Tips to Spot and Curb Canine Obesity

Fat Dog
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Think your dog needs to lose some weight? Start by planning a healthy weight-reduction program with your veterinarian.

People aren't the only ones struggling with obesity in America. Between 20 and 40 percent of all dogs seen by veterinarians in the United States are considered overweight (5 to 10 percent over ideal weight), and many of those are categorized as obese (20 percent or more over ideal weight). Even without a scale, you can have some idea of your dog's weight status. For most breeds, whether viewed from above or the side, the body should have an hourglass figure with a definite waist. There should be no rolls of heavy skin or fat above the shoulder area or at the tail base.

Obesity and Your Dog's Health

Canine obesity can prevent your dog from enjoying many physical activities. Obesity decreases speed and stamina, and makes it more difficult for your dog to deal with heat. It's also associated with the following medical conditions:

  • Increased weight can place an excessive burden on joints, tendons and ligaments, causing arthritic changes (especially in preexisting conditions, such as hip dysplasia) and ligament tears (particularly of the anterior cruciate, or knee, ligament). The added weight on the spine can increase the chance that predisposed dogs, such as many long-backed breeds, will develop intervertebral disk disease.
  • Obesity can increase the risk of diabetes.
  • Fat in the chest and abdomen can make breathing difficult.
  • Overweight dogs present a greater surgical risk because of the effects of obesity on heart and lung function. In addition, thick layers of fat may make it difficult for the surgeon to reach the surgical target.
  • Overweight dogs may have decreased immune function, increased skin fold pyodermas (bacterial skin infections)  and possibly increased chance of some cancers

What You Can Do

Certain medical conditions can bring on weight gain or the appearance of being fat, so before launching into a diet, you should schedule a trip to the veterinarian for a physical exam. Your vet may recommend diagnostic tests to look for medical problems, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's syndrome, among others. But, most cases of fat dogs are simply the product of eating more calories than they expend. These dogs need a weight-reduction program aimed at decreasing caloric intake and increasing exercise. A healthy one should aim to reduce weight by about 1 to 2 percent of the body weight each week. Ready to begin? Here's how:

  • Talk to your vet. It's important not to start a weight-reduction program without getting your veterinarian's OK. You want to make sure you have guidance on exactly how much your dog should be eating, so that you're not feeding him too much — or too little. Your vet will also be able to advise the best dog food to meet your pet's individual needs.
  • Make sure everyone in the household is onboard. It's not much of a diet if someone is sneaking the dog treats or table scraps. When you do give your dog treats, substitute something like carrots, broccoli, cooked green beans, unbuttered popcorn, ice cubes or slices of diet canned dog food that are either frozen or baked to a crisp. When your dog begs, play a game or take him for a walk around the block, instead. He'll probably like that just as well — and it will be good for both of you.
  • No more free feeding! Dogs tend to overeat when they can snack at will. Instead, feed three to four small meals each day. If your vet does advise you to switch from your current dog food, add the new food gradually, exchanging about a quarter of the old diet for the new one every few days, until the entire meal consists of the new food after about a week. Abrupt diet changes could cause stomach upset, which could, in turn, make your dog not look favorably upon his new diet.

Your dog can lose weight. You have control over his eating and exercise. He can't be blamed for his lack of self-control, because you're the one in complete control. He'll thank you for it as he enjoys a happier and healthier life because of your tough love.

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