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Dog Obesity A Modern Day Problem

Obese or overweight dogs are a huge problem all around the world. That much is clear whenever you visit any local dog park. But what can we do to alleviate the many problems caused by dog obesity?

Read on to discover the ideal weight for your dog, how to help your dog shed excess pounds and how to maintain a healthy level of condition.

Dog Weight Loss - The Scope of the Problem

In developed countries today an estimated 20-40 percent of dogs are overweight or obese. In Britain some 2 million dogs are overweight. In the U.S. 17 million of our so called "best friends" are estimated to be overweight or obese. According to the most recently published Australian data, 33.5% of dogs were classified as overweight and 7.6% as obese, showing that the prevalence of overweight and obese dogs is higher in Australia than in other countries.

There Is Simply No Justification or
Excuse For These Horrific Figures!

Most dogs today live as pets. Few are performing the work they did in the past and in many cases were bred for. Sadly most live on kibble and canned food and don't get enough exercise. The result is that dogs are becoming overweight and suffering from numerous obesity-related health problems.

Dr. Eric Cryan from the McLean Animal
Hospital Discusses Dog Obesity

Why is Dog Obesity Such a Big Health Problem?

Obesity can seriously affect your dog's health. Among the many health problems associated with obesity are diabetes mellitus, damage to joints, bones and ligaments; heart disease and increased blood pressure; difficulty breathing; decreased stamina; decreased liver function; increased surgical and anesthetic risk; reproductive problems; digestive disorders (including flatulence); decreased immune function; skin and coat problems; increased risk of cancer. There's no doubt obesity can and will shorten your friend's longevity and quality of life.

What Causes Dog Obesity?

The primary causes of obesity are feeding too much food; feeding the wrong kind of food; and dogs living sedentary lives without enough exercise. Basically, our dogs are taking in way more calories than they are burning up.

The age and metabolism of your dog can also affect his weight/weight loss. As dogs grow older they usually become less active than growing puppies and younger adults. Many owners fail to make adjustments to the amount of food they provide or the kind of food they give their dog when he is in his middle years and inclined to be less active.

Spaying or neutering your dog will also affect the metabolism. Spayed and neutered dogs require fewer calories than intact dogs who have to divert energy to mating behavior and possibly raising a litter. It's quite possible to have fit, healthy spayed and neutered companions, but it is necessary to adjust their feeding appropriately.

Some dog breeds (and mixed breeds with those genes) are also more likely to gain weight easily. Dogs such as Labrador Retrievers, Dachshunds, Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Basset Hounds can gain weight very easily. Owners need to be very careful about overfeeding these dogs or they can become overweight before you know it. Having said this, any breed can become overweight if they are overfed and under-exercised.

Dogs can also become overweight when they live in multi-pet households. There may be competition (or perceived competition) for food. Your dog may feel that he has to eat as much as he can, as fast as he can, to keep another dog from getting the food. This can lead to overeating and weight gain. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some dogs in single-dog families gain weight because they can be quite spoiled. They may refuse to eat regular food and be generally finicky eaters. But you will notice that they don't lose weight. In fact, they may be overweight dogs because the owner goes to great lengths to give them special foods to eat to try to tempt them into eating.

Some medications may also cause a dog to gain weight. Prednisone, a glucocorticoid that is often used for dogs with allergies and skin problems, is notorious for causing dogs to gain weight. Other drugs may also cause your dog to gain weight. You should monitor your dog's weight gain carefully if he begins to gain weight when taking one of these medications - and always consult your vet.

Some diseases can cause your dog to gain weight, such as hypothyroidism, Cushing's Disease, pituitary disorders and many others. Fortunately these are estimated to be a small contributor to canine obesity.

Dog Obesity

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Is Obese?

It's usually not difficult to tell if your dog is overweight, but many owners are in denial about the problem. In a 2006 study of dog owners by Pfizer Animal Health, only 17 percent of dog owners said they thought their dogs were obese. By contrast, veterinarians said that 47 percent of their patients were overweight or obese.

Dog owners tend to show their love for their dogs by giving them food - too much food. A little extra in the dish. Some treats between meals. Some food from the table. Soon the appropriate-sized puppy they got can put on layers of fat as an adult dog. In reality, sadly they are loving their dog's to death.

It can be very hard to resist a dog's big, pleading eyes but your dog will be happier and healthier if you look after him by monitoring his food intake more closely.

The easiest way to tell if your dog is overweight is by feeling his sides. For most breeds and individual dogs you should be able to feel their ribs but not see them. There should be good skin and muscle tone covering their bones, without rolls of fat. Pudginess is not a good sign. Your dog's waist and "tuck up" should be clearly visible without being prominent. For most dogs, waddling is not a good sign. Dogs should be able to walk and move freely. Respiratory distress (huffing and puffing) when moving is also a sign that your dog may be overweight and out of shape.

There are a number of Web sites such as this one online that can provide ideal weight guidelines for each breed of dog. You can consult these guidelines for help in knowing the ideal weight range for your specific breed. These guidelines are usually for show animals so you can allow some latitude for your own dog. But if your dog is seriously over the suggested weight you probably have an overweight dog on your hands.

Remember that breed characteristics should be taken into account when you consider whether your dog is overweight or not. Good condition for a Saluki will include a more extreme waist and tuck up than for, say, a Mastiff. Some breeds are much slimmer when in good weight than other breeds. Where's other breeds are more heavily boned and carry more weight naturally. If you're in any doubt get along to a local dog show and have a look at specimens who are the same breed as your dog - this will give you a good guide.

You can also take the BARC online survey to see if your dog is obese. This Body Assessment Rating for Canines provides questions for you to answer so you can see if you should discuss your dog's weight with your veterinarian.

If you still have doubts about whether your dog is a healthy weight or if he needs to go on a dog weight loss program you should consult your veterinarian. He can put your dog up on the scales and look at his overall condition to settle the matter.

What Can You Do about Canine Obesity?

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to help your dog if he is overweight or obese.

You can begin by taking your dog for a checkup with your veterinarian. Make sure that his weight gain isn't due to some other health problem. There are some health issues that can cause a dog to put on weight and they are not connected to how much your dog is eating. You want to be certain that your dog is in overall good health before you begin any kind of diet or exercise regimen. Once your vet gives your dog a clean bill of health you can move forward and make some healthy changes to his lifestyle.

How Can I Help My Obese Dog Lose Weight?

There are many things you can do to help your dog lose weight sensibly. First of all, prepare for the long haul. Your dog did not become overweight quickly and it will take some time for him to lose weight. The safest rate of weight loss for any dog (or mammal for that matter) is generally considered to be between one and two percent of total body weight per week.

  • Make healthy changes to your dog's diet - check out this article for some specific feeding advice.

  • Control your dog's food intake.

  • Cut out or reduce unhealthy snacks. Replace them with healthy snacks.

  • Increase moderate exercise (gentle walks, swimming or training sessions).

  • Reduce boredom. Provide toys and playtime for your overweight dog so he doesn't have time to think about food all the time.

What Is the Best Diet for My Obese Dog?

One of the first things you will want to evaluate for your dog is his food. Is he eating the right food? Dog foods vary enormously from diets full of grains like corn which are cheaper for companies to produce but less nutritious for dogs; to the more expensive gourmet and holistic dog foods which may include human grade meats. Cheaper foods can end up costing more in terms of poor health for your dog and vet visits. More expensive foods can sometimes be a better buy because you can feed slightly less since they are often higher in calories.

The Whole Dog Journal, a respected publication, rates the best dry, canned and frozen foods each year for subscribers. You can also find good information about dog foods at various other places on the Web. Wellness dog food is one of the best foods available, if you would like to use it as a starting point to gauge the kind of food you should feed your dog. Look for foods that include several named protein sources, such as lamb and chicken meal, in the first five ingredients and try to avoid corn products in your dog's food. Dog's only digest about 54 percent of the corn that they consume. The rest is passed. That's why you have more dog poop to clean up with dog foods that contain corn and other "fillers".

Some owners may opt for a commercial low-calorie diet for their dog or a prescription weight-loss diet purchased through a veterinary practice. These diets have their followers. However, caution should be used with these foods. According to this site http://www.canismajor.com/dog/obese.html:

"Dogs and cats do lose weight on these diets if fed the proper amount and if the animal's metabolism can handle the increased grain protein and fiber provided by the diet," said Susan Gayle Wynn DVM in an article titled 'Weight problems in pets - do diet foods work' published on the Alternative Veterinary Medicine web site (http://www.altvetmed.org/articles/diet.html). "One common problem that we see is a gradual degeneration of coat quality. Many animals tend to stay overweight and develop dry, flaky skin."

dog weight loss treatment

Wynne said that a more dangerous problem can occur when a dog is kept on reduced fat diets for long periods.

"If they eat supplements of meat containing fat or even a maintenance pet food after becoming accustomed to low-fat diets, they may develop a potentially serious disease called pancreatitis," she wrote.

However, many people do successfully use low-calorie diets to help their dogs lose weight. These diets are generally high fiber, low-fat diets with low energy density. They can allow a greater loss of body fat than merely feeding smaller portions of a good quality food similar to what your dog has been eating. You may wish to try both diets - smaller portions of a regular dog food and the low-cal dog food, and see which approach works better for your dog.

Once you have chosen a healthy food for your dog's new diet and you have started him on it to make sure it agrees with him, you should pay close attention to the labeling on the package. Most dog food manufacturers include suggested feeding amounts that are completely ridiculous for your dog. If you follow these suggested amounts your dog will continue to be overweight and may even gain more weight. Ignore them. Feed your dog as much as he will eat in 5-10 minutes and then remove the bowl. You can feed your dog these smaller amounts 2-3 times per day. This will help him with his hunger - especially important in overweight dogs. But there is no need to overfeed your dog or to leave the food out at all times. You do not need to let your dog gorge himself on too-large portions. An independent study by Purina demonstrated that dogs that had their food intake restricted and were kept at an ideal weight throughout their lives had a median lifespan 15 percent greater than those dogs fed free choice.

If you are feeding one of these healthier foods they will likely be very rich in calories. The calorie amount per cup should be on the package labeling. If the calorie amount is not on the package it will be on the Web site for the food. The calories may be even higher than your old dog food. Your dog will be getting plenty of calories and food to eat. You will simply be monitoring his intake and controlling the food better than in the past.

Your dog may act hungry, especially if you have been leaving food down for him all the time in the past. There are some things you can do to help your dog through these times which we'll discuss a little later. But be assured that your dog is getting plenty of calories and food - and that they are healthier for him than the food you were probably feeding previously.

What Kind of Exercise Should My Overweight Dog Do?

Exercise is very important for your dog when you're trying to help him lose weight. You don't have to force him to go to the gym or run marathons. Some of the best exercise he can get is to take some long walks with you, especially if you are consistent and take a walk everyday, or at least three times per week. In fact, walks are particularly good for overweight dogs because you can't expect them to do too much too soon. Nice, easygoing on leash walks will be fine for weeks. Once your dog begins to lose some weight he will probably begin to feel more active. That's when he may start to feel more playful on his own and want to do something besides take a walk. At that point you may decide to take him to a dog park or find a field where it would be safe to let him go for an off-leash run. Let your dog's own condition be your guide to how much exercise you let him have, but do get some exercise with him everyday.

Many people believe that if they have a backyard their dogs must be getting enough exercise. This is not true. Even with the biggest of backyards most dogs spend their time sleeping and lazing around. They don't get sustained exercise.

Dog Weight Loss - Progress

As with people, dogs lose weight slowly. Losing weight by eating healthy dog food, controlling portions and getting moderate exercise will help your dog lose weight but don't expect the pounds to disappear overnight. Your dog may only lose a few ounces per week, but he will make steady progress if you stick with the plan. Remember that you should not try to make your dog lose more than 1-2 percent of total body weight per week.

Treating Dog Obesity - The Hard Part

The most difficult part of helping their dog lose weight for many owners is saying, "No," to their dogs. Your dog may beg for food. He may sit by you at dinner asking for something to eat. He may whine when his food bowl is empty. He may turn his sad eyes on you and make you feel horrible. Sometimes it may not help knowing that you are trying to help him lose weight for his own good. What can you do when your dog makes you feel awful for not feeding him more?

Many people will add vegetables to their dog's regular food. Many dogs like veggies such as green beans and carrots. They can eat as much as they like and they won't put on more pounds. Plus, these veggies help the dogs feel more full and satisfied when they eat their regular food so they don't stare at you and beg for more.

When your dog begs for snacks give him something healthy, like apple slices or other vegetable bites instead of cookies. Unbuttered popcorn and pretzels make good dog snacks, too, and they are low in calories. Go easy on peanut butter cookies and liver snacks though. They can be fattening. Save them for a very rare occasion or training sessions.

If you are adding supplements to your dog's food add up the calories. Some people give their dogs things like salmon oil - lots of calories there.

You can also help your dog think about food a little less by making sure that he has plenty of toys and safe things to chew on. If you help him keep his boredom at bay with things to play with he'll have less time to think about food. Dogs, like people, can eat when they have nothing else to do. Give him other things to do.

We hope these insights into canine obesity will help you determine if your dog is overweight or obese. If he is, then there are some things you can do to help him lose weight and live a longer, healthier life. With a little help from you, your dog can slim down and look and feel his best. Remember, don't expect him to lose weight too quickly. Smaller portions of a good diet, reducing fattening snacks, and increased moderate exercise will help you both achieve the goal of good canine health.


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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.