Canine Obesity Epidemic

Almost every day we hear or read another warning about the obesity epidemic in our country. Over sixty percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Sadly, our pets are getting fatter right along with us. According to research by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), over fifty-two percent of dogs are overweight or obese. The numbers are even worse for cats.

A revealing finding of the research shows that most pet owners who have overweight pets considered them to be of normal weight. APOP calls this the “fat gap” and believes it to be ‘the primary factor in the pet obesity epidemic’. An additional online survey showed forty-two percent of dog and cat owners aren’t sure what a healthy weight should be for their pet.

There is a simple test you can do to tell if your dog may be overweight.  Viewing your dog from above, you should easily see the outline of the ribcage. Behind the ribs and in front of the hips should be a tucked in “waistline”. If your dog is all one shape, sort of like a sausage link, he’s too fat.

Next, look at your dog from the side. The tummy area behind the ribs should be tucked up tightly toward the spine. An overweight dog’s tummy will sag. Finally, run your hands along your dog’s ribcage.  You should be able to easily feel ribs. If you can’t feel ribs without pressing in, the dog is probably too fat. Do a quick internet search on “dog body condition score” and compare your dog to the ideal weight on the chart. You might be surprised.

Having a dog who is a bit overweight may not seem like such a big deal. After all, who doesn’t struggle to lose a few pounds? Consider these examples. If a fifty pound dog gains five pounds, that’s ten percent of his body weight. A ten percent gain for a one hundred fifty pound human is fifteen pounds! That’s a lot of extra weight in either case.

The same weight-related diseases that affect humans, are making our dogs sick too. Osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and decreased life expectancy are all associated with pet obesity.

If you think your dog may be overweight, start with a visit to your veterinarian. In some cases medical conditions can cause weight gain in dogs, and your vet can rule out medical causes. He or she can help determine how much weight your dog needs to lose and how much food and exercise to provide.

For the most part, a dog’s weight gain is due to too many calories and not enough exercise. A general rule of thumb is to cut back on the food by twenty-five percent. Measure the amount of food with a measuring cup, to avoid giving too much. Weigh your dog every couple of weeks to check progress.  Weight loss should be slow and steady. Special “reduced calorie” or “weight control” dog food formulas may not be beneficial. Most of these specialty diets reduce fats, but increase carbohydrates, which can stimulate the body, via increased insulin production, to store extra calories as fat.

Avoid free-feeding your dog. Very few dogs can self-feed without gaining weight. Instead, feed your dog from some of the many food-dispensing toys on the market today. Your dog will have to work to eat, providing much needed mental and physical enrichment.

Make sure everyone in the household participates in your dog’s weight loss program. If someone is sneaking snacks to Fido during the day, it can undo the program. If your dog is in training, be sure to reduce the daily food ration to allow for the extra treats. Choose treats made from real meats to avoid feeding junk, and cut them into tiny pieces, so you don’t need as many. Offer healthy snacks if your dog is begging for food. Raw carrots, green beans, and apple slices (no seeds) are good low-calorie choices.

Increasing exercise will help burn those extra pounds, but too much too soon can cause injury. If your dog has been a couch potato, check with your veterinarian to determine how much and what type of exercise to start with. Walking is a great way to help get your dog moving and is good for us humans too.

Keeping our dogs fit and healthy can give us many more years together with our furry companions.