I had just found my way into the home of Harold. Harold was a 4 year old dachshund, and he was obese. Instantly, I felt a knot in my throat that I had to swallow down pretty badly. I greeted the family the same way I greet all new clients, with a warm smile and a handshake. We proceeded to sit down and discuss Harold’s training concerns, which were centered around his reactivity towards children and people who approach the home.
When the moment was right, I asked how much exercise received. “We walk him everyday for about a half an hour, that’s all he really needs. Otherwise he just sits down and won’t move, he’s lazy!” This instigated a little laughter from the family members that belonged to Harold. I laughed as well, albeit only to keep the mood light and to humor the family. It pushed me to my next question.
“That’s wonderful, I’m glad to hear he gets his walks, some dogs get none! Out of curiosity, what does Harold eat and how much food does he get a day?”
“Well, we don’t really measure out his food, we just fill the bowl once it gets a little low. And he gets a milkbone every morning when he wakes up as well as before bed. He’s lives a loved life.”
This scenario is one that I find myself in on a pretty regular basis, more so than one would think. While overweight dogs may be seen as “loved” and “endearing,” this could not possibly be farther from the truth. We humans absolutely love taking care of our animals. Feeding our pets is a surefire way to trigger oxytocin release in both of our brains. We love to nurture our animals so much that it can easily venture into compulsive, even abusive tendencies. I know you are probably thinking I’m blowing this out of proportion, many do.
However, numbers don’t lie. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, roughly 53% of dogs and 58% of cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese. The group's research shows that that rate continues to rise. And more than 90 percent of owners did not recognize that their obese pets weighed more than they should. There are roughly 89.7 million dogs in the world. Out of that, there are a shocking 41.9 million overweight dogs. Like many of their human counterparts, too many dogs suffer from obesity and “sedentarism,” the two most common preventable conditions in the canine and human populations. Too much sitting and too many calories in the form of treats or poor nutrition choices often contribute to weight gain. Besides causing our furry friends to have sore joints, difficulty breathing, a higher risk for cancer, canine diabetes and other diseases, obesity also shortens their lives. Simply being overweight can shave off 7 years from a dog’s life expectancy. Reducing your overweight dogs weight by a mere 5-7% can be just as effective for joint pain as putting them on Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories!
Is My Dog Overweight?
Now that we know just how detrimental being overweight is to a dog, how can we tell if our pets are overweight? It is easiest to tell by looking at your dog from above and getting your hands on him and feeling him. A few things to look for are:
- Ribs should be palpable and have minimal fat covering them.
- From above view, the wais should be easily seen.
- There should be an abdominal tuck up just behind the ribs when viewed from the side.
- Some signs that your dog is overweight are:
- No prominent waist when viewed from above.
- Ribs covered by fat and may not be palpable.
- Noticeable fat deposits in the lumbar area and at the base of the tail.
- No abdominal tuck and potential distension may be present.
For a more comprehensive and photographic guide, this Body Condition Chart is a wonderful resource!
How Can I Prevent Obesity In My Dog?
It is far easier to prevent obesity than it is to treat it! If your dog is already overweight, congratulations for taking the first step to fixing the problem! Knowing is half the battle, after all. Here are a few tips.
Exercise! Everyday, for at least 30 minutes. You can walk your dog, have him stand on an unstable surface when he eats dinner, there are numerous options to promote fitness for your dog! (link to article on fit dogs)
Feed fresh foods. Fresh foods are nutrient dense and don’t contain any added fillers like processed food. Real Dog Box is a great addition to a healthy diet as they use single ingredient, air dried foods.
Easy on the cookies. You can eliminate excess treats in your dog’s diet by using a ration of his daily meals as treats.
Check out Priscilla's article on how to prevent obesity!
Harold the dachshund had a happy ending to his story. With adequate physical and mental stimulation and a weight loss plan he was able to get back on the right track. He went on to compete in earthdog trials and his reactivity is now a thing of the past. One can only hope that the vast majority of the population with overweight dogs acknowledges the problem and takes the right steps to correct it!