Fat Dog

Saturday, May 24, 2008

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“Dear Sam,
My friends, family, and neighbors always poke fun at how fat my dog is and they keep telling me he needs to go on a diet. He looks happy to me, isn't aggressive in any way, gets along with the kids, other dogs, etc. I'm thinking, so what if he's fat? If I did put him on a diet, he would be miserable and I would rather not make him uncomfortable since he’s such a good boy. As far as his current weight, he's okay with it, so am I. After all, there's more of him to love on!”


Many believe that dog obesity, even at the slightest, is not that much of a problem. In fact your neighbors are quite right, he needs to lose weight. I cannot begin tell you what psychological impacts occur with an overweight dog. Feelings of inadequacy (based on labored movement and lack of energy) are a major mental health issue with overweight dogs.

Overweight Lab

On the issue of physical health, I can't count how many dogs suffer from congestive heart failure, diabetes, severe arthritis, skin problems, orthopedic issues, respiratory difficulties, thyroid trouble, and the list goes on and on. While being a nuisance during a dog’s mid-life, these things take their toll at an older age. While the dog suffers from these issues, the owners suffer in the pocket book from constantly taking the dog to the vet. I think some vets love fat dogs, they usually finance their new porsche!

How to determine if your dog is a healthy weight

A dogs proper weight is simple. Take a look at the following picture of a yellow Labrador (versus the first picture in this post.) We should clearly see a definitive line between the rib cage and the stomach. If we run our hand along the side of the dog, the ribs should be easy to feel. The hips bones should not be prevalent, just there. Don't worry about the dog being uncomfortable because he’s hungry; a dog is a predator and it is natural for him to be eager about food.

Lab at Healthy Weight

By keeping your dog lean, you bring the puppy back in him, breathing into him life and enthusiasm. He or she becomes eager to train and eager to play, this is true happiness for a dog! A happy dog builds intelligence and lives a long and healthy life without many of the painful medical problems that come at an old age. Overweight dogs are usually the products of overeating and lack of exercise, we should walk and/or run our dog everyday - regardless of whether we feel like it or not - to ensure their mental and physical integrity. My own dog is 11 years old and still plays ball and acts like a puppy.

By keeping your dog lean, you bring the puppy back in him, breathing into him life and enthusiasm.

avoid free feeding

One other concept I have seen in my travels is “free-feeding.” I could never understand this one. Firstly, free-feeders, of course, eat at there leisure. Owners of these dogs keep filling the bowl for fear that the dog may go hungry. In time, the dog constantly eats and eats and eats. Then with the amount of food that it consumes, the stomach expands and therefore the dog appears to never get enough.

Through time, the dog, due to this stomach expansion, will require more and more food. The owner of the free-feeding dog - let’s say the size of a Labrador (depending on activity) who normally eats 3 cups per day with a good run twice per day to keep the weight off - will now require 6 cups per day thus packing on the pounds!

The other issue is the amount of stool the dog passes. If there is plenty, the same amount as a horse, he isn't digesting it anymore because the body doesn't need it, so the money you’ve spent on that 40 lb. bag of dog food literally just goes out the back door.

On the other hand, a free-feeder also becomes a picky eater (mainly because his body doesn't need the food) and then we start to add tantalizing supplements. I have seen people add things like canned food, gravy, table scraps, Parmesan cheese, etc., on top of the already overwhelming amount they should get. Through time, we add more and more to keep the dog from getting picky. Low and behold now we have Friar Tuck who can barely move, let alone the mental and physiological anguish of the free-feeder.

Free feeding dogs often turns dogs into picky eaters. Loss of appetite is one of the first symptoms of illness, which may go unnoticed in a picky eater who often refuses to eat food they do not love.

The other danger is when our free-feeder is sick, then we don't notice right away just based on his picky eating habits. Those of us with dog experience all know that a picky eater is a dog who, if it becomes ill, would take a while to become detected. In most cases of illness, time is of the essence and not eating is the first clue. When the dog gets to the point of being picky, it may be too late.

Weight Management is also important in puppies

Keeping puppies lean is equally important. One should feel the ribs easily, however the dog must not appear emaciated through lack in muscle tone. An obese puppy is also a puppy that could suffer from thyroid trouble, diabetes and all of the other issues mentioned previously. Most importantly, an obese puppy will most likely suffer from skeletal faults as well. The added weight on the undeveloped joints does add more of a burden on the back, pelvis, hips, and elbows. Always remember to use a good quality kibble, balanced vitamin and meat supplement to your puppy’s diet.

How to reduce your dog's weight

Reducing weight is not a difficult approach to regaining your overweight dog’s health.

1. Visit your vet to check your dog's thyroid health

The first step is to visit the vet and have a thyroid test done. In years of dealing with dogs, there have been quite a few dogs who suffer from thyroid problems after spaying or neutering.

Once the thyroid checks out o.k. then we can begin. We can also reduce weight if there is trouble with the thyroid, however the first step is to put the dog on thyroid medication and deal with the adjustments to the right dose first, and this is something your vet can help you with.

2. Implement structured food cutbacks

Calorie-reduced foods are fine, though I have never used them. I combine structured food cutbacks and exercise as the two main steps to success.

Once the thyroid test is all clear and you’ve met with your vet to discuss leaning your dog out, begin by dropping your dogs food intake by 10% every two weeks.

3. Time your feedings and increase excercise

If we feed our dog in the morning, then he isn’t getting the exercise to burn it off and is packing the pounds on while you are slugging it out at work.

Feed the dog when you get home, but prior to feeding, take him for a good walk and/or a play session. Afterwards, wait 30 minutes for him to rest and then feed him.

Follow this with a walk 2 hours later (many of my students have lost weight themselves while thinning their dog out. Talk about a win-win!) This will burn off those calories.

4. Try biking with your dog

Learning how to go bike riding with your dog is a great way for both of you to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. This is a training process onto itself and you will need instruction on how to do this safely. I do this quite often with my own dogs and have great success.

A gradual approach to Weight Loss is Key

It is important that we monitor the dog’s weight loss. Rapid weight loss and food reduction can cause behavioral problems due to fatigue and stress. By the way, while we are reducing our dog’s weight, don't be foolish by sticking your hand in his food bowl. I never understood what one is trying to accomplish with that practice. This makes for a cranky dog and may lead to food aggression. After all, how happy are you when you’re dieting?

As far as there being more to love, well, when we have more then we tend to have it for a shorter time.

Just because your dog is breeding doesn't mean they're alive.

- Sam

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