Pudgy Senior Dogs: How to Get Them in Shape

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Calories in versus calories out. It's pretty basic stuff, really.

Of course, the equation gets a bit complicated when your plump pet lives to beg for treats. Add to that the aches and chronic health conditions of an aging dog, and the problem becomes even trickier to solve.

Finding the right solution, in conjunction with your veterinarian, can potentially add quality years to your dog’s life. But what is that solution? What can you do when your senior pup is becoming a chunky monkey?

Vetstreet looks at some of the ways that veterinarians who work with senior dogs can address an older pet's portly physique, taking his aches and pains into account.

How Do I Know If My Older Dog Is Really Overweight?

“Obesity has definitely increased — in people and in pets,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, DVM, an associate veterinarian at the Laguna Hills Animal Hospital. “Back in 1960, about 6 to 12 percent of dogs were considered to be overweight or obese. In 2010, the last time it was really checked, 25 to 40 percent of pets were overweight or obese.” According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, those figures have since jumped to 53 percent for dogs and 55 percent for cats.

One reason there are so many chubby canines: Not every owner realizes that their dog is overweight. According to Dr. Cruz, this is in part because, just like with people, pups usually gain the weight slowly, making it more difficult to notice if your pooch has developed a paunch.

To do a quick check yourself, Dr. Cruz suggests looking at your standing dog from above. “There should be a waistline, right after the rib cage,” Dr. Cruz says. “Rub your hands [gently] along the side of the rib cage. With a little bit of pressure — and those are the operative words — you should be able to feel the ribs.” If you can’t, your dog is likely overweight.

Of course, to properly diagnose and treat your pet, you need to make an appointment to see your veterinarian. Seniors should have two wellness visits per year, since, at that age, if something goes wrong, it can go downhill very quickly, Dr. Cruz notes. Plus, if your dog is overweight, your vet can determine if there are underlying medical causes, such as metabolic issues or reactions to any medications that your canine takes.

Most vets will check your dog’s weight, assigning it a body condition score on a scale of one to nine (although some vets use a one-to-five scale). “One is the bag of bones that you don’t want to see, and nine is the swollen balloon, with the little paws sticking out,” Dr. Cruz says. If your dog’s number is five or higher, he could benefit from losing some weight.

Many health problems that senior pets face are often caused or worsened by added pounds. For example, overweight dogs are more likely to have arthritis, and extra weight only increases the pressure on the joints. Fat also releases pro-inflammatory chemicals into your canine’s body.

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