As I’m sure you all are aware, obesity is a major problem that our country faces. Over one-third of all US adults are overweight and medical costs associated with obesity (stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and heart disease) were estimated at $147 billion in 2008.
As our society becomes more sedentary and more prone to eating high-calorie foods, the dogs in our care receive similar treatment. According to a survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) 53% of all adult dogs are defined as overweight or obese.
A dog is considered overweight if the dog weights 5% – 19% more than their ideal weight while an obese dog weighs 20% or more than it’s ideal weight. To put this into perspective, a male Black Labrador Retriever’s ideal weight is about 70lbs. If that dog were to gain 14lbs, it would be considered obese.
Pfizer Animal Health has put together, what they call, a BARC (Body Assessment Rating for Canines). It’s a good resource that helps you take all sorts of variables of risk into consideration. But as they stress on their website, this nine question assessment shouldn’t be used as a replacement for a visit to your dog’s veterinarian.
There are some ways to test at home to see if your dog is overweight. You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs but, not be able to see them when your dog is wet. On the BARC test from Pfizer, they ask:
Stand at your dog’s side and look at the tuck-up — the belly area between the ribcage and hindquarters. Is the body more “square-shaped” in this area?
If your dog looks like a sausage, he’s probably overweight. Instead, dogs should have an hour-glass figure.
Obesity comes with a multitude of health consequences. Overweight dogs have an increased risk of cancer and are susceptible to fatty liver disease. Carrying around all that extra weight causes joint pain and difficulty breathing. Overweight dogs, much like humans, are susceptible to diabetes and can succumb to surgical complications. On average, an overweight dog has a decreased life span of nearly 2.5 years.
So, why exactly do dogs get fat? Much like humans, dogs also gain weight for two main reasons; eating too much and exercising too little. Owners will often times feed their dogs table scraps. All of those unnecessary extra calories can really add up and start adding weight.
Owners of overweight dogs also have a tendency to over feed. Simply following the information on the back of the package of dog food is not all the information you need. When it comes to appropriate portion size, your veterinarian can inform you of other variables that need to be taken into account, like energy requirements, size, breed, and genetics.
Dogs often don’t receive the appropriate amount of exercise. Depending on the breed, most dogs require 30 – 45 minutes of exercise each day. Not only does exercise keep a dog lean, it helps keep dogs occupied and less likely to get bored, bark, and act out in a destructive manner.
Owners also have a hard time resisting a dogs begging. Maybe your dog is barking and making a racket begging for more food or your dog might just be too cute have treats withheld from him. Giving into begging isn’t doing your dog any favors. Ultimately, the owner controls the amount of food and exercise a dog will receive so only an owner can be to blame for an overweight dog.
Treatment for obesity is reducing caloric intake and increasing exercise. Also similar to humans, dogs can sometimes have a strong aversion to a reduced diet and increased amount of exercise.
For those dogs with excessive amounts of body fat, a weight loss drug may be an option. Dogs that aren’t responding well to a change in diet and exercise may be prescribed the weight loss drug, Slentrol, which recently came out on the market.
Although they aren’t very common, fat camps for dogs are gaining popularity. You can drop off your dog in the morning and pick up your pooch in the afternoon after a long day of socialization and exercise.
If your dog is overweight, reducing your dogs caloric intake and getting him or her outside more often to burn off extra calories is important but, it’s always good to check with your veterinarian before making changes to your dogs diet and exercise regimen.