It can be tough enough maintaining a healthy body weight for ourselves, so how do we cope when our pet starts showing the signs of weight gain? Understanding dog obesity – the causes, the effects and the preventative measures – can make all the difference to successfully overcoming the challenge, and having a checklist to guide you will increase your chances of success.
The increase in dog obesity worldwide has prompted an increase in research into the causes, effects and treatment of this condition, which can shorten an animal’s life by as much as two years and be highly detrimental to their quality of life. It can be difficult to eat in front of our pets without sharing, especially when their big eyes look longingly at us. But firstly, what we’re eating is more than likely unsuitable for canine consumption, and secondly, the inevitable consequence for the dog is excess weight.
What is obesity?
Obesity is a nutritional disease that is characterised by an excess of body fat. The primary cause of excess body fat is a surplus of calorie intake over calorie burn i.e. over-fed, under-exercised dogs. Secondary causal factors can be breed, age, neutering and underlying medical conditions like diabetes or hypothyroidism. Obesity can occur in dogs of all ages, but is most common in dogs between five and ten years of age.
The breed factor
Recent research indicates that dog obesity can have a genetic basis. Basset Hounds, Cocker Spaniels, Shetland Sheepdogs, Labrador Retrievers, King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Beagles and some terrier breeds indicate a disposition towards obesity, while certain breeds, particularly sight hounds, appear to be somewhat immune (have you ever seen a fat greyhound?).
How will it affect my dog?
Obesity has consequences that go way beyond appearances. It affects mobility, digestion and breathing, and can lead to:
– Decreased stamina
– Heat intolerance
– High blood pressure
– Liver problems
– Cardiac problems
– Immune system
One of the biggest challenges for the veterinarian profession is trying to educate dog owners about obesity. Far too many owners are either not aware, or refuse to acknowledge, that their loving pet is overweight until it starts to slow down and breath heavily.
Morbid obesity is easy to spot, but a dog can accumulate serious weight without it being too apparent. Do a quick check on your pet: feel around its torso while it’s standing. You should be able to feel the ribs and backbone quite easily. Your dog’s waist is another key indicator – in most breeds it should be trim and tucked in. Any doubts around these simple tests should alert you to a possible weight gain problem.
A morbidly obese dog will benefit most from a visit to the vet, who will develop a diet based on the dog’s age, breed, medical condition and other relevant factors. Your vet will ensure that no muscle loss occurs during the fight back to canine health.
Alongside your visit to the vet, the following checklist may prove useful;
– Weigh your dog – this is the starting point against which you can measure progress weekly
– Establish your dog’s ideal weight – this is the target weight you and your dog need to work towards
– Calculate your dog’s recommended daily calorie intake – this will form the basis for your new feeding regime
– Feed your dog correctly – many pets are fed “free choice”, meaning that food is available all day, every day. Dogs, like humans, will eat when bored, and pile on weight. Feed your dog twice a day, at the same time each day. This routine is very beneficial to weight optimisation, digestion and general pet health.
– Measure the amount of food you feed your dog. Avoid guesswork – if you are serious about achieving your goal you need to make sure that you’re feeding the correct amount every day.
– Exercise your dog – dogs that burn more calories than they consume lose weight – just like us humans!
– Weigh you dog every week – you should be recording a weekly weight loss of between one and two percent, which, over ten weeks, will reduce your dog’s weight by between ten and twenty percent. Not bad!
NB: Failure to achieve weight loss after two/three weeks will require further calorie reduction. Make sure that your dog is not being fed on the sly by a sympathetic family member!!
– Continue to record your dog’s weight so that you can see straight away if weight is becoming an issue again, and nip it in the bud.
Dog obesity is unhealthy, expensive and unnecessary. By regularly monitoring your dog’s weight and addressing weight gain as it occurs, you’ll save money and help your pet live a longer and healthier life.