Dog Obesity: A “Big” Canine Health Problem

Just like us, our dogs are getting fatter. And, just like with us, dog obesity is a serious health risk. But why is this problem spreading, what are the risks of dob obesity, and what can be done about it?

In this article I’ll talk about the best weight for your dog, how to help end your dog’s obesity, and how to maintain the right weight. I apologize in advance, because some parts of this article are a bit dismal and serious. Dog obesity is fatal, so let’s take a deep breath and solve it.

How is Dog Obesity Linked to Dog Health Problems?

I could write a fifty-page list of why an overweight or obese dog is prone to a short, unhappy life, but let me just hit a handful of the serious, and lesser-known issues. Bone damage, joint and ligament damage, diabetes, heart disease, breathing problems, high blood pressure, low energy, liver dysfunction, reproductive problems, poor digestion, higher risk of complications during surgery, compromised immune systems, unhealthy skin and coat, and one of today’s biggest dog-killers out there, canine cancer – all this and more could be yours! Canine obesity has got to stop.

How “Wide Spread” is Canine Obesity?

Worldwide, the statistic for dog obesity is in the realm of 20 to 40 per cent. Just taking into account Britain and the United States, this is around 19 million overweight dogs. A recent study in Australia showed that even more than 40 per cent of dogs were either overweight or obese.

That’s more than 40% of the dog population with increased risk of
a long, long list of preventable, fatal health problems!

“Back in the day,” dogs were both work animals, and pets. Now, they’re usually just pets, and they’re learning the lazy lifestyle we’ve taught them in the modern world. Too many of them eat sub-standard food, and don’t get the exercise they need. The result: rampant dog obesity and health problems.

What’s Causing Rampant Dog Obesity?

The main cause is overfeeding, followed by not enough exercise. Poor quality food is also high on the list of dog obesity causes. Dogs are eating too much junk food and not burning off the calories.

But there are other, more subtle causes of dog obesity:

  • A dog that was healthy and kept a good weight in his younger years, can become obese during middle- or old-age. This is often due to the owners not adjusting the diet as the dog’s metabolism and exercise habits slow down.
  • Once a dog is spayed or neutered, his or her need for calories drops significantly, and so the dog’s diet should change accordingly.
  • Some dog breeds are naturally prone to obesity for various reasons. A Great Dane needs far, far less food than you’d expect for his size. Beagles and Shetland Sheepdogs, don’t metabolize food very well, so poor quality food or overfeeding will lead to obesity.
  • Breeds that are prone to being spoiled or picky about their food, might be fed extremely fatty foods when their owners “bribe” them into eating.
  • Families with multiple dogs might have a food competition taking place without realizing it. That competition leads to dog obesity because the nervous, non-alpha dogs will wolf-down every scrap they can get, scared they won’t have another chance to eat later.
  • Some medications will affect a dog’s appetite. If your dog goes on a new medication, ask about diet concerns. If the veterinarian says the medication will increase your dog’s appetite, consider taking away the food bowl after each meal to prevent obesity.
  • Sometimes a dog will digest food less effectively, or eat more, during illness.

How to Identify Dog Obesity

Although an objective person can spot dog obesity at a mere glance, we as owners are more self-conscious and might want to deny the problem. A recent study showed that there was a huge gap in perceptions of dog obesity between owners and veterinarians – 17 per cent of owners said their dogs were obese, versus 47 of veterinarians.

How to identify dog obesity” style=”margin: 5px 15px; float: right;” />Food is a great comfort to everyone, and we dog owners will give our pets a tasty treat, bits and scraps from the table, or an extra helping just to show our love. But a better way to show that love is to protect our dogs’ lives from fatal obesity.

Run your hands up and down your dog’s sides. If you can easily feel his ribs but not see them, he’s probably healthy. If you can pinch flab and fat, he’s probably an obese or overweight dog. Firm muscle tone is good – soft rolls are not. The way he walk is another sign of dog obesity – overweight dogs will waddle, healthy dogs will strut. Difficulty breathing is yet another sign of dog obesity.

Of course, the best test of dog obesity is a straightforward, scientific one. Visit a website that lists the ideal weights for different breeds and genders based on their height and age, then put your big buddy on a scale and get the plain truth. Naturally, your veterinarian is also a good source for this info.

The breed of dog is a major factor in what’s healthy and what’s not. Dogs who were originally bred for shepherding will need a bit more fat than one bred for running. Dogs with very big bones are bigger-proportioned all-around.

One more thing you can do at home is to take the online B.A.R.C (Body Assessment Rating for Canines) and get a general idea of where your dog stands compared to both ideal weight, and obesity.

But the very best answer will come from your veterinarian. If your vet says your dog is obese, then that’s the final word.

What You Can Do About Dog Obesity

Dog obesity is possibly the number one health problem that you can control yourself at home.

First, go to the vet for a general health checkup. Your dog’s obesity could be a symptom of a completely different health problem. If that’s the case, then changing their diet or inducing more exercise might be the wrong thing to do.

Once you’ve eliminated dog obesity as merely being a symptom, it’s time to do exactly what you’d expect. Here’s a list of tips to help you get your dog’s weight under control:

  • Whatever you do to reduce your dog’s obesity, don’t expect overnight results. It will take a few months or more to turn your dog’s weight problem around.
  • Don’t let your dog free-feed. Remove the food after each meal and don’t let your dog tell you when it’s feeding time.
  • Make sure you’re choosing your dog’s food for best health. If you’ve been bribing him to eat by giving the tastiest, fattiest foods, that’s got to stop.
  • Do the same for snacks. Your pet store can advise you on dog treats that help with weight loss.
  • Gradually increase exercise. Keep in mind that an obese dog can become over-tired, so don’t launch them into a military-grade exercise regiment.
  • Like us, dogs will eat to cure boredom. Reduce this boredom by paying more attention to your obese dog, giving him toys, doing more obedience training… generally, keep him entertained.

Diet Advice for Dog Obesity:
Choosing the Right Food

The quality of your dog’s food is a huge factor in dog obesity. Cheap food is full of fillers that make your dog feel full without providing any nutritional value. More expensive foods will satisfy his biological needs. When you switch your obese dog to a better-quality food, you’ll need to gradually reduce the amount of food, because that healthier food has more calories.

Dog obesity and food choicesIf you subscribe to The Whole Dog Journal, you’ll get a complete analysis each year of the best dog foods in every category. There’s also a lot of information all over the web, ranging from the scientific to the speculative. I’ve written a guide to the dog food market in general, but cutting straight to the chase: if you want a great dog food for both healthy and obese dogs, try Wellness brand dog food.

You can spot doggie junk food by looking at the ingredients. Remember that the ingredients are listed according to proportion, so if corn and grain are near the top of the ingredients list, it’s garbage. If the first few ingredients mention chicken, lamb, and so on, it’s better-quality food. Protein should be the order of the day.

A warning about “low-calorie diet food” for dogs: The jury is still out about these kinds of meals. Read some articles on the web about this before you decide to feed it to your obese dog. In short, these foods have been known to reduce dog obesity, but occasionally lead directly to other, serious health problems.

I’m not saying that the entire low-calorie diet dog food industry is bad, or that all those products are bad for your dog. I’m just saying that there are some risks, and so that kind of food should not be considered a push-button solution to dog obesity.

Diet Advice for Dog Obesity:
Portions and Feeding Schedules

Dog obesity and food portionsHere’s the simple rule of thumb for your obese dog’s “losing weight” diet, or, for that matter, any dog whether he’s healthy or fat. Put the food down, let him eat for 5 or 10 minutes, then take the food away. Do this two or three times a day. This works because your dog will go to the bowl and eat until he’s no longer hungry… but if the food stays there, he’ll return and snack, and snack, and snack.

Keep in mind that a dog who’s used to having food available all the time, is going to resist this change by begging for food. Distract him! Play with him, exercise him, train him – don’t give in. Follow the simple advice above and your dog will automatically adjust so that he’s taking in enough food to get the right amount of energy, but not so much that it maintains his obesity.

Here’s what you should not do: Don’t follow the feeding advice on the dog food package. The portions and schedules placed on dog food packaging are just “filler text” that’s only there because it looks informative. It doesn’t take into account breed, weight or size, exercise habits, or the possibility that your dog is obese or under-weight. Ignore the feeding advice on the dog food bag.

Diet Advice for Dog Obesity:
Weight Loss Exercise

Keep in mind that an overweight or obese dog will have less energy than a healthy one. For this reason, you should simply go for long walks at a relaxed pace. You will notice after a month of this, that his energy level begins to rise. Don’t suddenly increase to a long jog just because your dog has a tiny bit more spring in his step! Take it slow.

Play time is the best way to gauge the effects of dog obesity melting away. As his physical condition improves, he’ll become much more playful. Once he’s become so happy about his new energy level that play time becomes much more active and he wants to play much more often, that’s when you increase his “formal exercise” a bit more. In short: Let your formerly-obese dog’s changing habits, be your guide.

Dog Obesity Health Tip:
Don’t Force Rapid Weight Loss!

Rapid drops in body mass are a big risk. Don’t do anything to try and end dog obesity faster than is natural and healthy. Normal weight loss results should be in the neighborhood of 1 to 2 per cent of total body mass per week – any more weight loss than that, is unhealthy.

Conclusions on Dog Obesity

Your vet is a great source of information. Ask him or her what snacks and meal supplements you can use to keep your dog comfortable and happy while you fight dog obesity. Your vet is less likely to pull a “sales pitch” than your pet store, and besides that, your vet knows more than a sales clerk will.

Don’t give up on your obese dog’s diet just because he cries at you for food. Think of how much more he’d cry while having a heart attack, and then stick to his best interests. Dog obesity is fatal, and your dog will be overjoyed when he starts to feel like a puppy again!

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