Warning: this may be an unpopular post!
(Which is why I put a very pretty picture of Sally up in an attempt to draw you in!)
Nearly 60% of dogs in the UK are currently overweight or obese, and this figure is on the rise.
This may be new one for you- have you ever assessed the weight condition your dog may be in?
This is a staggering number, and the negative side effects that come with being overweight make it something that we should really pay attention to. Being overweight can lower your pet’s quality of life and disturb their ability to perform natural behaviours such as running, grooming or playing. Diseases are also associated with increased weight, such as diabetes, respiratory problems and osteoarthritis just to name a few. Furthermore, being overweight can shorten the lifespan of your pet. It is therefore imperative for the welfare of your animal to maintain a healthy weight.
Is my dog overweight?
Your dog may look perfect to you, but weight varies with breed and size. To assess your dog’s weight between check-ups at the vet or sessions with the veterinary physiotherapist, you can assess if your dog is at a healthy weight by placing your hand on their side. If their ribs are hard to feel (or even seemingly completely absent!) they are likely to be overweight.
Some other signs you may notice are:
· Loss of a ‘waist’
· A tighter collar
· Reluctance or difficulty to walk
· Slower movement
· Shortness of breath
· Sleeping more and/or heavier snoring.
· Bad temper
· Difficulty climbing stairs or reluctance to jump on or off furniture
Why do pets become overweight?
Dog’s become overweight for several reasons, but the main culprits are listed below:
Lack of exercise, along with over-feeding, is the main cause of obesity in pets.
The majority of pets need exercise to avoid weight gain. Dogs need to be walked every day and if they don’t have regular exercise, they are at risk of becoming overweight. Regular exercise also helps your dog to sleep better and lead a happier life.
Sadly, many owners overfeed their pets, often through love and kindness.
Such as painful arthritis- may make an animal reluctant to exercise and therefore expend energy. Low thyroid level or hormonal imbalances are also a common cause.
Older dogs become less active, have less energy and require less calories. Therefore, continuing to feed them as much as they had when they were a youngster may lead to obesity.
Evidence has suggested that metabolism of neutered dogs is reduced compared to those intact. Therefore, they require fewer calories.
Some dogs are genetically predisposed to gain and hold more weight (just like humans!) For example, think whippet vs. rottweiler!
Love and attention does not mean feed them!
Owners will often mistake begging for wanting to be fed. Just because a dog may look like they are begging for food, does not mean they want it. Mostly, dogs just want your love and attention. Feeding your dog is not the only way you can show it love and sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.
Imagine if every time you wanted to show love to your child, you fed them a chocolate bar. Two things would happen:
1) They wouldn’t always want it (but may still eat it anyway!). They would probably far prefer to have your actual attention and to spend time with you.
2) They are likely to get very big, very quick if you love them a lot!
It is exactly the same for animals- you can show them love in so many other ways. So instead of giving your dog a piece of your dinner, try a stroke and pat on the head, a cuddle, talking to them, a scratch on the ear or even playing on the floor with them with their favourite toy.
Addressing the Problem
Although the most effective strategy to addressing the problem of overweight pets is to prevent your pet from becoming overweight in the first place, there are lots of techniques to help counteract the weight gain.
Dogs can be overweight for many reasons- so don’t feel embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask for help. Vets may offer advice such as:
· lower calorie treat options and the use of treats
· a suitable, tailored diet for your dog
· food enrichment recommendations which encourage your dog to work harder for their food. They also offer mental and physical stimulation.
Loosing just 6% of the excess bodyweight will help make your dog feel brighter, more energetic and improve their mobility.
The Wrong Way to Feed
Dogs are often fed ‘free choice’. This means that food is available 24 hours a day and your dog can eat whenever they want to. This is a very unnatural routine for any mammal, and (just like us humans) dogs will often eat when they a