Part of the dog obesity problem is that many pet owners are in denial. According to a recent Pfizer Animal Health study, veterinarians consider 47 percent of their pet patients to be overweight or obese, but only 17 percent of dog owners thought their own pets were overweight or obese.
“We are killing our pets with kindness,” says Cailin Heinze, VMD, M.S., diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition and assistant professor of nutrition at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass., the home of the nation’s first obesity clinic just for pets, according to the university.
“Pet owners need to realize we have very good evidence from clinical studies that show chronic diseases associated with (being) overweight and (obese),” Heinze says. “One study showed that obese Labrador Retrievers lived fewer years than their thinner siblings. Cancer, respiratory disease, pancreatitis, and dermatological conditions have all been linked to obesity in pets. Losing weight is never an easy road, but would you deny your pet antibiotics or vaccinations because you didn’t feel like giving them? Weight loss is just as important.”
To determine your pet’s body condition, try this informal test:
- Can you feel your dog’s ribs and spine when you touch him?
- Does he have a noticeable tuck-up in the belly area when viewed from the side?
- Does he have a noticeable tuck-in at the waistline when viewed from the top?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, your dog might be overweight. If he is, then what are you going to do about it?
Before you try to tackle your dog’s weight problem yourself, see your veterinarian. In some cases, weight gain in dogs is due to a health issue, so your veterinarian should rule out any problems.
Next, ask your vet how many calories your dog should be eating each day. “Your veterinarian has access to a calorie calculator for pets, and can also advise you on calories based on your dog’s health, age, and activity level,” says Heinze.
Discuss exercise with your veterinarian. Is your dog able to get more active, or do his physical limitations, including arthritis and orthopedic problems, mean exercise limitations?
Finally, set a reasonable weight goal with your veterinarian, and decide on a weight-loss pace. “For dogs with no other major health concerns, aim for a 1 to 2 percent loss of body weight per week under veterinary supervision,” Heinze says.