a loved one, they should be considered part of the family too.