Many of us will have made a New Year’s resolution to lose a few pounds and get a bit fitter. But how many of us have made the same resolution for our dogs? Research suggests that over 30% of dogs are overweight, with many being seriously obese. Read more to find out if your pet is at risk of dog obesity and what action to take.
Is My Dog Overweight or Obese?
Being overweight for dogs can be described as having excess body fat for optimum health. Dog obesity is when the level of excess body fat actually impairs the health and wellbeing of an animal.
To check if your dog is at risk, take a good, long look at him and answer the following questions honestly.
If you look down on your dog from above, can you see a nip of a waistline behind the ribs?
If you look at your dog side on, can you see an abdominal tuck behind the ribs?
Can you feel your dog’s ribs, spine and hips relatively easily?
Can you feel the bones where your dog’s tail meets his back?
If you answered no to some of the above questions, it could be that you have a podgy doggy. Now think about your dog’s daily motivation. Is he reluctant to go for a walk or does he lag behind when out and about? Does he tire quickly and pant easily?
There are some illnesses which can cause weight gain in dogs, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, but both will usually present with other symptoms. If you are concerned at all, book an appointment with your vet to rule out these conditions. But the most common cause of weight gain is simply consuming more calories than are being used.
Dogs At Risk
There are a number of reasons why some dogs are more susceptible to holding weight. A dog who is fed more than she needs, or exercised less than required, will naturally put on weight. This will differ by breed, so you should understand the exercise requirements of your dog.
Once a dog has been neutered, she will typically hold more weight. Keep an eye on your dog and reduce the amount you are feeding if necessary after having her spayed.
Just as with humans, weight gain becomes more common from middle age onwards. And it is more pronounced as a dog’s ability to exercise becomes limited due to other conditions such as arthritis. Similarly, an owner with mobility issues is more likely to have an overweight dog due to lack of exercise.
Finally, many dogs are overweight from an over-indulgent loving owner. Human table scraps, titbits and extra treats for being cute / left alone / a good dog all add up fast. And it is common to see an overweight dog where the owner has some weight issues themselves.
What’s The Problem?
Unfortunately, an overweight dog will suffer similar health conditions as overweight humans. Put bluntly, obesity will reduce your pet’s lifespan by a year or two.
Being overweight can increase the likelihood of many conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, heatstroke, arthritis, back stress, cruciate ligament tears, urogenital disorders and cancer. Given that they are more likely to be ill, overweight dogs are then also at greater risk from anaesthetic and surgical complications.
None of us would wish the above health issues on our pet. The simple rule to tackling dog obesity is the same as it is for humans: eat less, move more.
The first thing to do is look at what you are feeding your dog. Check out our guide to what dog’s eat here, but our advice would be that raw is the healthiest option. The guideline in raw feeding is 2-3% of ideal adult bodyweight, but some dogs can be on as low as 1.5% if they are prone to holding weight. With a diet of just meat, bone and offal, you are not giving your dog any stodgy carbs which are notorious for weight gain.
Next, be aware of who is feeding the dog and how much. In a busy household it is all too easy for the dog to be fed multiple times by well-meaning family members trying to be helpful. And the dog won’t turn down extra food, he’ll just think it’s Christmas all over again! Failing to measure dog food is another common way dogs are overfed. Whether that is on the scales, or in a measured cup, ensure you are accurate with quantities rather than relying on your eye.
Table scraps should be off the menu if your dog needs to lose weight. And again, make sure that all members of the family are following the same rules. Be vigilant and don’t leave food, including another’s pet’s food, lying around in temptation’s way.
If you are currently training your dog and giving lots of treats for reward, then it might be necessary to cut down on the daily food allowance. If you are feeding kibble, you could use a portion of the daily allowance as treats. Alternately choose low fat treats such as Pet Munchies which are less than 3% fat.
If your dog is pestering you for food since being on a diet, you can help her feel fuller for longer with lightly cooked vegetables added to their dinner bowl. Ideally you are looking for gradual weight loss which is sustainable.
If you are worried about the health of your dog, do get her checked out by a vet before embarking on an exercise regime. But, as with eating less, the key to getting your dog fitter is to gradually increase activity. You can’t expect an overweight dog to suddenly run a marathon. Instead you should allow your pet to increase stamina and mobility at his own rate.
Regular dog walks, increasing in length, are a good way to improve activity levels. If you can’t manage that, enlist the help of a family member, friend, neighbour or dog walker. Arrange a doggy play date with friends as even the most lethargic dog will make the effort to run around with mates.
Fun Swims are a great form of gentle exercise for overweight dogs. The buoyancy aid will take much of the strain, and he can move without putting too much stress on his joints. And swimming is exhausting – 20 minutes in the pool will be as effective as a much longer walk.
Finally, if you have a New Year’s Resolution to get fit yourself, why not try something like Canicross or Canine Agility with your dog? There’s no better way to bond with your dog than exercising together.