Studies suggest that 25 – 40% of dogs in the US are overweight. Excess weight puts a dog at risk for a multitude of health problems including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, respiratory problems, and joint/ skeletal disorders.
How can you tell?
How can you tell if you have an overweight dog? Most owners find it hard to know whether their dog is overweight.
Try this quickie method: standing over your dog, look down and check for a “waist” – dogs with the proper weight will have a visible indentation behind their ribs. Place both hands, palms down, lightly on Fido’s ribs. You should be able to feel the ribs, but they shouldn’t be sticking out. If you can’t feel the ribs, chances are good that your dog is overweight. Overweight dogs also commonly have pouches of fat in the groin area between the hind legs. To determine more exactly where Fido falls on the obesity scale, vets use a 9 point scoring system to accurately evaluate a pet’s body condition. A point value of 1 means the dog is emaciated; a score of 9 means Fido is grossly overweight. A mid-point score of 5 is just right. Following is a general description of each rating point:
1. Emaciated: ribs, hips and other bones protrude and are visible from a distance. Emaciated dogs show a loss of muscle as well as an absence of body fat.
2. Very thin: A step up from emaciated; bones are visible but not as prominent and muscle loss is slight.
3. Thin: Ribs and top of the spine may be visible and the pelvic bones prominent. (Some breeds are naturally thin, so don’t be fooled at the bony appearance of Salukis, Afghan Hounds, and other sighthounds.) Waist and tuck-up are evident.
4. Underweight: Some fat on the ribs; visible waist and abdominal tuck-up.
5. Ideal: Ribs are easily felt and have a thin layer of fat. Waist and tuck-up are obvious but not exaggerated.
6. Overweight: Ribs have noticeable fat; waist and tuck-up are discernible but not prominent.
7. Heavy: Ribs are covered with a heavy layer of fat and noticeable fat deposits appear on the spine and at the base of the tail. The waist is absent or barely discernible.
8. Obese: A heavy fat layer completely obscures ribs and heavy fat deposits appear over the spine and around the tail base. Waist and tuck-up disappear.
9. Morbid: Massive fat deposits in the chest area, along the spine, and around the tail base. No waist or tuck-up. Abdomen protrudes, and fat deposits accrue on legs and neck.
(The tuck-up is the area on the dog’s body behind the rib cage and in front of the hind legs when the dog is viewed from the side. The depth of the tuck-up depends on the breed of the dog; sighthounds tend to have a deep tuck-up, most breeds have a moderate tuck-up, and a few have little discernible tuck-up at all.)
The 3 causes of obesity in dogs
The most common cause of obesity in dogs is overfeeding coupled with inactivity. It’s hard to resist those adorable pleading eyes, and so we give in and sneak our dogs a taste of whatever we’re eating. Feeding leftovers or giving frequent snacks or treats often leads to an overweight and sedentary – and dangerously unhealthy – best friend.
Certain breeds are more easily susceptible to weight gain than others. If your dog is predisposed to obesity, maintaining a healthy body weight requires more careful attention to the amount of food and exercise he receives.
Thyroid or pituitary gland dysfunction can impact a dog’s hormonal balances, which may contribute to the development of obesity. Neutering and spaying will also alter the hormonal balance, sometimes resulting in reduced energy and changes in metabolism.
A drastic diet usually isn’t necessary; only a moderate reduction plan over time is recommended by most vets.
If excessive eating was the source of your pet’s obesity, plan on feeding the proper maintenance amount. If dry food had previously been left out for Fido in a large, free-choice container, leave food out in measured portions instead of in unlimited quantities. Divide his recommended daily portion into three or more meals, so he doesn’t feel like he’s being punished.
Try a lower-calorie dogfood. You can feed your pet the same daily “bulk amount,” while cutting back overall calories.
Eliminate all dinner table treats; these are typically high in fat and calories. Instead, you can add offer occasional low-calorie doggie treats in moderation.
Lots of fun, play and games will help take Fido’s weight off while keeping him happy and occupied. He’ll surely notice the loss of food, but he won’t mind it nearly as much if it’s accompanied by increased activities with you. Exercise him on a regular basis, starting slowly with short activity periods, and gradually increase the exercise time. Begin with walking and, when he shows signs of increased fitness, move to games that require some running, such as “fetch.”
Finally, make sure that all family members stick to the plan. One person sneaking treats can ruin the results for everybody.