Although dogs (and cats) don’t worry about how they look if they’re overweight or the fact their clothes no longer fit, there are many diseases and conditions that come along with extra pounds, similar to what we see in humans. We’re all told we need to eat healthier and exercise more to combat obesity, but did you know there’s also an obesity epidemic among pets? According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the US are overweight or obese. In fact, obesity is now considered the biggest threat to the health and well-being of our pets. This blog will largely pertain to dogs, but you can read how obesity affects cats by visiting this link: PetMD.
Obesity can result in serious adverse health effects such as reducing your pet’s lifespan, even if they are only moderately obese. Multiple areas of the body are affected by excess body fat, including bones and joints, digestive organs, and the organs responsible for breathing capacity. Obesity is common in dogs of all ages, but it usually occurs in middle-aged dogs (which can differ based on breed and size). Indoor dogs tend to have a higher risk of becoming obese.
Health effects of pet obesity include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Osteoarthritis, especially in the hip
- High blood pressure
- Orthopedic problems, cranial cruciate ligament injuries
- Skin disease
- Thyroid problems
- Heart and Respiratory Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Some cancers
- Decreased life expectancy (up to 2.5 years)
How to tell if your dog is overweight:
The rules range for people, but figuring out whether your dog is overweight or obese is a matter of appearance and touch. For example, if you can’t find your dog’s ribcage, you have an overweight dog. There should be a thin layer of fat separating the skin from the bones. Ask your veterinarian to evaluate your dog’s size at every check-up. Once your canine reaches maturity, ask for his optimal weight. As a rule of thumb, 15% above that weight is obese; zero to 15% is overweight.
Although some breeds are more likely to gain weight than others, veterinarians see obesity in every single breed. Just as different dog breeds have different genetic make ups that affect their appearances and behaviors, they also have different susceptibilities to illnesses and diseases.
In addition to genetics, some breeds gain weight faster than others because they’re less active or because their metabolisms and appetites are different. According to PetMD, the six dog breeds most likely to pack on the pounds are: Bassett Hounds, Bulldogs, Pugs, Beagles, Golden Retrievers, and Dachshunds.
Here are some of the reasons these particular pooches top the list:
- Basset Hounds weren’t built for speed so you can’t really expect them to burn too many calories when they do venture out. With their short legs, they are unlikely to be runners, overly exert themselves, or be big exercisers. If Basset owners don’t pay attention to portion sizes, these dogs can pack on weight fast.
- English bulldogs are often overweight because many people believe they have a certain look, “strong” – and to get them to look this way, people end up overfeeding them. Also Bulldogs and Pugs are among the brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds. They can have airway issues causing an intolerance for exercise.
- Beagles are naturally active dogs, but their metabolisms may be slower than other breeds and they have good appetites. They were bred for rabbit hunting, but now most are kept in confined spaces. If they don’t get plenty of exercise and are fed large portion sizes or lots of treats, they are likely to gain weight.
- Golden Retrievers are mellow, sweet dogs with eyes that are hard to resist and often end up overweight when it’s hard to say “no” to table scraps. Goldens tend to be very attached to their human family, so they may be around more when you’re eating and may seem very content on the couch.
- Dachshunds are on the list as they were bred to hunt badgers, foxes, rabbits and deer, which required a high energy level for running, barking, and digging. Now we keep them as lapdogs!
It’s really no surprise that a breed that was designed to convert the food they ate into energy very efficiently has problems with obesity once they stop being active. But all dogs require some form of exercise daily for physical and mental well-being. Check with your veterinarian for the right type and amount of exercise for your breed and age of dog.
Causes of obesity in dogs:
There are several causes of obesity. It is mostly caused by an imbalance between the energy intake and its usage — eating more than the dog can possibly expend. Obesity becomes more common in old age because of the normal decrease in a dog’s ability to exercise. Unhealthy eating habits such as high-calorie foods, an alternating diet, and frequent treats can also bring on this condition.
Other common causes include:
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Insulinoma (pancreatic tumor)
- Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease)
- Spaying/Neutering (however, altering your pet is very important in reducing the chance of reproductive cancers and other health and behavior issues).
The solution is pretty simple: To avoid weight gain, calories burned must be equal or greater than calories ingested. But first, check with your vet to make sure that the excess weight is not the result of an underlying health problem or disease. Also, before you change food or reduce calories, you’ll want to get your dog a check-up and talk to your vet about the specific caloric requirements for your dog’s optimal health needs and how to find the best quality, nutrient-rich balanced diet to support and maintain a healthy weight.
What can you do to keep them at a healthy weight?
As with humans, there are basic methods for slimming down. After taking the steps above, try these helpful tips:
Hit the Scale: Weigh your pet periodically (weekly or monthly) to make sure they’re on track. For small pets — weigh yourself, then get on the scale with your pet and do the math. If your pet is too big or heavy, ask your vet to let you use the scale at the clinic. Regardless of the method, it’s imperative that your pet is weighed on the same scale consistently.
Measure Meals: Keeping a diary is one of the most important steps in any human weight-loss program. Since dogs can’t write, you’ll have to do it for them. Keep track of how much kibble you are feeding by using a measuring cup. Make sure to feed for the weight you want the dog to be!
Establish a Schedule: If you free-feed, don’t leave the food down all day, offer meals on a set schedule. Put the food down for a certain time, perhaps 15 minutes, and take up any food that the dog does not eat.
Limit Between-Meal Snacks: The calories dogs get in addition to their regular kibble can really add up. Be sure to keep track and manage how many extra goodies the dog is getting.
Don’t Share your Food: Although sometimes sharing what you’re eating with your dog is tempting, it isn’t really in their best interest. People food is often too rich and seasoned and can wreak havoc on the canine digestive tract. Plus, it can really put on the pounds.
Reward your dog with affection, not food: We’re all tempted to tell our dog what a good boy or girl they are by giving them a treat. We may also train them to do tricks by giving treats, but as we know, these calories count. Try giving praise and affection – as well as exercise and play – as a proper reward for good behavior.
Choose Low-Calorie Treats: Many store-bought treats can have high calorie and fat content, be sure to check the label. Some dogs will be just as happy with carrots (raw or cooked) or steamed green beans or broccoli. Be cautious about chews as well – some are high in calories (such as bully sticks). When you try any new treat, offer just a small portion to make sure it agrees with your dog’s digestion.
Get Moving! This may be the best thing you can do to help your heavy hound… and yourself! There are so many activities you and your dog can do together, but here are some suggestions to start a weight-reducing program:
- Swimming is low-impact and can build muscles and burn calories without hurting joints.
- Walking, also low-impact, has the added benefit of getting both of you out of the house and into the fresh air.
- Fetch is fun, and its quick sprints will do a lot to raise fitness levels.
Importantly though, whatever exercise routine you choose, start slowly and check with your veterinarian first. You don’t want to exacerbate any potential health or joint problems.
For more information on the effects obesity and extra weight can have on your pet, visit the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website.