What is obesity in dogs?
The Journal of Small Animal Practice reported in 2010 a cross sectional study across 5 veterinary practises in the UK which found that 59% of dogs were classed as overweight or obese (2).
The trends are similar in the USA. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that in 2018 56% of dogs were overweight or obese(3), which correlates with the UK findings.
Canine Obesity is now officially classed as a disease, much in the same was as it is in people(4).
The PDSA has a simple way to check if your dog is a healthy weight by looking at his body condition. His waist should be tucked-in, and his tummy should go in when you feel it rather than bulge out. When you feel along his side, you should be able to feel his ribs, spine and hips, though they shouldn’t stick out. The base of his tail should not feel fatty where it meets his spine.
This is an alarming number of our beloved furry friends, so what impact is that having upon their lives?
Risk factors for obesity in dogs
There are certain factors that increase your dogs’ tendency to obesity, and it is important to be aware of them, according to the Kennel Club:
- Age (older dogs have less energy requirement)
- Reproductive status/neutering (neutered dogs tend to put on more weight than un-neutered dogs due to reduced sex hormones)
- Type of diet/being overfed (and giving of treats and scraps from the human table!)
- Underlying chronic disease limiting activity (and certain medications like steroids)
- Breed of dog (some breeds are more prone to obesity than others)
The impact of obesity on dogs
The impact of obesity on dogs cannot be underestimated. Obesity is a life limiting disease, just the same as it is in humans. However, it is treatable and preventable, and we as dog owners can facilitate this.
There is a long list of potentially serious illnesses that can be attributed to obesity, namely arthritis and joint problems, cardio-respiratory problems including breathing problems in flat faced breeds, diabetes, cancer, increased risk of heatstroke and injury, incontinence of urine and ultimately a reduced length of life.
If obesity is this serious, then what can we do about it?
Preventing and managing obesity in dogs
There is a simple mantra that you may well have heard in relation to losing weight: “Eat less, Move More”. Yes, it really is that simple. To lose weight, our dogs need to use up more energy than they are taking in. However, as much as we know it is a simple solution, it can be a long process and these days many veterinary practices run weight management clinics to help you and your pet achieve their goal.
‘Prevention is better than cure’ – another old adage that is worth mentioning.
Tips on how to prevent your dog becoming overweight:
- Before even buying a dog, have a think about the type of breed that would suit you and your family’s lifestyle, and the environment he is going to live in; if you are active and do a lot of exercise, then a more active breed would be suitable and the same goes for the converse situation!
- Ensure you do your research on the right type of diet for your dog, choosing the right complete diet for his breed and activity levels and following the feeding guides, and don’t forget that treats count towards calorie intake – just as a chocolate bar would for us!
- Exercise your dog regularly in accordance with his requirements. You will find plenty of information and tips about exercising your dog, from early training as a puppy so that they walk nicely on the lead, to ways of preventing boredom with toys. These days you might even consider putting a tracking device on your dogs’ collar to monitor his whereabouts if he has freedom to roam, preventing your anxiety if he is off the leash, and keeping track of his activity level during the day so you know he is exercising the required amount. Technology can be a useful aid in keeping slim!
Treatment of obesity incorporates the tips used to prevent it in the first place…
Firstly, your dog needs to be on a calorie-controlled diet to initiate weight loss, followed by a maintenance programme to ensure weight is not regained.
Added to this, increasing his exercise (once able, as some dogs movement may be limited by their obesity) will help increase the rate of weight loss and maintain it for life.
Diets that are good for weight loss are high in protein and fibre, and low in fat. These stimulate the metabolism and increase the sensation of fullness. You can now get specific weight-loss dog foods so have a look out for these. Make any dietary changes gradually over several days, to avoid stomach upset(5).
Swap high calorie treats and scraps from the table, to vegetables and keep treats to a minimum.
Once your dog is able to increase his exercise, consider new activities he might enjoy. Our Labrador adored swimming in the sea, so check out whether there are any aquatherapy pools for dogs nearby. Consider doing some dog training courses or dog agility for fun ways to exercise with your pooch. Even in winter, you can wrap up warm and enjoy the colder weather!
There is no doubt that dog obesity is on the rise. Now we have an awareness of the problem, there is certainly more help and information out there to help us tackle it. Managing obesity in dogs will help them to live healthier, more active and ultimately longer lives, and what more could we want than a happy healthy pet?