By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
The obesity of American dogs has reached an unforgivable level. Experts believe that 40% of our nation’s dogs are overweight. It is time that all pet owners take stock in their beloved furry companion’s health and get on top of this obesity epidemic. After all, our dogs aren’t going grocery shopping, or standing in front of the fridge trying to figure out what to snack on; they depend on us to provide them with healthy, nutritious food, and that is a serious responsibility.
How Can I Tell if My Dog’s Overweight?
The best way to get a feel for whether or not your dog needs to lose weight is to take him to the vet. Generally though, when you run your hand along your dog’s side, you should be able to feel his ribs with just a thin layer of fat over them. Viewed from the side, your dog’s stomach should tuck up behind the rib cage. Viewed from above your dog should have a discernable waist. Of course, every breed is different and has different ideal amounts of body fat, so your vet is your best way to know for sure. However, if you cannot feel your dog’s ribs, it is a safe assumption that he probably needs to lose some weight, and could benefit from a trip to the vet.
What’s so Bad About a Rollie Pollie Pooch?
Obesity in dogs, as in people, can cause a number of health issues. Overweight dogs as a whole live shorter, less healthy lives. All of the following health issues can be attributed to obesity:
-Decline in liver function
-Intolerance to heat
-Higher risk of complications with anesthesia
-Joint damage, bone damage, and ligament damage
-Intervertebral disc disease
-Increased cancer risk
-Skin and coat issues
-Decreased immune function
-High blood pressure
What Made My Dog Overweight?
There are some health issues that can cause weight gain. Your vet can rule out these conditions, and if your dog is afflicted with one of them, your vet can most likely treat the problem so you can pursue helping your pet to a healthier weight. Some of these conditions include hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, insulinoma, pituitary gland abnormalities, and hypothalamic abnormalities.
Certain breeds are also predisposed to weight gain. These breeds include Labrador Retrievers, Dachshunds, Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Schipperkes and Bassett Hounds. This just means that these breeds are more likely to become obese, or gain weight more easily; it is not an excuse. Having an obese dog is not ok just because it is a breed more prone to the condition.
Most dogs, however, are obese just because they are taking in far more calories than they burn each day. Just as in people, the calories they consume but don’t burn are stored in their bodies as fat. Most overweight dogs are simply eating too much.
Contrary to popular belief, neutering and spaying does not cause a dog to gain weight. This surgical procedure does slow a dog’s metabolism, but that just means they need to eat less food so they won’t get fat.
Free feeding is a major cause of obesity in dogs. This is the act of leaving food out all day for your dog, and just refilling the bowl whenever it is empty. Most veterinarians consider it a bad idea to leave it up to Rover how much he eats each day. It is nearly impossible to monitor how much your dog is consuming with this feeding method, and most dogs will eat far more than they need to maintain a healthy weight.
Over-treating is another major cause of chubby pups. Sometimes owners over-treat because they feel guilty for not spending enough time with the dog, using yummy snacks as a form of affection. Other times they just can’t resist those big brown eyes. This becomes a problem when the snack of choice is an unhealthy one, like yummy bits of fat from a steak, or some potato chips or cheese. Often, dog owners forget to consider that these snacks are part of the total calories a dog consumes each day. If a dog is receiving the right amount of calories through the kibble in his bowl each day, then these snacks are taking his calorie total far too high. Also, if more than one member of the family is sneaking Fido snacks under the dinner table, the day-end calorie count can be truly astronomical, and it’s hard for any one member of the family to get a handle on why Fido’s getting so fat.
These decadent, high fat snacks can also cause your dog to turn his nose up at his real food. Lots of dogs are overweight because their owners have such a hard time getting them to eat their kibble that they are almost entirely sustained on table scraps. These dogs, in turn, beg more and more, because they are rewarded for their begging, and also because the low nutritional value of these snacks leaves them constantly craving more.
Dogs in multi-dog homes are at risk for becoming obese because of the competition factor. If they feel that their food supply could be threatened, they are going to focus more on food and make sure they scarf up every bit before anyone has a chance to take it away. A more dominant dog in the household might also consume other dog’s food as well as his own, leading to weight gain.
Certain mental states can help your dog pack on the pounds too. Just as humans eat out of boredom and stress, so do dogs. If Rover is getting into the garbage and eating all of last week’s leftovers, it might be because he’s looking for something entertaining to do or a way to work out some of his stress energy, and the tasty treats he finds therein are just a bonus.
The wrong food can also make dogs gain weight. High performance foods are made for dogs who get a lot of exercise, so giving this kind of food to your couch potato at home will definitely cause him to gain weight. Also, cheap, low quality dog foods are much higher in fillers than nutrients. So, your dog may be consuming tons of food because he craves balanced nutrition, and is basically just receiving carbs and a chubby tummy.
What Can I Do?
First, a vet trip is in order. Once your vet rules out all the disease and disorder-related reasons your dog could be overweight, you can get down to solving the problem at home. Your vet can also help you choose a premium, high quality dog food so your dog is getting plenty of nutrients without tons of filler.
Discuss your dog’s ability to exercise with your vet. If he is extremely overweight, you will want to start off slow, and keep a close eye on your dog, especially in warm weather. Your vet can advise how long and how far you should walk your dog to give him the exercise he needs without putting too much strain on his heart and lungs. Also, along with walking every day, you should get outside and play with your dog daily too. Games like fetch, Frisbee, hide and seek, and chasing games are great cardiovascular exercise for you and your dog, and they reduce stress and boredom for both of you. If you are not physically able to run around with your dog, find a buddy with a dog, or head to the dog park. Dogs make great exercise buddies for one another, and rarely just sit around together when they have the chance to play.
Make a note of your dog’s weight. Reduce his food intake by one third for two weeks. After the two weeks are up, weigh your dog again. If he has not lost weight, reduce his food by a third again and weigh him again in two weeks. Once you find an amount of food with which he is losing weight, even a little bit at a time, stick with it. Remember to consider any treats he’s receiving as rewards or as a part of training when you cut back his food supply.
Stop the free feeding. Get your dog into a routine of eating twice a day at the same time every day. This will not only help your dog to lose weight, but the routine will also help with other training issues, including housebreaking.
Sit your family down and discuss the problem. Make sure that everyone in the house understands that Fido is not allowed to have any table scraps or extra treats, and no one is to reward begging! Explain that this is a health concern for dear Fido, and as much as he wants that hunk of dinner roll, they would probably rather have him around for several more years than give in. Help everyone understand that food is not love and treats are not affection. If they really want to see his tail wag, they can take him for a walk, or play a game of fetch in the yard. If you and your family just can’t stand not giving Fido treats, try carrots, green beans, banana slices, unbuttered popcorn, or apple or orange slices.
If your dog has been spoiled to the point where he won’t eat dog food, all is not lost. Start by mixing his dry food with one of his favorite treats, and a little warm water to meld the tastes together. Over a couple of days, phase out the fatty treat and replace it with a couple of spoonfuls of a healthy, low fat canned dog food. You can keep this up forever if you don’t mind the extra hassle, or you can phase out the canned food over time. As long as no one in your home is sneaking Fido treats, he will get hungry, and he will
eat dog food.
If food competition is contributing to your dog’s obesity, try feeding your dogs in different rooms, and not letting them out until they are both done with dinner.
We all know that losing weight is not easy. Dogs gain weight and become obese over time--they are not going to shed those pounds over night. Just remember to be patient and consistent, and don’t give in to those big brown eyes at dinner time.