Big furry angel bear needs a tiny workout.
June 4, 2010 5:24 PM   Subscribe

How do I trim up an obese dog who has trouble standing up due to weight/muscle atrophy?

I am fostering this amazing angel! I am slowly working with him to start to trust me, feel safe, etc. But I also have to trim him down and get him exercised. This is where I am needing some creative ideas. (He is getting/going to get more vet care, of course)

He is on a diet to help his weight, but I am a bit concerned about getting him exercised. He is so big and heavy, and probably unused to moving beyond his previous chains that he can walk/waddle but has trouble with steps. I want to ease him slowly into exercise, but I live on a hill, and my yard is all steps. Two flights to get to the street, every terrace is stepped.

I am afraid that having him do the steps is too much for him right off the bat with all the extra weight he is carrying. (and he falls onto his butt when on stairs, poor darling!)

Any ideas for small exercises? Will having him go up the steps be too painful/damaging to his already stressed system? Should I just worry about the diet first for a few weeks, then exercise? Is just walking him in a 20 foot circle enough to start with? I would love to combine something with trust exercises as well.

I am looking for creative ideas I can do with this dog who is still learning to trust me, even to give him a treat, so no fetching, fast movement, etc.

Thank you for any ideas.
posted by Vaike to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've read that swimming is good for an obese dog, same principle as with humans and the added support for weight. Not sure if that would be possible where you live. Might be an opportunity to build trust to if you're in the water with him.
posted by Abiezer at 5:39 PM on June 4, 2010

Could you feed just a bite or two at a time, moving his bowl from one end of the house to the other? He'd get some walking in, at least.
posted by contraption at 5:45 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seriously, swimming. There are many dog aquatic centers that specialize in rehabilitation and I'm sure there are some in Los Angeles. The people in these centers are trained to help reluctant dogs enjoy the process.
posted by Kimberly at 5:53 PM on June 4, 2010

You have a hallway? Throw a ball down the hallway. My dogs gets all amped up just from this.

OK, yours may not fetch, but you can certainly do something where the poor guy can just walk some laps.

And don't discount some good ol' tug of war wrestling with a knotted rope.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:58 PM on June 4, 2010

My friends have adopted an obese dog (a very sweet and gentle golden retriever with a back as broad as a table), and they feed her a low-calorie high-protein diet — and they exercise her several times a day for short periods of time, such as five walks at various times during the day (when possible). This seems to help her burn a few calories and build some muscle while not wearing her out too much.
posted by dreamyshade at 6:12 PM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: I am afraid that having him do the steps is too much for him right off the bat with all the extra weight he is carrying.

Should I just worry about the diet first for a few weeks, then exercise?

Your instincts are in the right place. Furry Angel Bear went from the end of a chain to a kennel run to your house. I suspect he's not ready to go up and down those stairs just yet.

contraption's suggestion of moving his bowl in between small meals is a great one. As is your idea of just walking him in 20ft circles for the time being. Standing at one end of your house with a tiny tidbit of something tasty (cheese? turkey? raw liver?) and calling him would not only give him the opportunity to stretch his legs a little while building trust.

In 2-4 weeks, with your lovin', a soft bed, regular meals and gentle exercise, he should bloom out of the shelter shock he's in, and may be ready to start on those stairs. Take it really slow; he's not only obese and atrophied, but also pretty elderly. You may want to consider supplementing his food with fish oil / glucosamine / vitamin E, or a superfood supplement.

Good luck, and dog bless you for fostering a sad-eyed senior.
posted by Seppaku at 7:03 PM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: In order to help him get outside, can you get a sheet of thick plywood and lay it over the steps to make a ramp? Two flights sounds like "probably not" but maybe it'd help in some places.

I had an obese dog. Among other suggestions I got from a panel at a veterinary conference, they told me that diet dog food is often so low in nutrients that dogs on diet food have no energy to move--so they don't lose, and sometimes gain, weight. Funny enough, that dog started to lose weight when I proceeded to add a fat supplement (fatty acid oil) to his meals, keeping the same amount of kibble.

In case the vets don't think to mention it, I've had great success with "Adequan" for senior dogs with joint problems.

In case you don't have much experience with arthritis yourself, it is normal for there to be pain when starting to move after lying still. It does usually hurt to start moving. When he's more fit, he should work through the stiffness and pain in a few minutes as he warms up, and exercising long enough to work out the stiffness is one of the great assists in managing arthritis. (It sounds like, for right now, he may not have the stamina to keep moving long enough to work through the stiffness.)

When I took in foster dogs with mental issues, one of the things that really helped was starting with teaching them to "sit." (Any trick would do, but "sit" was usually easiest to start.) Often, even if they'd been handled before, they didn't have a good grasp of "perform --> treat, failure to perform --> correction and try again." They tended to view correction as random punishment, and had no understanding of reward for performance. Generally once they got the idea, it was a major breakthrough in trust, communication, attentiveness ... everything.

So since your foster guy can't exert himself much yet and sounds like he could really use some experience with learning to be handled positively, what about walking him in circles, stopping every little while to sit? If he's really creaky, he may prefer to lay down; that would work too. So he gets some walking, combined with working on trust issues and communication.
posted by galadriel at 8:18 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nice back and hip rubs will make him feel better. Little, slow walks to start. He will be wonderful and happy eventually. We adopted an older gentleman. He was tied up to a shed all his life, then dumped. Eventually our old man was comfortable and happy, it took about 6 months for him to really relax.
posted by fifilaru at 9:56 PM on June 4, 2010

If you're going to reward with food, give him raw green beans or little chunks of carrots. We got one of our dogs to drop about 30 lbs by limiting his food to 2 cups a day and giving him lots of green beans and carrots to supplement the bulk. We had previously free-fed and he didn't have the "Stop, I'm full" mechanism that our other dog does.

Also, consider giving him glucosamine to help with those aching joints. Both of our senior dogs are on it and it really helps them a lot.
posted by onhazier at 4:09 AM on June 5, 2010

Best answer: I don't have a dog, and I'm hoping that other people with more experience can weigh in, but this is what I thought of when I read the question - mobility sling - harness type thing it looks like an easy way to help him up and down those stairs.
posted by lemniskate at 5:31 AM on June 5, 2010

Be sure that you're feeding a high protein/low carb diet and not a "weight reduction" diet. Most of the commercial "lite" kibbles just have more filler and actually make it harder to take weight off a dog. A high-quality grain-free kibble fed in moderation with healthy filler like canned pumpkin, cooked green beans, air-popped popcorn, etc. is the way to go.

Normally you don't need "diet" food, you just need to feed less of whatever the dog is eating, as long as what the dog is eating is a high quality food.

I would not be looking at any structured exercise beyond short walks until some of the weight is off, definitely not playing fetch in the hallway!
posted by biscotti at 7:30 AM on June 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for the good ideas, everyone. Swimming sounds so great, but he is a long way from it, as standing is still challenging. I will be adding supplements to his diet as well. I do have the glucosamine/chondroitin supplements so far. He is on Natural Balance, regular and diet combined.

He took a little exploration around the yard all on his own today, which was very exciting! I will take him on a 'walk' in it today.
posted by Vaike at 11:48 AM on June 5, 2010

What a gorgeous dog! Hydrotherapy doesn't have to start with swimming in a large pool - check what centers are near to you and what they offer, some have treadmills (scroll down to see photos) that allow the dog to tread water, safely supported by a harness in warm water before graduating to a larger pool. Not only did it help our (then) young dog immensely in recovery from surgery but the bonding was wonderful (you can get in the water with your dog in most centers).

All the very best of luck with him, he's a lucky chap to have found you.
posted by ceri richard at 12:36 PM on June 5, 2010

Hydrotherapy doesn't have to start with swimming in a large pool - check what centers are near to you and what they offer, some have treadmills (scroll down to see photos) that allow the dog to tread water, safely supported by a harness in warm water

This -- hydrotherapy is not swimming. It's walking on a treadmill that is a bit under the water, so that the buoyancy of the water effectively lowers the dog's weight and makes the walking easier. I've known this to be used for dogs recovering from things like joint surgery/replacement. Probably great for a dog like yours, but could be pricey and hard to find (never done it myself).

Whether you are able to go to such lengths or not, please know that you are already giving this old guy the love, life, companionship, and care that he has never had. Our thoughts (mine and Mrs. Methods :) are with you both.
posted by madmethods at 8:53 PM on June 5, 2010

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