Canine Obesity

Recent studies have shown that up to 41% of dogs presented to veterinary surgeons are overweight!  If the extra weight amounts to over 15% of optimal body weight then he/she if classified as obese.   Another study that shows that overweight dogs live on average 15% – or 2 years less for the Labradors in this study!   As with people, dogs carrying extra weight place extra demands on virtually all the organs of the body.

Just some of the problems we associate with obesity are as follows:

  1. Damage to joints, bones and ligaments – approximately ¼ of overweight dogs develop serious joint complications, including arthritis, ligament damage (eg cruciate rupture), and back problems.  This is especially a problem with dogs expected to jump over obstacles in agility, but can be a problem with your dog just running around your garden!
  2. Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes)
  3. Heart disease and increased blood pressure due to an increased work load
  4. Difficulty breathing as fat in the chest restricts expansion of the lungs, plus increased tissue mass places extra demands.
  5. Decreased endurance due to heart and lungs problems
  6. In addition heat intolerance, decreased liver function, digestive disorders, reproductive problems, decreased immune function, coat abnormalities, increased risk of cancer and reproductive problems etc etc

This all sounds very scary – so how do you know if your dog is overweight as often we are so familiar with our dogs, we fail to notice! 

A three point check can help as follows:

  1. Rib check – place both of your thumbs on the dogs backbone and spread your fingers over the rib cage.  You should be able to feel the bump of the ribs without pressing in.
  2. Look from above – The waist should be visible just in front of the hips.
  3. Profile check – the abdomen should appear slightly tucked up and not hang down!

So why is your dog overweight?  Well it can be related simply to overfeeding or a disease process, but the bottom line is the same, your dog is taking in more calories than he is using!

So what can you do about it? Well the first thing is to visit your vet to discuss options, weigh your dog and determine there is not an underlying cause (such as an under active thyroid gland). Neutering and spaying can contribute to obesity as it lowers the energy demands of our dogs – but again if we feed the correct amount of food this should not be a problem, in fact think of the saving in food bills!  It’s suprising how little a dog needs to maintain weight, especially if he/she is essentially a couch potato!

Weight loss should not exceed 1-2 % of body weight per week, otherwise this can be detrimental to your dogs health and also means they are likely to put the weight back on.   There are 2 ways of approaching the problem either to decrease the amount of the current food they are eating, or to change to a diet food.  If you opt for the first option, then you should decease the total amount by at least 1/3 of there current amount and then monitor weight loss.  Remember a lot of cheaper dog foods can contain high levels of fat!   The 2nd option is often preferable as diet foods contain generally more fibre for bulk, plus increased vitamins to allow for the decrease in food volume and also other substances to aid weight loss such as L-carnitine to promote fat loss.  Please discuss with your vet how much to feed.   If possible try to feed your dog more regularly ie 2-3 times daily as they are less likely to scavenge and feel more saited.

Remember table scraps and treats can also contain high levels of fat! It may be helpful to either use low calorie treats from your vets, or low calorie food at home eg carrot pieces, and factor this into the total daily allowance.  Alternatively use toys or attention as praise – which most dogs generally prefer.

Exercise is also a vital part of a weight control problem but remember to start slowly.  Don’t expect a dog that hasn’t done any exercise for months to suddenly run the equivalent of a marathon!

Above all weigh your dog regularly and don’t get upset if you hit a plateau as this is common – persevere it will be worth it and think of those extra years you’ll get to spend with your pet!

AnimalCare 2002 Limited

Animal Care Vets is actively involved in our local community. We support a number of charities, including the SPCA. We also care for the Hawkes Bay Police dogs. Our customers know by experience that they can rely on us for sound advice on treatment options and that their pet is in the very best hands with our team.