Keeping Your Pit Bull in Shape

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An in-shape pit bull is one of the champion athletes of the dog world. On the other hand, an out-of-shape, overweight pit bull suffers from a diminished quality of life and is at greater risk for a host of health problems.

The Obesity Epidemic

Obesity isn't just an epidemic among humans. Over 25% of dogs are obese, and another 15-19% are overweight. Pit bulls are not among the breeds predisposed to excessive weight gain, but that doesn't mean they are immune. Even greyhounds and whippets can pack on the pounds under the right--or rather, the wrong--circumstances.

Health Problems Caused By Obesity

Heath issues resulting from or exacerbated by obesity include:

  • Diabetes
  • Joint and Skeletal Problems
  • Heart Disease
  • Poor Liver Function
  • Difficulty Giving Birth
  • Lowered Immune Response
  • Increased Risk of Surgical Complications
  • Heat Intolerance
  • Decreased Stamina
  • Respiratory Problems

How to Keep Your Pit Bull in Shape

There are two basic elements to helping your pit bull stay healthy and maintain a sleek, muscular appearance. It probably won't surprise you to learn that these two elements are:

  • Diet
  • Exercise

Diet

The first and simplest step to ensuring a healthy pit bull is proper nutrition. Dogs fed a home-prepared species-appropriate diet are almost never overweight. And in the unlikely event that a dog on such a diet needs to lose a few pounds, it's easy to reduce the caloric value without reducing the total amount of food fed by choosing lower fat meats and adding more pureed vegetables.

If feeding a home-prepared diet isn't feasible, it's important to choose a quality commercial dog food. Cheap kibble contributes to weight gain by supplying excessive carbohydrates while failing to provide the right nutrition for optimum health and metabolic function. Low quality commercial foods also contain additives that encourage overeating, because dogs wouldn't touch these grain-based concoctions if they didn't include artificial "taste enhancers."

Whatever you choose to feed your dog, avoid overfeeding and poor feeding practices. Free feeding (leaving a bowl of food out at all times for your dog to eat at will) is a practice that contributes greatly to excessive weight gain.

If you use a lot of food rewards during training sessions, you may need to reduce the amount of food you feed at mealtimes accordingly. The same goes for all treats and table scraps your pit bull may be getting during the course of the day. A little something extra here and there can quickly add up to unwanted pounds if you're not careful.

If you can't easily feel your dog's ribs, it's time to cut back on the food and/or increase the exercise your furry companion is getting.

Exercise

Diet may be the easiest way to control your pit bull's weight, but exercise can be the most fun, both for you and your dog.

Walking your dog is a good start, but it's not an adequate exercise routine by itself. In order to get a good cardio workout, your pit bull needs to run at a trot for at least twenty minutes. And that means you'll need to run, not walk.

Not up to a twenty minute jog? Don't worry, there are plenty of ways to get your pit bull the daily workout she needs to stay in shape:

  • Off-lead walks and hiking - If you live in an area where off-lead nature walks are a possibility, taking your pit bull on a 30-60 minute walk every day is a relaxing way to provide him with a great workout.

  • Running - If you're a runner, start by taking your pit bull on short five minute jogs and slowly work up to longer runs. Be sure to watch for signs of exhaustion and overheating.

  • Bicycling - Taking your pit bull on bike rides is great exercise, but while you can purchase special bike leads and harnesses, your dog still needs to have excellent leash manners in order for bike rides to be safe and enjoyable. Let your pit bull set the pace, and watch carefully for signs of heat exhaustion.

  • Treadmill - Yes, there are treadmills designed especially for dogs. They're a wonderful choice for people who live in apartments or don't have a fenced yard, especially in the winter when outdoor exercise is not very appealing in some areas. They are also great time savers. 5-10 minutes on a treadmill provides your dog with a better workout than a half hour on-lead walk. Animal-powered treadmills are cheaper and easier to learn for dogs than the motorized variety.

  • Organized dog sports - Getting your dog involved a canine sport such as agility, flyball, or Frisbee dog is a great way for the two of you to spend time together and get a good workout. Practice at least 30 minutes a day, and you'll soon be ready for competition.

  • Backyard obstacle course - Even if you have no intention of competing in organized dog sports, setting up an obstacle course in your backyard provides your pit bull with a physical and mental workout. Since you're not formally competing, you can set up any type of course with whatever sort of obstacles you like and can afford (so long as they are safe, of course--jumping across moats through flaming hoops is not advised!) without worrying about whether they match agility trial regulations.

  • Retrieving games - Retrieving games are fun and great exercise, and unlike many of the preceding workout ideas, they're a wonderful way for people with certain disabilities to exercise their dogs. If you have trouble throwing very far, there are gadgets (such as the ChuckIt! Ball Launcher) available in pet supply catalogs that allow you to throw a tennis ball with ease.

  • Canine play - Dogs can get a great workout running and romping with canine playmates. If some of your friends have dogs that your pit bull likes, schedule playtime together so everyone's dogs can get their daily exercise. You may even want to consider getting a second dog.

Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day. If your dog is out of shape, you'll need to work up to that amount slowly.

Special Advisory Note for Puppies

One important note: No going jogging or biking with puppies! In fact, puppies should not be subjected to compulsive exercise of ANY kind!

Making puppies run or even walk for too long can cause joint damage, and increase the chances of degenerative joint disease in later life. This isn't to say you should keep your puppies from playing to their heart's content, but let them set the pace. Short walks are okay, but if the puppy seems tired and wants to rest, be sure to let them rest.

As a general rule of thumb, pit bulls should be at least 12-14 months old before going running or biking with their humans. The same goes for any activities involving jumping or twisting and turning (such as weave pole training in agility).

Obviously, you have a lot of options for keeping your pit bull in shape. Just remember to feed a good diet and find some way to ensure your dog enjoys a decent amount of exercise, and you should have no trouble maintaining great health for your best friend!

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