Obesity in dogs and how to help

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Obesity is a growing concern (literally!) among the population of canines in the UK. More than 50% of dogs are estimated to be overweight, and this figure is still rising. Dr Hannah Godfrey explains the dangers of obesity in dogs, and what you can do about it as an owner… 

Obesity in dogs – how big is too big? 

As dog owners, we want the very best for our canine companions, and that often includes wanting to spoil them with delicious treats now and again. However, it’s easy to get carried away. Especially if our pets enjoy indulging! Weight gain tends to happen gradually, either as a consequence of extra treats or reduced exercise. Because we see our dog everyday, though, it can be hard to spot those extra pounds.  

Body Condition Score 

Vets use a Body Condition Score to determine whether a dog is at a healthy weight for their size and build. This can also be a useful tool for owners, to keep on top of any minor weight fluctuations before they become more serious.  
 
Body Condition Score focuses on the prominence of the ribs and spine, as well as a dog’s waist and overall shape. This information is compared to a chart, giving a number between one and nine. A healthy dog would have an ideal body condition score of four or five out of nine. 

My dog is overweight – what now? 

Finding out or realising that your dog is overweight can be daunting. No one wants to withhold treats from their pet, nor see them hungry if their meal size has been drastically reduced. It’s important to remember that the lack of tasty treats and extra calories are helping to improve your dog’s health, comfort and lifespan. 

Unfortunately, with obesity comes a number of associated health issues, such as strain on the joints and heart, an increased risk of Diabetes, and a reduced ability to control body temperature, which leads to a greater risk of heat stroke

The most important things to consider if your pet is overweight

Diet 

One of the most crucial steps in reducing your dog’s weight is taking an in-depth look at their diet. How many meals do they get in a day, and how big are the meals? How many treats? And, of course, could any other family members be feeding little extras that you aren’t aware of? 

Meal sizes

You’ll need to re-evaluate how much you feed your dog at mealtimes. Each dog food brand will have guidelines for how much dogs of different sizes should be fed. This amount is normally written as a daily allowance, rather than per meal. Once a target weight has been determined with the help of your vet or vet nurse, this is the amount you should be feeding for, rather than for your dog’s current weight.  

Alternatively, your vet team will be able to calculate how many calories your pet should be eating to achieve safe weight loss, and you can then work out how much food to feed. It’s best to weigh your dog’s food out, as measuring cups are notoriously inaccurate.  

If your dog is used to eating significantly more, you may find they beg, or give you looks that make you feel guilty. Low-fat or light dog foods can be useful to fill their bowl up with empty calories. Prescription diet foods contain lots of fibre, which help your pet feel fuller for longer. 

Similarly, wet food is less calorie dense than dry food, so you’ll find your dog can eat more wet food than dry food while consuming the same amount of calories. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should move them from a dry to a wet food diet, however, because dry food is much better for their teeth. 

If you’re feeding the correct guideline amount of food for your dog’s target weight, but they are still not shedding the pounds, think carefully about any additional treats or titbits they might be having. If you’re certain that they’re not getting calories from elsewhere, reduce their daily food intake by five percent, then re-check their weight in two weeks. 

Treats

If your dog gets regular treats, then cutting them out or switching to a healthier treat alternative is a logical place to start when trying to get them to lose weight.  

Raw carrots can be a good treat substitute if your dog enjoys them, and they will also help keep their teeth healthy. Remember, treats should not make up more than 10% of your dog’s total calorie intake, and you should reduce their meal calories accordingly. You can calculate your dog’s recommended calories and treat quota here

Exercise

Getting your dog active is a great way to shift those pounds. However, any increase in activity should be done gradually, and should take into consideration your dog’s fitness, any signs of stiffness or pain, and any other health conditions.  

If your dog is healthy and able, multiple daily walks of 30 minutes or more would be recommended, ideally including some off-lead exercise. Activities like frisbee, ball-throwing or swimming may be good options to increase enthusiasm for exercise. On the other hand, an older dog with Osteoarthritis would be better suited to more frequent, short walks, rather than anything long or fast-paced. 

My dog can’t exercise because of Arthritis, what can I do?

If your dog is struggling with Arthritis and you’ve noticed them getting stiffer and slower, it can seem impossible to get them to lose weight. Although their food intake can still be regulated, it can be hard to achieve decent levels of exercise when they have joint pain. It can sadly become a vicious cycle, where an arthritic dog is less mobile due to pain, so gains weight and becomes even more stiff and sore. 

The key to breaking this cycle is to try to improve your dog’s comfort and mobility, thus allowing them to do a little more exercise. Joint supplements, which often contain GlucosamineChondroitin, essential fatty acids and Green Lipped Mussel, among other ingredients, can be very useful at slowing the progress of Arthritis.  

The Glucosamine and Chondroitin provide the building blocks for maintaining a healthy joint, in the form of proteoglycans, while ingredients like Omega 3 and Green Lipped Mussel are natural anti-inflammatories. Joint supplements aim to repair and protect the cartilage, restoring its ‘shock absorber’ effect, and therefore improving your dog’s mobility and comfort levels.  

In more advanced cases of Arthritis, joint supplements alone may not be sufficient to keep your canine pal comfortable. If you’ve tried supplements and not noticed much of an improvement, it’s important to call your vet. Your vet will be able to examine your dog’s joints and recommend additional pain relief or anti-inflammatories, to get them feeling comfortable and mobile. Once they’ve shed the extra pounds, you can re-assess whether the anti-inflammatories are necessary. 

Conclusion 

If your dog is overweight, this is a serious health concern. Dogs carrying excess weight are more at risk of various health conditions, including Diabetes Mellitus and Osteoarthritis. A combination of a healthy, restricted diet and a controlled and appropriate exercise regime should help to get your dog back to their ideal, healthy weight.  
 
On the other hand, if your dog has gradually started gaining weight, or even if you’ve noticed them slowing down or becoming more reluctant to do the walks and activities they used to enjoy, then Arthritis might be the cause, rather than just the effect of weight gain. If you think your dog might be suffering with Arthritis, speak to your vet about joint supplements, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, as well as pain relief options. Once a treatment plan is in place, your dog should feel comfortable enough to enjoy a more mobile lifestyle once again. 

Did you know that a dog that’s too skinny is also problematic? Click here to find out more.


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