They may seem cute and cuddly with a little extra meat on them, but obesity in dogs can have serious consequences. An estimated 28% of dogs in North America are obese, 53% are overweight, and the worst part is that 95% of dog owners don’t realize it! Obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs, and this extra weight puts greater stress on their joints, hearts, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Overweight dogs are more prone to injury, have shorter life expectancies, and are not able to enjoy life as much as if they were in shape.
Although there can be several causes that lead to obesity in dogs, the vast majority of cases are caused by either overeating or a lack of exercise. When a dog takes in more energy (calories) than it expends, fat begins to accumulate which leads to weight gain. Dogs may also gain weight from spaying or neutering, old age, or hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism. Spaying or neutering is not a common cause of weight gain, but it does lower a dog’s metabolism, so it’s important to have a healthy diet and exercise plan in place at an early age before you spay or neuter. It’s also common for dogs to start gaining weight around the age of 5 as they being to lose mobility, it’s therefore important to keep your dog at a healthy weight before the ageing curve kicks in.
Obese and overweight dogs have an average life expectancy up to 2.5 years shorter than healthy dogs! The extra weight has been shown to increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Decreasing mobility and to diseases like arthritis lead to a faster rate of joint degeneration. Obese dogs are also less tolerant to anesthetics which increases the chances of complications during surgery. Some other common ailments linked to obesity in dogs include diabetes, high blood pressure, orthopedic problems, skin disease, heart and respiratory disease.
The easiest way to determine whether your dog is overweight is by jumping in the scale; hop on without your dog, then weigh yourself with your dog and do the math! Dogs are considered to be overweight when their weight is 10-20% above their ideal body weight and are considered obese when their weight is 20% above their ideal body weight. The next best method is by looking and feeling a dog’s ribs. There should be a thin layer of fat over the ribs, but you should be able to distinctly feel them. If you cannot, it’s almost certain that your dog is overweight. The ribs should feel much like the backs of your knuckles with your fingers extended and your palms facing down.
While you might liken their situation to your own and opt for severe calorie restriction or veganism, this is NOT how to treat obesity in dogs and will lead to malnourishment over time. It’s important to find a food that is lower in overall calorie density, but not lacking in nutrient balance. Your veterinarian is the best place to start, they can help build a diet plan and eating schedule based on your dog’s size, breed, and lifestyle. The food you choose should be rich in dietary protein and fiber. Protein helps your dog feel full and is the building block for a healthy metabolism, it provides the necessary amino acids and will help your dog preserve lean body mass during weight loss. Fat is often slightly reduced in a diet since it contributes twice as many calories by weight as protein or carbohydrates, but not as much as you might think, as fat is a necessary part of the diet to ensure the dog receives enough essential fatty acids.
Unfortunately, dogs get far too many of their calories in addition to their regular meals, treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. Many treats found in stores are exactly that… treats! Most dogs are just as happy with natural foods such as green beans, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. Many chews found in stores can also be fattening, just like you would for yourself, check to see if the product is natural or processed. Many companies have shifted focus towards the development of low-calorie dog treats, there are now numerous options between 1-4 calories each. And remember, it’s always best to start with a small portion to make sure the new treat doesn’t upset your dog’s stomach.
It might sound obvious, but the best way to help your dog lose weight is to get up and move! Brisk walking is a great start to help begin the journey down weight loss lane. Did you know that most dogs need between 1-2 hours of exercise per day! Recent studies have shown that approximately 20% of dog owners admit to not walking their dog every day. Not all dogs are built to jog, but if your dog is, a 20-minute jog every day will significantly contribute to a happier healthier pup. If you live close to an off-leash dog park try a game of fetch, this vigorous exercise is sure to get your dog up to top speed and will give them a full body workout. Other great activities to do with your dog include swimming, hiking, frisbee, agility training, on-leash walking, and off leash parks.
While it may not be enough to exclusively rely on Spot’s on-leash dog walking services for some breeds, using a professional dog walker can help break up your pup’s day home while you’re at work. Many pet parents will supplement their mid-day on-leash walks with a trip to the off-leash park before or after work. Spot walks are all private and on-leash to ensure your dog is always receiving the one-on-one attention they deserve. Dog walks are also conveniently available on your schedule, on-demand walkers are available with as little as 90-minutes notice, while a Spot recurring walker will provide consistency and can be booked on a weekly ongoing basis. So whether you need a dog walker every month or every day, Spot is always just a few clicks away.
Once your pup’s weight goal has been achieved, it’s imperative they sustain the new weight and lifestyle, yo-yo weight gain and loss is very unhealthy for dogs. It’s important that you maintain their portion control to ensure your dog feels the long-term benefits of a normalized diet. With treats kept under 10% of their total caloric intake, a close eye on their ribs, and bi-weekly weigh-ins, your dog should be setup for long-term success. With a consistent effort and frequent communication with your veterinarian, you can feel confident that your dog is well adapted to live their best life.