You might not ever have thought of obesity as a health problem, but it's linked to diabetes and orthopedic problems. Obesity is the most common health problem veterinarians see in dogs, and Labs are no exception. If they eat too much and don't get the exercise they need, they balloon up to resemble sausages on legs.
How Much Weight Is Too Much?
A Lab that's too fat weighs 15 percent or more above the normal weight for the breed (55 to 80 pounds, depending on the dog's gender). Because Labs enjoy their food so much, they're prone to obesity, so it's important to keep their weight normal by feeding measured amounts and providing plenty of exercise.
Most table scraps are high in fat and don't meet a dog's nutritional needs. If it's not good enough for you to eat, don't give it to your dog. Stick to a healthful diet, and give appropriate treats during training sessions or on special occasions.
Putting Your Lab on a Diet
You can tell if your Lab is overweight just by looking at him. As you stand over him looking down, you should see a defined waist. No waist and a rounded or bulging abdomen are signs that your Lab has been tucking into his meals just a little too heartily and lounging around afterward. A hands-on test will confirm your dog's condition. Can you feel his ribs (but not see them) or are they heavily padded with fat?
Your veterinarian can confirm whether your Lab needs to go on a diet and exercise program. The simplest way to start is by reducing the amount of food you give. If you usually measure out a heaping cup of food, level it off. That alone can help.
If reducing the amount of food isn't practical, switch to a brand with fewer calories. There are many such foods in the market. Look for a product that says “lite” or “less active.”
Introduce a new food gradually, over seven to ten days, to avoid stomach upset. If you change foods, don't switch to a type that your Lab isn't used to eating. For instance, if you feed him canned food, the new food should be a reduced-calorie canned food, not a dry diet. When that's not possible, mix the canned food with the dry over a period of several weeks so he has time to become accustomed to the change.
If your schedule allows, feed several small meals a day rather than one or two large ones. Eating more frequently helps your Lab feel more full and less deprived. Another way to help him feel full is to add more fiber to his diet. Canned green beans, carrots, and pumpkin (plain, not the sweetened pie filling) are high in fiber but low in calories. Most dogs gobble them down.
Finally, be sure your Lab gets daily exercise. Throw a ball for five or ten minutes, take longer walks, or take him someplace he can swim. If he's seriously overweight, start slowly and work up to longer periods of exercise. As he loses weight, you can increase the intensity and duration of play sessions.