Ushering my dog out of the veterinary hospital after the removal of a large, but non-threatening, lipoma, I was stopped in my tracks. There was a dog, a smaller breed, rolling around on the grass. I wasn’t sure I was seeing things correctly. From the top, the shape of this dog reminded of an overfilled water balloon. He was rolling around in the grass and it was a struggle for him to get up on all fours. This dog, with a healthy weight of about 25 pounds, was standing in front of me struggling to stand. He was tipping the scales at 70 pounds.
My mind shot back to a dog we had taken in at the shelter. Maddy the Basset Hound could not stand up. Needless to say she could not walk either. Her head looked more like a tick than the beginning of a dog. Inside you could see her wish. She never stopped trying to overpower her physical condition. With the help of staff and volunteers, myself included, we got her on her feet. Then family with a heart as big as Maddy, adopted her and took it from there.
For dogs, eating is instinctual. Many of them have no shut-of valve. What goes into them and how much is really up to us. Though there are underlying medical conditions, hypothyroidism and Cushing’s to name 2, that present weight gain as a side effect, healthy dogs that suffer from obesity do so at our hand. When a choice is made to substitute the hard stuff, like exercise, training and other enrichment activities, with food, it is a disservice to our pets. This is not to say that treats, natural chews and other caloric fare don’t have their place. They can be wonderful additions to a rainy day. It is simple really. A dog’s genetics and lifestyle dictate their caloric needs. If their calorie requirement is exceeded on regular basis, they will gain weight.
Pet obesity is on the rise. According to the APOP, (Association for Pet Obesity Prevention), 55% of dogs are overweight or obese; 35% were overweight while 20.6% were obese. Weight gain has some very dangerous and sometimes life-threatening side effects. The effects range from chronic dermatological issues and heat intolerance on to much more sever conditions like cardiovascular disease, respiratory issues and diabetes. Many dogs experience stress on their joints and spines. An over weight dog’s life expectancy will be drastically reduced by this condition.
“Ok, I get it. Now, how do I tell if my dog is over weight?”
If you already suspect your dog is struggling with weight, contact your vet. If they can rule out any underlying medical conditions as a cause, they will help you with calorie calculations, exercise plans and dietary requirements. If you are not sure, you can do the following assessments yourself:
Run your hand along your dog’s side with about the same amount of pressure you would use if you were petting him. You should be able to feel his ribs through a thin layer of fat. Inability to feel the ribs is one sign.
Look at the anatomical profile of your dog, there should be an upward tuck of his abdomen. An abdomen that appears as a flat line or a bulge downward is another indicator.
Look at your dog from above while he is standing up. You should able to see a narrowing of the waist just past the ribcage. A straight line or bulging outward from the rib cage to the rear is a sign that your dog is heavier than he should be.
Prepare yourself for the truth.
If your dog is struggling with weight, it’s time to be honest and take action. And yes, it is absolutely better late than never. New habits can make all the difference and add years to your dog’s life. If you’re anything like us, you will agree that is something worth working for.