Battling the bulge – why you really shouldn’t give up on your dog’s new year’s resolution!

Losing weight is one of the most popular new year’s resolutions, but has also most likely been abandoned by now! It’s not just us that over-indulge though and if your dog could do with losing a few pounds, then I hope to persuade you to keep to at least this resolution, because your dog really will thank you for it!

How do you judge if your dog is the correct weight?

Firstly, it is important to know if your dog is overweight, and the weight to aim for. Many owners find it hard to accept that Fido may be fat! The best guide is that you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs and see their waist (from the side and above). There are resources to help guide you- such as this condition score chart .

Why is it so important for my dog to be the correct weight?

There is compelling research to show that dogs lead healthier and longer lives when they are not over weight. One of the best studies on the subject was a life-time study of labradors, who we all know love their food! Forty eight labrador puppies were split into 2 groups, with one group fed 25% less than the other for their entire lifetime. The group fed less LIVED LONGER and did not suffer from chronic diseases, including osteoarthritis, until they were much older! Another study showed that obese dogs were FOUR times more likely to suffer cranial cruciate rupture than dogs of normal weight, and another showed that an 11-18% weight reduction in obese dogs with hip dysplasia resulted in significant improvement in lameness. Noticeable improvement in lameness has also been shown in dogs with elbow and hip osteoarthritis with losses of only 6-9% of body weight. These benefits come from not only reduced loading and stress on joints. Adipose (white fat) cells actually cause inflammation! They secrete inflammatory chemicals, and reduce the secretion of anti-inflammatory chemicals. For conditions like arthritis, losing weight is going to have a similar effect as using pain medication!

Heart and respiratory function is affected by obesity, with lung capacity reduced, increasing risk of anaesthetic for instance. Dogs pant to cool down, and obesity reduces the efficiency of panting, affecting quality of life. Obesity is also linked to incontinence and, of course, diabetes. Unsurprisingly, indicators of quality of life have been shown in studies to improve in obese dogs that have successfully lost weight!

A vicious circle…

Once your dog has put on a lot of weight, it becomes difficult to lose it, particularly for larger breeds. Large dogs have a lower energy requirements per unit of body weight than small ones, and energy requirements decrease with age. Furthermore, if your dog is carrying too much fat, he will be very well insulated and need even less energy for heat production so creating a vicious circle – less energy will be used so it will be even more difficult for your dog to lose weight!

So, clearly prevention is better than cure and it is much better to stop your dog becoming overweight from an early age. But if your dog does need to lose weight it is certainly possible, and the health benefits will be huge. It will probably take weeks or so to see the benefits of gradual weight loss, more if your dog is very overweight, as ideally your dog will need to lose 1% of their bodyweight per week.

The best strategy?

Many vet practices hold obesity clinics (Weight Watchers for dogs!), and even if they don’t, your vet will want to help! Your dog needs to lose weight in a safe and controlled way so get in touch with your vet for advice if you haven’t done so already. This will also allow your vet to rule out any health issues which may be contributing to your dog being overweight.

Some dieting tips!

  • Generally, feeding 80% of the current food intake, if your dog’s weight is stable, will result in steady weight loss, but follow your vet’s advice.
  • Cut out the calorific treats! You can still treat your dog but use some of his dinner allowance, or prepare low fat treats. Oven cooked (no oil!) butternut squash cut into small chunks for instance! You can also smear this over lickmats, or put in kongs. Treats should form no more than 10% of their diet (unless you are using their meals as treats).
  • Remember that some supplements (such as salmon oil that you may be using for joint health) are fattening. Don’t cut them out but do take them into consideration when looking at overall calorie intake (5ml or 1 teaspoon of salmon oil is around 45 kcal).
  • Weigh food if possible, such as when feeding kibble-don’t guess! Feeding guidance can be confusing-if you aren’t sure, ask your vet or vet nurse.
  • Feed some or all of their daily rations in food dispenser toys such as kongs or lickimats. The food will last longer and provide stimulation for your dog.
  • Prevent food stealing by keeping all illegal food out of reach!
  • Have regular weigh-ins – this is motivating for you as an owner, and will help ensure weight loss is steady.
  • If there is one person in the household who finds it particularly difficult to stick to the rules, then measure out some of your dog’s daily meal ration and put it in a pot for them to use as treats. Whenever they want to give a treat, get them to use these rather than their sandwich crust or half their digestive biscuit!!
  • Consider exercise – regular, frequent exercise is best. A 45kg dog will burn around 240 calories after walking about 4.8km at a brisk pace.
  • It is important not to increase exercise dramatically, and for some dogs it isn’t possible to exercise because of reduced mobility through injury or conditions such as osteoarthritis. Low impact exercise such as swimming may be the answer, but should be built up gradually and under the watchful eye of a trained hydrotherapist.

Finally, please don’t feel guilty when your dog looks up at you with sad eyes and begs to share your sandwich! Stick to this resolution because you are truly helping your dog!

If you thought this blog was helpful, please share to reach as many overweight dogs as possible!

If you would like to see where the information used in this blog comes from, I have listed the references on my website here.

Thank you for reading!

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