Do you know that more than one third of all dog owners are not aware that their dogs could have a weight problem? Some estimates state that as much as 50 percent of the dog population within the United States are obese. Not only is obesity a problem in humans, but it is also a serious problem with dogs.
The shortest way to having a dog with serious health problems is to allow their weight to get out of control. Many of these overweight dogs mirror their owners in that dog obesity is considerably higher among overweight owners. So, if the dog owner has little control over their own eating habits, chances are the dogs eating habits are just as slack.
Of course, certain canine breeds are more susceptible to weight issues than others, in particular, small breeds such as English Bulldogs, Terriers, Pugs, Beagles, and Dachshunds. Also some larger breeds such as Dalmatians and Labradors have tendencies to carry excess weight. Rarely will you find an obese wild or feral dog. It’s only those whose lives are intertwined with humans through domestication that exhibit obesity.
So how do you know if your dog is overweight? First, have your vet weigh your dog and compare his weight to standard charts. To determine this for yourself, try to see if you can feel the ribs of your pet. Run the palms of your hand down his sides from back (top) to belly (bottom). If you can’t readily feel the rib cage, your dog needs to trim down.
What causes obesity in dogs?
The causes of obesity, whether in dogs, cats, or humans is always the same. It’s the basic formula that our metabolism adheres to on a daily basis: When a body consumes more calories than it expends (burns), that body will gain weight. Some people try to overcome obesity with a one-sided attack – they treat their pet’s obesity by controlling or limiting the food intake of the animal.
There are, of course, several other contributing factors that can result in unhealthy weight gain, such as surgeries, under-active thyroid conditions, medication side effects, or just plain laziness. Regardless of any other reasons, there are four primary contributing factors to pet obesity that I will address, as follows:
Food Quality – The quality of the food an animal eats daily has much to do with its success in losing weight. It is the quality of the food, not the quantity that will contribute to a greater degree in the loss of weight. Are you feeding your dog or other pet a high-calorie, low-protein food? Whether the food is dry or wet doesn’t matter.
A dog’s diet should consist of at least one-half protein-rich foods. Too much protein can result in urinary problems and other toxicity issues. Insufficient protein can result in weakened muscles, nerves, and other body tissues that can lead to disease or susceptibility of disease. Check with your local veterinarian as to the dietary requirements of your breed.
Excess calories – Just as in human consumption, excess calories that aren’t burned off will result in excess weight. Many dogs mimic their owners and it is a proven fact that an overweight dog usually has an overweight human companion. Who among us is not guilty of feeding their pet table scraps? Table scraps are not, I repeat, ARE NOT good for your dog and are a primary cause of obesity in all pets. Why? Because you cannot control the amount of calories your pet receives.
A bite here or a bite there, or finishing off the plate every night can seriously add to the daily calorie count without you having any idea how many calories old Spot just ate. So, couple that with the customary nap that usually follows and you have the perfect formula for an overweight dog leading to obesity.
Treats are a major source of hidden calories. Dog biscuits, pig ears, rawhides, and the like can provide up to 40% of a dog’s daily calorie requirements. Many commercial dog treats consist of high calories in the form of sugar and excess fats, and many other unhealthy ingredients that contribute nothing to good nutrition of the animal. Replace these with fresh vegetables like baby carrots, or greens, bell peppers, etc.
Many people wish to avoid commercial dog foods because the animal will not eat them or may have an allergy to them (often commercial dog and cat foods are full of additives, artificial colors, preservatives, by-products and other nasty mixtures that can cause severe allergies or reactions). You can search the internet for homemade dog food formulas or dog treats that you can make. There are many good organic based formulas that will satisfy both the tastes and nutritional needs of your pet.
Lack of Exercise – Next to overeating, probably the number two reason for weight gain. A lazy animal is one that is contributing to his own demise, just as in people. All dogs require at least 30 minutes of brisk walking or playing, three times a week. This helps maintain an active metabolism, a healthy weight, and a joyful mentality, three factors that will help your pet live for many years.
Spaying/Neutering – Often, older dogs exhibit weight gain as a result of the natural reduction in metabolism that accompanies age. However, the spaying or neutering of a female or male dog, respectively, also tends to add to the weight gain issues dogs face, even when performed on young dogs. This is a medical condition, not a natural result of the surgical procedures. Hormone supplementation often is prescribed to help these animals stay active and within healthy weight limits.
The health risks of canine obesity are very real. Obesity shortens the lives of the pets we love. If you’ve ever faced the loss of a pet, than you know how much it can hurt to have to bury one of your best friends. Obesity can lead to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, respiratory issues, high blood pressure, immune deficiencies, and even cancer. Dogs that maintain a healthy body weight live up to 15% longer, with less stress and disease, and with more joy in their lives.
If you have had to deal with the death of a pet in the past, you know it will hurt that much more if you know you could have done something as simple as change a diet, or buy a better food, or just take Spot for a walk – all things that would have kept him alive much longer.
The facts are real, the risks are real. There have been more than a few unnecessary pet memorials placed way too soon, all because the cat or dog owner gave no thought to their pets weight. It’s not rocket science, it just common sense. And it’s the ultimate expression of love – a desire to keep your family members healthy and safe.
You can do this by simply making some small adjustments to food quality and portion control and by walking your dog or playing with him so you both get a little exercise. Don’t allow an avoidable pet loss to overshadow your years of joy with your furry family members. If you have to, use some tough love to make the changes necessary to add years of wonderful memories to the lives of your pets and your family.