Obesity is a leading health problem in dogs. It can trigger and worsen several medical conditions such as osteoarthritis, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Risk factors for obesity include:
-- Golden retrievers
-- Labrador Retriever (typically weigh 65 to 80 pounds)
-- Burmese Mountain Dog
-- Saint Bernard
-- Cocker Spaniel
-- Basset Hound
-- Cairn Terrier
-- Cavalier King Charles
-- Scottish Terrier
Causes of Weight Gain in Dogs
There are multiple causes of dog weight gain including:
- Thyroid deficiency
- Endocrine disease: which slows the rate at which food is metabolized
- Diet: eating more calories than a dog burns in a day
- Puppies: between age 9 and 12 months
- Adults: 40% of all dogs (lower on the younger end of the spectrum)
- Sex: more females than males
- Neutering: Obesity is 2x as frequent in neutered females, and higher in all neutered dogs (32% of dogs)
- Contraceptive Treatments: dogs treated with medroxyprogesterone acetate had significant weight gain
- Lack of exercise
- Poor food selection
- Social Aspects of Eating: the relationship between dog and human plays a role. Owners of obese dogs talk to their dog more and allow the dog to lie on their bed. These dogs are given more meals or treats than dogs that have normal body weights.
Size of the dog plays a role in the obesity guidelines. A Chihuahua is overweight when 1 to 2 pounds over normal. A large Irish wolf-hound is obese when it is 60 pounds overweight. Keeping your dog at normal weight can extend his or her life and improve your dog's quality of life.
A dog's lifestyle can also contribute to obesity with many small indoor dogs not going outside enough.
Beyond the weight gain itself, one of the signs of dog obesity are changes in behavior. If your dog is not as active as in the past, such as reluctance to play or go on a hike, then the problem might be obesity. Other signs are reluctance to climb stairs or to leap out or into your car.
Dog Weight Guideline (How to Tell If Your Dog Is Overweight)
Your dog's physique will also change. As a guideline if you can feel your dogs ribs with the flat of your hand, but can't see them, then your dog is probably near its optimal weight. If you have to push through a thin layer of fat with the flat of your hand to feel your dog's ribs, then your pet is probably overweight. This is true in adult dogs and puppies.
The dog should also have an hour glass shape when the hips, waist and
chest are viewed from above. Other physical signs include:
- Fat at the tail base
- Fat over the hips
- Waddling gait
- A growing pot belly which appears as if the normal "tuck" of the abdomen is no longer visible
A veterinarian will measure weight and body condition on a 5 point scale where 3 or more is considered to be obese.
Health Problems Related to Obesity in Dogs
Being overweight can aggravate several dog health problems. These
- Osteoarthritis: when the cartilage wears away and the bone comes in contact with other bone. The result is pain and inflammation in the joint. Heavier dogs put more strain on the joints, making them unstable.
- Hip Dysplasia: Inherited condition which results in malformation of the hip socket. It prevents a proper fit between the ball at the top of the thigh bone and the bone itself. Being proper weight reduces pressure on the joint.
- Diabetes: When a dog takes in to many carbohydrates, the body over stimulate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The excessive insulin can result in the body being less sensitive to insulin and burnout of the insulin-producing cells.
- Heart Health: Overweight dogs put strain on a heart that has to pump blood through excess vessels and tissue.
- Reduced Longevity
- Reduced Immunity
- Mammary Tumors
Talk to your vet to find out the ideal weight for your dog and whether your dog is over weight. Before beginning a weight loss program, your vet should do blood work to make sure your dog does not have any medical issues that result in weight gain - such as a thyroid problem that might be causing the weight problem. If your pet’s thyroid gland is functioning properly and your pet is otherwise healthy, then it is time to begin over weight dog treatment.
Overweight Dog: Food, Diet and Weight Loss Tips
Over weight canine treatment is relatively simple. Feed your dog a high quality dog food with a level of caloric intake that matches the energy expenditure of your dog.
Many vets recommend against “diet” or low calorie dog foods because these are high in carbohydrates, which can actually cause your dog to gain weight. Other recommend a meat-based diet. Your veterinarian can best determine if a "low calorie" dog diet is appropriate.
In addition to dietary change, veterinarians have access to medications and even fasting in the office to encourage weight loss.
In general, veterinarians do not recommend that portion size be
reduced. Preference is for improving the diet by reducing fat content
and by increasing dietary fiber. Reducing portions may result in
deficiencies in nutrients and changes in behavior from a dog that is
reacting to having less food (food theft, nervousness, unpleasant
behavior). Yes food selection can be complicated, which is why
purchasing a quality food is essential that is done in consultation
with your veterinarian.
To start your overweight dog treatment, weigh your dog. Then, change or reduce the amount of food you give your dog by about 20% (if you decide to go this route). Greater levels of reduction may be needed in dogs that are gaining weight (make it 30%). Make sure to include treats or snacks you give your dog in the total amount of food given. Make sure your dog has access to fresh water at all times.
After two weeks, weigh your dog again. If your dog has lost even a little weight, you are on the right track. Stick with this schedule. If there has been no weight loss, reduce your dog’s food intake by one-third again.
You can also help your dog lose weight by providing opportunities
exercise. Taking your dog for a walk or a run will be good for both of
Dog Food Myths
Research shows that dividing the diet into several daily meals does not contribute to an increase in obesity. There is also not an influence of wet or dry dog food in the frequency of obesity.
The research is not clear that home prepared or commercial diets are better for an obese dog. If you do feed a homemade diet for obesity, select a lean meat, high-fiber source of starch, vegetables and dietary fiber supplements that are in a purified form (soy fiber, bran).
Surgical techniques (like used in humans) are not available for dogs.
Rate of Weight Loss
Weight loss should be gradual and not exceed 1% of the dog's beginning body weight per week (1 pound a week for a dog that is 100 pounds in weight).
Weigh your dog again in two weeks. You should be seeing results by this time, but if not, continue this procedure until you do. If you are not seeing results, it may be that someone in the house is feeling sorry for the dieting dog and sneaking him some snacks. Make sure you have everyone’s cooperation in helping your dog achieve a healthy weight.
It can take 6 to 9 months to achieve the normal weight.
Supplements and Weight Loss
Some owners add an herbal supplement to the diet that contains ingredients such as Milk Thistle and Dandelion to help dogs digest food more efficiently and boost their metabolism such as the product SlenderPet Formula. While there are many positive user reviews of these products, the science is not as clear. See the manufacturers website for studies and information.
One product that is approved for canine weight-loss by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is Slentrol. It is provided by mouth and works via two mechanisms in the small intestine. It is the first approved medication to keep fat from being absorbed and to decrease dog appetites. It should only be used under the care of a veterinarian.
Research shows that dogs fed a low-calorie diet can benefit from ingredients that contain L-carnitine, an ingredient that helps prevent a weight rebound effect. This ingredient stimulates muscle mass and increases weight loss (Sunvold et al., 1998).
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Obesity: Epidemiology, Pathophysiology and Management of the Obese Dog
M. Diez and P. Nguyen
Department of Animal Productions
FAculty of Veterinary Medicine
University of Liege
Project Slim Down
American Animal Hospital Association